Sri Lanka is making another first in the world. This is the only government on the whole planet, of which the ministers and MPs who voted for a no confidence motion against its own prime minister, and by extension the government, can stick to their portfolios after the vote was defeated. Anywhere else they would have resigned, or got sacked, but not here. In that sense this is no longer a government, but a farce.
Sixteen SLFP MPs including six ministers voted for the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is their right to exercise their constitutional mandate as they wished. But it is also their moral responsibility to get out of the government. Instead they claim they will ‘hang on’. They are shameless creatures, and they make one question the whole logic of electoral democracy if this is what it is supposed to be.
Last week a UNP delegation met with the president to demand that the renegade SLFP ministers be removed from their portfolios. The president responded that he could not do that. Why he cannot may be because they were acting with his blessing. He in fact told a group of SLFP Ministers and MPs who met him after their abortive bid, that they did the right thing by voting for the No Confidence motion. The president’s lopsided logic is that sacking the turncoat SLFPers would weaken the party. And by keeping them, he is weakening the government, which he himself has been trying to undermine since the end of the local government elections.
He is making the same flawed calculation that Mr Wickremesinghe did about motives of the Rajapaksa loyalists. The Prime Minister did that because he is delusional, the president does so out of desperation.
The president is in an unenviable position, and he was placed there by more than anything else, due to UNP’s own scheming and incompetence that undermined the anti-corruption campaign. The president had time until the recently concluded local government election to force to the wall his nemesis of the SLFP, many of them have skeletons, some literally in their closets and stolen money in foreign accounts. The UNP squandered that opportunity. In that way, the president is right to be angry. Now rather than fighting off the crooks, the president has decided to join them. He is making the same flawed calculation that Mr Wickremesinghe did about motives of the Rajapaksa loyalists. The Prime Minister did that because he is delusional, the president does so out of desperation. Either way, the both are doomed to fail. Mr Rajapaksa and his goons are street smart and far more cunning than either of them can imagine. They are also hungry for power, and know how to get it. That is by reviving the ugliness of raw insecurities of the Sri Lankan electorate. Sri Lanka’s voters have gradually enlightened themselves over decades, but there are social, economic and cultural factors that obscure the process. After all, if Donald Trump can turn a sizable portion of the American voters into zombies, doing that in Sri Lanka, is a cakewalk . When president tells the UNP not to rely on the TNA votes to defend itself, ironically for a man who won the presidency thanks to the overwhelming minority votes, he betrays that lowliness.
By siding with the Joint Opposition, the president is expediting this generative trend. Sooner or later, he will be eaten by his own lot. He seems to prioritize the interests of the SLFP over the country. But, unfortunately, SLFP that he envisages is no longer a viable entity. It came at a distant third winning barely 13 per cent in the last election and will soon be taken over by the Rajapaksa cohort. The President’s opportunity to consolidate his hold in the party is gone, unless he opts to do something very drastic and perhaps not democratic to take back the control.
Sixteen SLFP MPs including six ministers voted for the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is their right to exercise their constitutional mandate as they wished
The UNP still has a slim window of opportunity not to lose the next election. The first step is to form a new government with the help of the SLFP MPs who voted against the No-Confidence motion. They did so because they have reservations about the return of the Rajapaksas. A new government would provide political stability and cohesion for the next two years.
Second is to have a practical program to roll back the political wave of the Joint Opposition. As long as the UNP keeps vacillating on anti-corruption investigations, and probes such as the Welikada prison massacre, the patrons of the JO do not have anything to worry. If these investigations are deadlocked due to institutional lethargy, the government should appoint assertive individuals who can kick them into action.
Third is the internal reforms of the UNP. They may be gentlemen, but they do not have public appeal, and are detached from the grassroots. Perhaps the unintended positive contribution of the No-Confidence motion was that it hastened the need for party reforms and strengthened the position of those who have been calling for them for too long.
If Donald Trump can turn a sizable portion of the American voters into zombies, doing that in Sri Lanka, is a cakewalk
Fourth is economy. The government cannot expect the market forces to do everything. In countries of our economic development levels, the state plays the role of the catalyst in economic modernization. But that is not possible when the government keeps sending contradictory signals to investors and a minority of demonstrators could block the public traffic at will, the latest in Katunayake , last week. That is not democracy. That is anarchy. In democracies, causing deliberate public inconvenience and sabotage land you in jail.
Perhaps, this may be the last chance for the UNP. It should not squander that opportunity for one more time.