The UNP along with the parties backing it is mulling over the possibility of moving an impeachment motion against President Sirisena (Pic AFP)
The United National Party (UNP) along with the like-minded parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), was upbeat when the Court of Appeal issued an order restraining the Cabinet and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa from functioning. However, it flew out of the window as President Maithripala Sirisena even discarded its appeal, for the second time, to reappoint UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister.
Hot on the heels of the Appeal Court ruling, the UNP representatives hurried to the Presidential Secretariat to engage the President with much hope. They believed the President would be flexible enough to reinstall the UNP-led Government under Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. It proved otherwise as the President, at the very onset, expressed his unwillingness to reappoint Wickremesinghe.
“Don’t you have any other nominee for premiership other than Mr. Wickremesinghe? I cannot talk about his reappointment at all,” the President said as he sat down at the negotiation table. It was a shock for the UNP which expected the President to show some flexibility under the present compelling circumstances.
UNP MP for the Hambantota district Sajith Premadasa was the first to speak out. He appealed to the President to allow his party to form the Government under Wickremesinghe. “We have not thought of anyone other than Mr. Wickremesinghe to be our Prime Minister,” he told the President.
MP Premadasa’s assertion has to be weighed in a context where some MPs of his party try to promote him as the Prime Minister in place of Wickremesinghe. Probably, the UNP would have requested him to respond to the President in the manner to quell the effect of such rumours circulated in political circles. According to inside sources, some UNPers such as Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Ashok Abeysinghe openly advocated the premiership for Premadasa. Be that as it may, Premadasa is not ready for it at this juncture as indicative of his stoic silence on that matter. For him to stake over such responsibilities, he insists that the party leadership be given to him first.
The two higher courts of the country gave rulings against your decisions. It means your actions were unconstitutional. Now, you have to appoint the MP commanding the majority support in Parliament as the Prime Minister
On the other hand, he seems to be having second thoughts on becoming the Prime Minister during this trying time. The country is riddled with issues, and it may be difficult for him to address them by becoming the Prime Minister. Any failure on the part of him would reflect badly on him, and as such he wants to stay away for the time being. Failure will also spell political doom for him in the long-run. So, Premadasa’s hands off attitude could be understood.
Kiriella confronts President
After Premadasa, UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella somewhat confronted the President at Monday’s meeting. “The two higher courts of the country gave rulings against your decisions. It means your actions were unconstitutional. Now, you have to appoint the MP commanding the majority support in Parliament as the Prime Minister. It has to be the person commanding the majority support. Otherwise, it cannot be done at your whims,” he told the President.
The President turned furious a bit over these harsh remarks by Kiriella. In an equally harsh tone, he responded to Kiriella saying he would not give the premiership to Wickremesinghe even if 225 MPs signed affidavits pledging support to him. Also, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Leader MP Rishad Bathiudeen made a veiled threat to the President. “Some lawyers say you may end up in jail unless you address this now,” he said.
As the President refused to budge even an inch from his stance, the UNPers realised that it would be futile to prolong the discussion. As such, they wound up the meeting and walked out of the Presidential Secretariat to be mobbed by the media personnel for comments.
Question of pride
Afterwards, on Tuesday evening, the President lashed out Wickremesinghe publicly at his party’s Convention and reaffirmed his position of not awarding the premiership to him no matter what. However, the UNP, as a party, is not ready to relent in the face of the President’s tirade. In fact, it has now turned out to be a question of pride for both the President and the UNP alike.
If the President takes a step back, it would amount to a victory for the UNP. Likewise, it would be a gain for the President if the UNP makes way for the appointment of a new Prime Minister other than Wickremesinghe. In this manner, it is a tug-of-war which both sides cannot afford to lose at any cost.
As an affront to the President’s toughened position, the UNP is now contemplating the adoption of a motion in Parliament expressing confidence to Wickremesinghe next week. Also, the UNP, along with the parties backing it, is mulling over the possibility of moving an impeachment motion against the President.
Alongside, one would be able to predict how the crisis will end only after the Supreme Court rules on the dissolution of Parliament. If dissolution is affirmed by court, dates will be fixed for the General Elections. In case, dissolution is ruled out, the tussle for power will be intensified with each side trying to rope in members to secure the required majority. In such an eventuality, an impeachment motion against the President is highly likely.
TNA in dilemma
In the midst of such interesting and dramatic political developments in the country, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) gained influence in Parliament because its numerical strength holds sway in an otherwise hung Parliament. Alongside, it pledged to support the UNP to form a Government.
TELO, an ally of the TNA, is irked by the TNA’s decision to extend unconditional support to the UNP. It insists that the TNA should get a written commitment from the UNP to address some of the issues confronting Tamil people in the north and the east.
The representatives of the political parties aligned with the TNA met at the Opposition Leader’s office on Tuesday evening to discuss the situation further.
On behalf of TELO, five members attended it. They are N.Srikantha, M.K. Sivajilingam, K.Karunakaran, Selvam Adaikkalanathan and Vino Noharathalingam. ITAK was represented by its leader Mavai Senathirajah, R. Sampanthan and M.A. Sumanthiran. MP Dharmalingam Sidaththan and S. Ragavan represented PLOTE at the meeting.
TELO put forth five demands to be negotiated with the UNP for a written understanding. They are the release of military-held lands in the north, the repealing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the release of LTTE suspects commonly referred to as political prisoners, the implementation of the 13th Amendment in full along with land and police powers and the merger of the north and the east. TELO representatives argued that the TNA should get a commitment from the UNP to implement these five demands. They opined that the successive Sinhala leaders deceived the Tamils right throughout, and therefore no room should be left for it to happen once again.
If the President takes a step back, it would amount to a victory for the UNP. Likewise, it would be a gain for the President if the UNP makes way for the appointment of a new Prime Minister other than Wickremesinghe.
However, Sampanthan, as the TNA Leader, was averse to the idea of signing a written agreement. Instead, he said the UNP leadership could be trusted to address these concerns, and therefore a chance should be provided.
Srikantha, a politburo member of the TELO, said it would be unwise for the TNA to antagonise Mahinda Rajapaksa unnecessarily.
“We should not take sides on this. If we want a political solution, it has to be approved by two-thirds in Parliament. How can we get it without Mahinda’s support? We should not antagonise him too much,” he said. The meeting had ended inconclusively.
EPRLF breaks ranks with TNA
The current political crisis is taking its toll in this way on the TNA. Already, the TNA is challenged by former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who has formed a new party. He has now initiated talks with like-minded political parties in the north to form a new alliance as an alternative to the TNA.
Already, EPRLF, a long- time ally, has abandoned the TNA and joined hands with the Chief Minister’s party. As a result, the TNA is now an amalgam of three parties only. So, it won’t be a clean sweep for the TNA next time.