Why President Sirisena paved way for such a mess allowing his group to take such a course of action
Shows the depth of the predicament of the Government, especially the President
What, the President called last month the “Unholy alliance of elite robbers” might even impeach him
The two weeks old political impasse in the country since February 10 could have been averted had President Sirisena acted with restraint
The Government and the Opposition wasted a whole fortnight just for their power struggle leaving many Government institutions at a standstill following the February 10 Local Government Elections. One can imagine the situation considering the usual lethargy and incompetence prevailing in the State institutions.
It was the Joint Opposition which contested the Local Government elections under the name of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that initiated the mess by a totally irrelevant demand for the Government to resign. It made this demand as it had swept the Local Councils in the Sinhalese dominated areas in the country in an election that produced a disproportionate result in the name of “proportional representation.”
And the parties in the Government, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on their party aggravated the situation with their announcement on their plans for the formation of new Governments with new political party alignments.
This ultimately turned into a numbers game rather than to be an effort to find an alignment of parties on a policy basis.
One cannot expect anything else in an opportunistic power struggle where all major parties pursue the same basic policies and all individual politicians in them use politics for making money by hook or by crook.
The demand by the SLPP for the Government’s resignation was irrelevant in terms of morality as well as legality.
It was morally invalid as the number of votes collectively received by the two main parties in the Government at the local election exceeded that received by the SLPP, in spite of the number of votes polled by those two parties declining only by 5,000 while the UNP losing its vote bank by 1.5 million compared to what they had polled in 2015. If morality matters in elections as they claim, the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists should have resigned from the Parliament after the defeat of their leader, at the Presidential Election in 2015.
On the other hand, in terms of the law, the result of one election does not nullify that of another. Nor does it invalidate the mandate given to a party at another election, as argued by the Joint Opposition/SLPP.
Hence, even after the defeat at the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists continued their administration in Local Government bodies.
It was with President Maithripala Sirisena signalling his displeasure to run the Government with the UNP and especially with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the Joint Opposition’s demand for a regime change was strengthened.
And this gave new vigour to the Mahinda loyalists in the Government such as Minister Susil Premajayantha as well to try their hand in a patch-up between the groups led by the President and the former President.
One cannot expect anything else in an opportunistic power struggle where all major parties pursue the same basic policies and all individual politicians in them use politics for making money by hook or by crook
It is incomprehensible as to why President Sirisena, as a seasoned politician, having well known that only the UNP was in a position to win a confidence vote or a no-confidence vote in the Parliament, paved way for such a mess allowing his group to take such a course of action.
The upshot was so ridiculous that the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) decided to quit the UNP-led Government in the evening only to announce in the morning next day that the Unity Government would continue.
The UNP has 106 seats in the Parliament, while the combined strength of the two groups of the UPFA led by the President Sirisena and former President Rajapaksa stands just at 95. It is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan that would be the deciding factor in the formation of a new Government by any of these two groups.
Needless to say, the TNA would side with the UNP in such a scenario. Any sane person would understand this simple arithmetic.
It is against this backdrop that the President allowed his Ministers to negotiate with the Joint Opposition on the possibility of forming a new Government.
The JO took advantage of the situation and suggested to form a minority Government by the UPFA with their supporting it from the outside.
The former President seems to have not preferred his group to take Ministerial posts as it would be difficult for him to pull the carpet under the feet of the UPFA at a time of his choice.
On the other hand had the UPFA agreed to that option it would have been suicidal for it as the former President would have taken the Government hostage.
We have seen such political hostage taking especially in India. The Janatha Dal led by V.P. Singh which won only 143 seats in the 515 seat Lok Sabha at the 1989 election formed the Government with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had 85 seats.
When the Government stopped a procession called Ram Rath Yatra by BJP leader L.K. Advani against the existence of a 450 year old mosque, Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in October,1990, the BJP withdrew its support to the government.
Singh’s Government was defeated at the subsequent vote of confidence in November in the same year.
On the other hand, in terms of the law, the result of one election does not nullify that of another. Nor does it invalidate the mandate given to a party at another election, as argued by the Joint Opposition/SLPP
Then Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party pledged outside support to Chandrasekar whose Samajwadi Janatha Party had only 54 seats to form the Government. However, that Government also collapsed when the 197 members of the Congress Party withdrew their support to the Chandrasekar Government following a row over two Police officers allegedly spying near Gandhi’s home.
While the JO was attempting to destabilise the Government after the LG elections, President Sirisena allowed or has been instrumental to a speculation that he wants to replace Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya or somebody else.
There were rumours that he had even sought Attorney General’s opinion if there were provisions in the Constitution to remove the Prime Minister, which had been denied by the Attorney General.
However, all of a sudden both groups in the Government settled everything in no time and announced in Parliament on Tuesday that the Unity Government would continue.
In fact, the two weeks old political impasse in the country since February 10 could have been averted had President Sirisena acted with restraint.
He should have understood that he has no option other than to put up with the UNP until February 2020, irrespective of the differences he has with his partner in governance over action against corruption or the latter ignoring him in matters of concern.
The President was accusing since 2016 that the UNP had been defending the corrupt leaders of the former regime and instrumental in delaying and stalling of high profile corruption cases against those leaders. Media reported last year that he had lamented at a meeting with the leaders of the UNP that it was he and not the latter, who would have to face the consequences of these delays, in case of a comeback by the Rajapaksas.
Also, he seems to have been furious over the Central Bank bond scam, which many UNP leaders had been attempting to cover-up while defending the culprits.
Apart from these, he 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 and buy liquor, using his Executive Powers.
However, the situation would have been the same had the two groups of the UPFA taken the mantle.
The corruption cases and cases against crimes such as Thajudeen murder over which the President had accused the UNP would have been swept under the carpet under a UPFA-JO Government as well. After that what, the President called last month the “Unholy alliance of elite robbers” (Chaura Prabhu Sandanaya) might even impeach him.
If the whole episode was not one stage-managed by the President in order to put a bridle on the stubborn UNP, it shows the depth of the predicament of the Government, especially the President.