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Constitutional Crisis set to deepen

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If the crisis spins out of control, the President will opt to prorogue Parliament once again


 

Some people assume the constitutional impasse, triggered by the sacking of United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe from premiership, would end after Parliament was reconvened yesterday (November 14) after prorogation.

Instead, the exact opposite would happen as the crisis is poised to be compounded. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya declared that the no confidence motion against the new Government passed by voice vote. Subsequently, Wickremesinghe said that the Government, led by him before his dismissal, would stand.

Nevertheless, further political turmoil is in store for the country as the incumbent Government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa does not accept the verdict of the Speaker on the premise that the procedure adopted for passing the no confidence motion. That is the point for the problem to take a turn for the worse.

Whatever anyone might say, President Maithripala Sirisena is the appointing authority of the Prime Minister. He would never reappoint Wickremesinghe, and it will set the stage for the crisis to balloon in the days to come, with indecision and uncertainty looming over the country.

Things will worsen if people take to the streets by and large and the police try to quell such protests.

After yesterday’s parliamentary session, the UNP MPs were shouting jubilantly whereas the members of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) defied recognising the vote of no confidence on their Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Probably, these slogan- shouting UNP backbenchers have little understanding that the mere passing of the no confidence motion would not resolve the problem at hand.

Interestingly, amidst tension between the members of either side, there was bonhomie among some senior members.

International Trade Minister Bandula Gunwardane was making comments to media personnel who mobbed him along the corridors of the parliamentary complex when UNP MP for the Badulla District moved down to him.

“Oh, Minister, why don’t you join us?” he asked Gunwardane.

 

However, the other main countries such as China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh appear to be neutral observers without attempting to commit anything under the current developments

 

Gunawardane made use of the opportunity only to exchange some pleasantries with his parliamentary colleague. Otherwise, the MPs across the divide looked tense with each other in general.If the crisis spins out of control, the President will opt to prorogue Parliament once again. If that does not solve the issue, he will consider the possibility of calling for a referendum to seek people’s approval for dissolution of Parliament. According to inside sources, he is now mulling over that option.

 

Diplomatic community divided

The Colombo based diplomatic community also looks divided on the developments in Sri Lanka. The envoys from the western bloc including the United States were toeing a stand in favour of the UNP. In fact, these countries only sent low level representatives to the briefing by Foreign Affairs Minister Sarath Amunugama and others. These were present in the Speaker’s gallery or the VIP gallery of Parliament when the vote of no confidence motion was taken up in the House. Among those present were representatives from the countries and regions such as  The European Union, Norway, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.

However, the other main countries such as China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh appear to be neutral observers without attempting to commit anything under the current developments.

India’s silence is remarkable in this instance as it is a country that backed or welcomed the change in 2015. Today, India maintains silence on the issue. It is, in a way, a defeat for the UNP-led camp and a gain for the other side in diplomacy.

New political alignments In politics, there are two sayings proved against time- there are no permanent friends and politics is the art of the possible. Seemingly, these two adages are truer in Sri Lanka than anywhere else.

Crises, challenges and contradictions, often found in politics, lead to the emergence of totally new political alignments or to transform the existing ones with fresh outlooks. Circumstances even force political party leaders to reconcile their differences even with their arch rivals . The latest example is President Sirisena who forged ties with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa casting aside rancour between them. One year ago, nobody would have ever expected that these two leaders would set aside differences. But, political realism left them with no other choice.

In fact, the present climax of political developments originated from the outcome of the Local Government Elections that were conducted on February 10, 2018. Sri Lanka Podujana Pereamuna (SLPP), working under the obvious leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa, won that election.It indicated the dynamics of current political trends, and relegated the President’s UPFA to a distant third.

Fearing a worse political predicament under the unfolding circumstances, 16 UPFA MPs who held ministerial posts in the unity Government voted in favour of a no confidence motion moved against Wickremesinghe from the premiership.

In fact, the President and Wickremesinghe were squabbling internally prior to that. They belong to different breeds of politicians. It is well understandable that they cannot remain in a political marriage for long.

And, the outcome of the Local Government Elections created an opening and gave an excuse for the President to go against Wickremesinghe in the open. That is why, he extended his discreet support to the no confidence motion. At his behest, 16 UPFA MPs voted for the motion. He even asked Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure the support of his MPs to the motion. Wickremesinghe survived the motion, though.

 

After yesterday’s parliamentary session, the UNP MPs were shouting jubilantly whereas the members of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) defied recognising the vote of no confidence on their Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

 

The President, however, persisted with his efforts to oust Wickremesinghe. He invited then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya or former Minister Sajith Premadasa to accept the premiership. Both turned down the offer, as told by the President himself.

Still determined, the President did not stop at that point. He devised another political strategy. This time, he appeared to have come to the conclusion that it would be better to tie up with anyone to sack Wickremesinghe. So, the simmering political crisis climaxed with the President appointing Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister on October 26. It triggered a constitutional impasse, and the President went to the extent of dissolving Parliament.

There is much legal wrangling on the matter. Dissolution has been suspended by the Supreme Court till December 7.

There are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, as goes the saying. It is all the more evident in the fact that President Sirisena united with his arch rival Rajapaksa. In moving the no confidence motion, all groundwork was done by the JVP, along with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). As such, it is an unofficial political alliance of the UNP, the TNA and the JVP. In politics anything is possible and nobody would have thought of a UNP-JVP alliance several years ago. Today, they have a common political objective. It won’t be surprising if the JVP contests the next parliamentary elections on the UNP ticket. Or else, the JVP would stake a credit for unseating Rajapaksa from office by moving and seconding the no confidence motion against him. It is an attempt by the JVP to carve out a niche from the anti- Mahinda vote base.

 

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