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Things seem calm for Govt. but fire simmers underneath

22 February 2018 12:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Things looked settled for the national unity government between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) when President Maithripala Sirisena asked his Ministers not to leave it at this hour. Tension is still simmering, though. Though the government appears to be intact, the two sides find it uneasy to be together and face discomforts with each other.   

On the one hand, President Maithripala Sirisena did not articulate in clear cut terms that he would abandon efforts to replace Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Instead, he asked the SLFP Ministers to bear with him for a while until he finished exploring constitutional means to appoint a new Cabinet.   

This has created consternation within the UNP, particularly among those loyal to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. All in all, the government now operates with all uneasiness and uncertainty with the President and the PM looking in different directions though they are together in statutory books.   

The UNP wants to run the government without any meddling by the President or the SLFP for that matter. Nevertheless, the SLFP believes otherwise.  Bulk of the SLFP Ministers, according to political sources, is in for a rude shock as President Sirisena instructed them to be with the status quo at this hour.   

The President made such a request at a meeting on Tuesday despite the fact that the dominant opinion of the party was to break ranks with the UNP once and for all.   

The President asked them to stay for a while till he got the opinion of the Supreme Court on the legality of the national unity government intended for the two year period that ended in December, last year. In case, it is rendered unconstitutional, the entire Cabinet stands dissolved paving the way for the President to appoint a new one along with a new Prime Minister.   

Obviously, the President is biding his time until such an opinion is expressed by the Supreme Court. Everything hangs in the balance in this respect. It is hard to imagine what would happen next as the political equation keeps changing constantly.   

Dayasiri, Susil boycott Cabinet
The first post-election Cabinet meeting took place on Tuesday. Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, hand-picked by the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to succeed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister in the event of a Cabinet change, attended the meeting chaired by the President.   

Nevertheless, Minister Jayasekera and Science and Technology Research Minister Susil Premajayantha who boycotted the meeting as a mark of 

protest, were absent. Reportedly, they did it in protest over the failure on the part of the President to remove the PM.The SLFPers continue to press for a change of Cabinet including the PM. This is bound to create further confusions in 
the government.  

So, for the government, it is now a gruelling task to secure the two-thirds in Parliament for the enactment of any controversial piece of legislation such as a new Constitution.   

The constitution making process received a body blow as a result of instability created by the election results. For Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which won the polls, it was a gain. In fact, it campaigned at the election against the proposed constitution on the basis that it, if enacted, would compromise sovereignty of Sri Lanka.   

UNP wants to run the govt without any meddling by the President or the SLFP. Nevertheless, SLFP believes otherwise.  

Champika, Kiriella clash at Cabinet over central expressway
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, however, avoided any discussion on a change of government. Instead, it confined itself to discuss routine subject matters.   

Yet, at one point, tension prevailed at the meeting as Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella confronted each other once again over the high cost involved in the execution of the third phase of the central expressway between Pothuhera and Galagedara.   

Minister Ranawaka, instead, proposed a four-lane road between Kurunegala and Kandy which, he said, would cost only Rs. 20 billion instead of Rs.135 billion to be spent for the Pothuhera - Galagedara stretch of the road.   

He stressed the need for concentration on areas of priority for development instead of putting money on projects that would yield less for the country.   “People have given a thundering slap on the government at the election. When working, that has to be kept in mind,” he told the Cabinet.   

Criticism on the expressway outraged Minister Kiriella who considers it as his passion project. He was backed by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama.  It led to a kind of showdown between the two ministers. In putting forth his views, Minister Ranawaka received wide accolade from the Ministers such as Mahinda Amaraweera.  

Minister Ranawaka, instead, proposed a four-lane road between Kurunegala and Kandy which, he said, would cost only Rs. 20 billion instead of Rs.135 billion to be spent for the Pothuhera - Galagedara stretch of the road

ITAK downfall has two-pronged effect
Ilankai Tamil Arachu Kachchi (ITAK), which used to dominate northern politics, found its vote base plummeted at the local government elections conducted on February 10. When it paled in politics, two other parties- All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) gained significantly.   

It is true that ITAK represented by key figures such as R. Sampanthan, M.A. Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah, turned out to be the single largest party in the northern province and the Tamil majority areas of the Eastern Province. Yet, it happened with a reduced majority. The ITAK polled 105,947 votes whereas ACTC and EPDP got 63,207 and 57,679 votes respectively.   

It is positive news that EPDP gained as far as communal harmony and genuine reconciliation are concerned. It is a party that cooperated with the successive governments of Sri Lanka and stood against the LTTE separatism right throughout. As such the EPDP’s success is something welcoming for the country.   

However, it is bad news for the country that ACTC, led by former MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam scored at this election. It came a close second to the ITAK. In his election manifestos, it is a party that advocated the concept called ‘One country, two nations’. This is nothing but a separatist approach couched in subtle wording.  

Extremism will raise its ugly head in case the ACTC becomes the main political force in the north. During the campaign, in fact, this party accused the ITAK of agreeing to a unitary state and the foremost place to Buddhism.   

The rise of its vote base is the acceptance of such hard-line positions by a segment of the northern society.   

 

JO to organize public rallies 
The Joint Opposition leaders basking in the glory of electoral success took stock of current political developments on Tuesday evening.   The leaders, including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, decided to conduct a series of public rallies starting from Nugegoda on March 6 to press for a snap general election. What is to come in the future is political instability coupled with public agitation under the current political developments.     

Bad news for the country is that ACTC, led by former MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam scored at this election. It came a close second to the ITAK. In his election manifestos, it is a party that advocated the concept called ‘One country, two nations’

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