President Sirisena was furious about the Central Bank bond scam
Was displeased with the way the UNP was managing the economy
Political parties in the country are obsessed these days with speculation about a caretaker Government that is to be jointly formed by the joint opposition headed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena.
The speculation got wings after some news items over the matter published in last Sunday’s newspapers saying that a discussion had been held between the former and the present Presidents on this matter.
The speculation is being floated with people calling the Government that is said to be under discussion by various names such as caretaker Government (Bharakara Aanduwa), coalition Government (Sabhaga Aanduwa) and interim Government (Antharwara Aanduwa).
Except for the report in The Sunday Times, all stories in other weekend newspapers on the matter were very vague and too speculative, whereas The Sunday Times report was specific in respect of the participants, venue, and the details of the discussion on the caretaker Government.
It said that the discussion had taken place on October 3 at the Battaramulla residence of former minister S.B. Dissanayake, who was one of the 16 SLFP parliamentarians, who resigned from the government after supporting the no confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in April.
According to that story, former economic development minister Basil Rajapaksa has also participated in the discussion where a proposal to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister replacing Wickremesinghe until the next Parliamentary election had been discussed. It must be remembered that Basil Rajapaksa cut short his recent visit to his home in Los Angeles after a call by his brother, the former President to return to the country immediately.
During the talks, according to The Sunday times, President Sirisena had said that the Prime Minister was scuttling many of his efforts and it was extremely difficult to work with him.
However, this was not a new complaint by the President as it was a well-known fact that he had attempted to remove Mr. Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister in the wake of the February 10 LocalGovernment elections.
The speculation got wings after some news items over the matter published in the last Sunday newspapers saying that a discussion had been held between the former and the present Presidents on this matter
It was also said that at the time the President had sought the opinion of the Attorney General on whether there were provisions in the Constitution to remove the Prime Minister.
The current scenario is similar to what emerged in the wake of the LG election in February
The President who has been openly criticizing the Prime Minister and the UNP during the LG election campaign has allowed or persuaded his ministers then to negotiate with the Joint Opposition on the possibility of forming a new government. Then the broker for the patch- up effort between the SLFP and the JO was Susil Premajayantha who was then a Cabinet minister. He even discussed the matter with the JO Parliamentary group. The JO suggested to form a minority Government by the SLFP with them supporting from outside. The former President did not prefer his group to take ministerial posts.
On February 21, the SLFP even announced its divorce from the UNP, bringing up the speculation of a SLFP Government with the support of the JO to a peak. But ludicrously, the SLFP announced next day that it would remain in the Government with the UNP, shattering all hopes of the JO to control the government. The reason cited for the backpedalling by the SLFP was the uncertainity about the numbers needed to form such a Government which was an obvious fact from the beginning.
But the former president and S.B. Dissanayake had denied that a meeting had been held with the President at Dissanayake’s residence. However, the UNP seems to have taken the story seriously. UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, in an effort to rekindle the enmity between the President and the former president had recalled a statement made by President Sirisena that he would have been six feet underground had he lost the 2015 presidential election. Premadasa, while praising the President for taking such a risk at the presidential election said the President would not betray the mandate given by the people just for the sake of a caretaker government. And as happened after the LG election some UNP leaders have started to express their willingness to form a Government of their own.
However, as it had been evident soon after the LG elections, the possibility of forming an alternative to the current SLFP-UNP coalition government seems to be extremely remote, given the strength of the parties in the Parliament.
Whether the efforts for a caretaker government would end up in fruition or not, all three groups involved in it seem to have different objectives. They will attempt to reach their respective targets, irrespective of what the fate of the proposed caretaker Government is.
It is the President’s displeasure with the Prime Minister that has been cited as the main reason for the President to revive his efforts to find an alternative to his coalition with the UNP. The ill-feeling between the President and the UNP has been growing since early 2016. The President had even accused the UNP of defending the corrupt leaders of the former regime and instrumental in delaying and stalling of high profile corruption cases against them.
The media reported last year that he had lamented at a meeting with UNP leaders that it was he and not the latter who would have to face the consequences of these delays, in the case of a comeback by the Rajapaksas. Also he was furious over the Central Bank bond scam which many UNP leaders had been attempting to cover-up while defending the culprits.
This is the second time in Sri Lanka’s history when the Prime Minister is seemingly acting independently of the executive President. A similar situation prevailed when the same UNP leader held the post of Prime Minister during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure. Thus, the President seems to have given vent to his frustration over some of the UNP ministers taking decisions ignoring him. He reversed some of those decisions such as the one to allow women to work at liquor shops, by using his executive powers.
Later he expressed his displeasure with the way the UNP was managing the economy and replaced the Economic Management Committee headed by the Prime Minister with the National Economic Council (NEC) headed by him. Knowing very well that he is unable to oust the UNP from the Government becuase it has the most number of seats in Parliament, he is appearing to at least to tame the UNP.
On the other hand, a seasoned politician that he is, Rajapaksa also knows that his group and the group headed by the President do not have the necessary numbers in the Parliament to form a government. But he seems to be in a move to pressure the Government to resign by breaking up the ruling coalition, using the President’s aversion towards the UNP. Hence, he demands the withdrawal of the SLFP from the coalition with the UNP, as a condition for a caretaker government.
The third group that badly needs a patch-up between the president and the former president is the 16 SLFP MPs including S.B. Dissanayake, who have been left destitute after resigning from the Government in April. They were neither allowed by the UNP to cling on to their ministerial posts nor were they welcomed into the former President’s fold. Thus their only hope seems to be a patch-up between the two factions of the UPFA.
Therefore, the attempts to form a caretaker government seem to be nothing but another round of efforts by the concerned stakeholders to hoodwink each other.