The conflicts within conflicts, the contradiction and confusion over the electoral reforms proposed in the 20th Amendment appear to have brought the Yahapalanaya Government and Parliament to a dead end with the United National Party (UNP) working committee deciding to ask for an immediate dissolution of Parliament.
President Maithripala Sirisena, clearly trying to emerge as a statesman by going beyond petty party politics and putting the country first, finds himself on a political tightrope. While he is still widely esteemed in Sri Lanka and by the international community as a model President who willingly and voluntarily gave up more than 50 percent of his powers, Mr. Sirisena unfortunately appears to be losing control of his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). It is in such a situation that the President is trying to find a win-win solution to the crisis over the 20th Amendment and whether the Parliament should be dissolved before or after the Amendment is approved. The UNP-dominated Government, which apparently did not give high priority to the electoral reforms, now wants an immediate dissolution of Parliament with the electoral reforms being worked out by the new Parliament. But the SLFP and especially the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) are insisting that the 20th Amendment be approved before Parliament is dissolved. To add to the political chaos and confusion, the former President’s loyalists are also trying to move a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with the UNP demanding that this motion be withdrawn.
On Monday, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which played a significant role in the silent revolution that took place on January 8, proposed a win-win solution to the crisis over the 20th Amendment. JVP Parliamentary Group Leader, Vijitha Herath in a TV interview proposed that the 20th Amendment be approved by the current Parliament. But the main electoral reforms including the delimitation of electorates, be implemented at the 2020 general elections. The JVP said the preferential voting system—widely criticised for being the main cause of the corruption and criminality in politics—be scrapped immediately. But other vital reforms in the electoral system could be implemented in 2020 after the Independent Elections Commission appointed by the Constitutional Council works out the complicated process for the delimitation of electorates in a manner that is just and fair even to the parties representing the minorities.
As a heated debate continued over the past month, the Prime Minister presented a reforms package whereby the number of seats would remain at 225—with 125 on the first-past-the-post (FPP) system, 75 on proportional representation (PR) and 25 on the national list. Meanwhile a SLFP committee had proposed that the number of seats in Parliament be increased to 255. But the UNP opposed this mainly on the basis that the country would have to spend a huge amount of money to maintain 30 more MPs while there were hundreds of local councillors in Provincial Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. The President, as usual maintaining a dialogue and listening to all the parties, came up with a proposal for 237 seats. The UNP was not in favour of this also, pointing out that it was not worked out by the team lead by the Presidential legal advisor Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne but by other lawyers associated with the SLFP.
Making matters more complicated, 18 leaders representing minority parties and minor parties agreed on a proposal for a double vote—one for the party and one for any candidate. It was in such a confusion that the SLFP MPs and organizers, at a meeting with the President on Tuesday, proposed that if the UNP was unable or unwilling to run the Government that it be handed over to the SLFP or UPFA. But President Sirisena was elected on January 8 with at least 80 percent of the votes he got being from UNP supporters. Almost all the SLFP MPs and supporters spoke out angrily against Mr. Sirisena. Furthermore, President Sirisena made an election promise that if he was elected, Mr. Wickremesinghe would head the Government as the Prime Minister. So it seems the just and fair solution would be to have the 20th Amendment passed but the delimitation, the FPP and PR seats be worked out by an Independent Commission for the 2020 elections.