"There is a danger of the current Rajapaksa government failing to pass any Bill or motion in the House"
It is interesting to note that the conflict between President Maithripala Sirisena and the ousted Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe over the latter’s purported hesitance to take action on allegations of acts of high profile corruption against the leaders of the Rajapaksa regime, had ended up in the President teaming up with the same Rajapaksas.
The recent turn of events and the new political alignments were as if the President telling Wickremesinghe that if you can have secret deals with Rajapaksas, I can do the same better.
As we have explained in our earlier columns, it is the United National Party (UNP) that pushed the President to the wall first by displeasing him with regard to legal action against the leaders of the former regime and then by provoking him, by ignoring him when taking important decisions. President Sirisena, on the wake of his assuming office was very particular about carrying forward the corruption cases against Rajapaksas and their close allies, not because he was a man against corruption, rather he feared about a comeback by the latter.
He who defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last Presidential election very well knew what latter’s wrath against those challenged them was, which had been well attested by the cases involving former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. President Sirisena had once expressed his fear about this wrath through his famous quote about him having gone six feet under the ground had he been defeated at the last Presidential election. Later, last year while accusing the UNP for delaying and even stalling the high profile cases against the leaders of the last regime, he had told during a Cabinet meeting that in case of a comeback by the Rajapksas it would be he and not the UNP who would have to face the music.
However, when the return of Rajapaksas became almost inevitable with the results of the February 10 local government elections, President Sirisena diametrically changed his strategy and looked for ways to team up with the Rajapaksas. The group of 16 who became politically destitute after they quit the government and Namal Kumara with his stories about a coup to assassinate the President and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa helped the President in his manoeuvre. However, now, he had pushed the country into utter chaos by putting his strategy into practice.
The country wouldn’t have been driven into the current mess had Mahinda Rajapaksa whom the President appointed Prime Minister on October 26 mustered sufficient members from other parties to prove his majority in the Parliament. His failure to do so led his loyalists to run riot in the Parliament, vandalizing its chamber last week and the same reason threatens today’s proceeding of the House as well.
"Rajapaksa and his group do not explain why they who had nearly two thirds of power in the Parliament opposed that appointment then"
Now, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and the Rajapaksa’s adversaries claim that a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government had been twice passed in the House. On the other hand, Rajapaksa loyalists contend that suspending of Standing Orders of the Parliament to present the motion and taking a voice vote for the approval of it were against Parliamentary procedure, despite suspending of standing orders and voice vote being accepted procedures in the House. In fact, it is by voice vote that the budget is passed at its third reading almost every year.
Irrespective of the validity of the passage of the two no-confidence motions against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet, the number of signatures in them proved that Rajapaksa did not command the confidence of the Parliament. Only two signatories of those motions have so far switched sides later. Still Rajapaksa represents the minority in the House. No argument can deny that fact and it is vital for Rajapaksa to muster support to run the government.
The state media’s attempt to justify the vandalizing of the Parliament chamber by the Rajapaksa loyalists on last Friday was frustrating. They telecast the bomb attack by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the Parliament on August 18, 1987, the pandemonium created by the UNP by burning the copies of a draft new Constitution within the Parliament chamber when President Chandrika Kumaratunga was presenting that draft in the Parliament on August 3, 2000 and the riots in Parliaments of other countries. However, it did not hold water, since even some other private media supporting Rajapaksa had described Friday’s rioting as shameless.
It is ludicrous on the part of the Rajapaksa loyalists to berate the presence of the diplomats of the Western countries in the Speaker’s gallery in the Parliament when they were breaking chairs and other items while throwing water mixed with chilli powder on the police officers and the Parliament members. That was another attempt to justify the mayhem by rousing the patriotism or the anti-West mindset in the people.
They argue that Ranil Wickremesinghe was also appointed Prime Minister on January 9, 2015 without having the majority in the Parliament. It is true that President Sirisena violated the Constitution in 2015 when he appointed Wickremesinghe Prime Minister, as he himself recently said that he made that appointment when Wickremesinghe had the support of only 47 MPs. But Rajapaksa and his group do not explain why they who had nearly two thirds of power in the Parliament opposed that appointment then.
"Ranil Wickremesinghe was also appointed Prime Minister on January 9, 2015 without him having the majority in the Parliament"
They were so upset and frightened by the unexpected defeat of Rajapaksa that not only did they not have the fortitude to stand against that appointment, but Rajapaksa even volunteered to offer the Chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to President Sirisena. They could have easily amended the SLFP constitution and denied the President the Chairmanship of the SLFP, as the whole Central Committee of the party was backing Rajapaksa then.
Whatever the arguments and counter-arguments on what had happened so far, there is a danger of the current Rajapaksa government failing to pass any Bill or motion in the House, due to the numbers in the House. If the Supreme Court rules on December 7 against the dissolution of Parliament by the President, the country would have to put up with the current situation till February 2020 when the President would be empowered to dissolve the Parliament. Either Rajapaksa has to buy over or attract MPs from other parties in the Parliament, despite whatever the ethicality of doing so, or the Parliament should find a way to dissolve itself to prevent such a situation.
Apart from the ego on the part of the main stakeholders of the impasse - the President, Prime Minister, Speaker and the ousted Prime Minister-, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe seem to want to cling on to the power until the next Parliament and Presidential election so that they can use state resources for their election campaign. However, it is the country and the people who have to suffer due to this power struggle.