- These SLFP MPs have decided to be absent at the behest of President Sirisena
- It has been agreed in principle that a broad front should be formed
- In fact, SLFP, by forming an alliance with the SLPP, intended to announce Sirisena as the candidate
Bilateral talks between Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) hit a snag over the move by the latter to be absent during the Budget vote after its Second Reading in Parliament.
The SLFP MPs, barring four of them, were absent during the vote in contrast to the collective decision to vote against it. SLFP and SLPP function under the banner of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in Parliament. The SLFP decision evoked an angry response from the rank and file of SLPP. According to reports, the SLPP rank and file has read this stand of the SLFP MPs as their extension of indirect support to the United National Party (UNP) to get the budget through in Parliament at a trying time for it.
These SLFP MPs including the likes of Mahinda Amaraweera are reported to have decided to be absent at the behest of President Maithripala Sirisena who is the leader of the SLFP. It is plausible that the President did not want to mess up the Budget since it contained the allocations for his office and Ministries. Moreover, he faced veiled threats by some UNP MPs, who are newcomers to Parliament, to vote out the head of expenditure for the President’s office during the committee stage. So, he would have instructed the MPs loyal to him to abstain or be absent during the vote.
"Some even doubt whether President Sirisena will instruct the SLFP to back out from the negotiation process since it is now certain that he cannot clinch the presidential candidacy"
However, it construed a different message to the SLPP whose rank and file started questioning the genuineness of the SLFP in forming a broad political front against the UNP in view of the next Presidential Elections.
Against the backdrop, the SLPP now harbours suspicions about SLFP, and it is bound to deal blow to bilateral talks currently in progress.
The next round of talks is scheduled for today. It has been agreed in principle that a broad front should be formed. During the last round of talks, the two parties decided to move towards agreement on policy matters, and talks have now suffered a setback following the SLFP’s abstention during the vote on March 12, 2019.
A successful conclusion of talks hangs in the balance over such ill feeling and suspicion. Some even doubt whether President Sirisena will instruct the SLFP to back out from the negotiation process since it is now certain that he cannot clinch the presidential candidacy.
That President Sirisena not getting nomination became certain after the media reported quite extensively that former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa filed his papers to renounce his US citizenship ostensibly to fulfill the constitutional requirement to be the candidate. President Sirisena was making a bid for it otherwise. But, the path is now rock- strewn for him to secure nomination. In fact, SLFP, by forming an alliance with the SLPP, intended to announce President Sirisena as the candidate. Yet, it is no longer viable now because it is Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is likely to be blessed by SLPP. In that context, SLFP now goes for talks with a defeatist posture with one of its objectives lost.
Green light for UNP from Prez to form national Govt
Against the backdrop, the UNP-led Government believes that there is the green light from the President for its motion to increase the size of its Cabinet, so that the Government could pacify a few of its dissenting MPs by offering portfolios.
Apparently, the President sent such a signal to the Government as a warning to the SLPP and the Joint Opposition. SLPP left the President crestfallen by moving to deny the presidential candidacy to a front represented by him. In the event of President Sirisena siding with the government, the UPFA’s position in Parliament will be weakened somewhat.
The leaders of the political parties, aligned with the UNP, met on Tuesday and discussed how to proceed with its motion to form a national Government since the President appeared to be positive. It is true that rancor between the President and the Prime Minister is at an all time high. However, he did not disturb the Government’s functions as such during the last few months. Some Government ministers read it as a positive signal from the President to the Government to conduct its businesses.
At this meeting, the copies of the Constitution of the proposed UNP-led alliance were circulated among the party leaders.
The alliance named’ National Democratic Front’ is to be formed ahead of the Presidential Elections. According to its constitution, a leadership council comprising ten members from the alliance partners is proposed to be set up for decision making. The UNP, as the dominant ally, will get more than 51 percent of representation in it. Besides, any decision will have to be taken by the approval of the majority of the alliance partners in case unanimous approval cannot be secured.
Three-pronged battle for presidential candidacy in UNP
If the new alliance is formed and its constitution adopted, the UNP would not be able to decide on its own on the presidential candidate. In addition to its consent for the candidate chosen, the UNP would have to secure the support of the majority of alliance partners.
The UNP has not handpicked anyone as the candidate so far. Yet, aspirants have started promoting themselves. Key among them is Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who is promoting himself ahead of the presidential elections. A major move in this direction is the fact that he received an honorary award from Malwatte Chapter of Siam Nikaya. He sees it as a fillip in boosting his image as a Buddhist leader. The Speaker is a person favoured by some civil society organisations that played a role in the installation of the Yahapalana regime.
However, most UNP MPs prefer Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa to be their candidate this time. Alongside, there is another segment promoting present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the candidate. So, it looks like a three-pronged battle within the UNP to secure candidacy for the presidential elections.
"SLPP left the President crestfallen by moving to deny the presidential candidacy to a front represented by him"
MR, Gota, Basil meet Menon in Colombo
Former Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon was in Sri Lanka this week on an invitation extended by Pathfinder Foundation. He served as the Foreign Secretary of India during the civil war in Sri Lanka. He was one of the officials who served in the troika appointed by the Indian side to get in touch with the Sri Lankan side and take decisions related to the war. The Sri Lankan troika then comprised Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.
During his visit to Sri Lanka, Menon again got an opportunity to meet with the Sri Lankan troika which is now out of power, but making a bid to make a comeback.
He met them over dinner at Cinnamon Lake Side Hotel on Monday. In addition to Gotabaya, Basil and Lalith Weeratunga, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the wartime President of Sri Lanka, joined them at the dinner.
Apart from the usual chatter, they shared views on the current developments of local and Indian politics. Menon welcomed the conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka.
President shoots down Ravi K’s Cabinet paper
The Cabinet of Ministers met on Tuesday as usual with President Sirisena in the chair. Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake presented an interesting Cabinet paper requesting the Treasury to absorb the cost involved in providing free electricity to conduct annual main Peraheras in the country. Presently, the cost is absorbed by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).
However, the President was not in favour of such a paper being presented to the Cabinet. He said it would trigger a controversy if the Government took a decision to this effect, and therefore asked the Minister not to bring up such papers.
Annually, around 30 main Peraheras are conducted in the country. The CEB bears a cost of Rs.50 million for it.