After more than ten days of panic, tension and ill-educated guesswork, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya declared in Parliament yesterday that the National Government would continue despite the huge protest vote against it at the Local Council elections on February 10. On Wednesday, following demands by the Opposition, Prime Minister and United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament the National Government would continue. This was confirmed by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) General Secretary and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, who spoke on behalf of the both the UPFA and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
But some Opposition leaders were still not satisfied and wanted a ruling from the Speaker. Yesterday the Speaker after consulting legal opinion also announced the National government would continue. Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne, speaking to the media after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, said there was likely to be a Cabinet reshuffle this week.
As many analysts have pointed out one of the main reasons for the 10-day national crisis was that President Maithripala Sirisena went into a panic mode as did the UNP to some extent. While there is no doubt that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) scored a spectacular victory at the local council polls, such polls to local councils largely in rural areas have no direct legal effect on the central government. Some SLPP leaders claimed it was a referendum and therefore the national government should resign. But other analysts point out that if it were a referendum, then the SLPP got less than 45 per cent of the vote, while in a referendum the winning party should get at least 50.1 per cent.
Whatever analysts may say, the national government leaders themselves acknowledged that the protest vote was a dire warning and a red light because the government had failed to fulfil most of the promises it made in 2015. The Cabinet spokesman said that at the meeting on February 14 President Sirisena had asked a Cabinet economic committee to work out a package of the priority duties for the government during the next two years. He had said this package should include vital provisions like bringing down the cost of living, providing fertilizer or other needs to farmers and measures to help people improve their standard of living. He again stressed the battle against corruption would continue with full force and tough action taken against politicians and officials involved in bribery or corruption during the former regime and even now.
Another vital issue for the national government is reconciliation. During the campaign for the 2015 elections, national government leaders had claimed that though the former president won the war he had failed to win the peace. They pledged they would take important steps to bring about reconciliation, lasting peace and justice.
In this dimension, the people need to be made aware that while there are differences we should act in a manner where they do not lead to dispute. Differences are natural and are seen in every country. In Sri Lanka we have Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and other people with their own cultures and traditions. As we pointed out in our February 21 editorial, different languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
Unfortunately for the past 70 years some extremist or pseudo patriotic elements, apparently to achieve their own political agendas, have not realised the value of unity in diversity and have thereby created divisions, disputes and even a devastating war. We hope the people will be educated to understand and appreciate the value of unity in diversity and that it is a blend of varieties that makes life beautiful. If examples are needed the human body is the best. Every part is different but they all work together for a common purpose to such an extent that even if a small toe is injured the whole body suffers the pain. It is the same with the flower garden. It is the variety that gives the beauty. We hope this vision will be understood and promoted.