As the New Year 2017 dawned yesterday, the Rainbow Coalition - which was swept to office with high hopes and expectations on January 8, 2015 - was facing political thunderstorms.
The national government leaders, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were optimistic and said the New Year would be a turnaround for Sri Lanka with poverty alleviation, sustainable all inclusive development and measures to curb climate change being given high priority.
But in both parties from front-liners including ministers have publicly made charges against each other with major divisions erupting over the Central Bank Bond scam, the slow rate of progress in probing corruption rackets allegedly involving the VIPs of the former regime and the Draft Bill for accelerated development with the setting up of a highly powerful coordinating agency.
State Minister and Sri Lanka Freedom Party media spokesman Dilan Perera has been in the frontline of the attacks. Recently he even hinted that the Memorandum of Understanding for a national government between the two major parties, might be reviewed in August this year, two years after it was signed. But the President and the Prime Minister have expressed confidence that despite differences and disputes over various issues the National Unity government would continue till 2020 and even thereafter. With Dilan Perera and other ministers openly attacking some of the policies of the United National Party last year, some UNP frontliners have also come out publicly for a counter attack. Last Friday a group of UNP front-liners led by General Secretary Kabir Hashim met President Sirisena for a dialogue on the disputes and the public attacks on UNP leaders. The President reportedly assured them he would take action to maintain unity in diversity so that the good governance administration could continue to consolidate democracy and bring about social justice through a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
On New Year’s eve, President Sirisena went to the Dalada Maligawa where after obtaining blessings he reiterated his sacrificial commitment to national unity, poverty alleviation and curbing climate change. The positive note was sounded in the President’s New Year message also where he called on all party leaders and members to make a sacrificial commitment to rebuild a new Sri Lanka with multi-religious and multi-racial unity in diversity and economic relief for all, especially the poor. In a New Year message, the Prime Minister also called for a sincere and sacrificial commitment by all to the mission of building a new Sri Lanka. He expressed confidence that despite storms and disputes nothing and no one could bring down the national unity government - an apparent reference to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent threat that the government would be brought down this year.
According to most analysts the choice for the national government leaders is clear.
They could either swim together or sink separately plunging the country into the danger of some populist backlash as we are seeing in the United States and Western Europe. As the President and the Prime Minister are stressing, whatever the differences or disputes that may arise there is a vital need for discipline. In both major parties ministers and MPs need to look beyond the desire for personal or party gain and work together for the common good of the country. Though democracy and freedom have been restored to a large extent, discipline and responsibility are also needed for progress and stability. One vital area is the principle of collective responsibility in the Cabinet. Often last year we saw instances where Bills were approved by the Cabinet but later some ministers came out strongly against what they had approved possibly because they had not bothered to fully read the drafts. Just as the President and Prime Minister are calling for the media to exercise its rights in a responsible way, the same principle needs to apply to the cabinet and national unity government. That would be the New Year wish and hope of most of the people.