There is no Presidential Election around the corner, but the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), out of the blues, sprang a surprise in political circles saying that President Maithripala Sirisena would be its candidate next time. One cannot disregard it as a knee-jerk comment by a party politician, as it was announced to the country by none other than the SLFP General Secretary, Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake. It was called a decision by the Central Committee of the party. Mr. Dissanayake’s remarks were asserted later again by Social Welfare and Social Empowerment Minister S.B. Dissanayake, representing the Central Committee.
The SLFP’s latest position has stirred a debate in political circles, as the President was elected with the promise to abolish the executive presidency and not to seek office for a second term. So, it has evoked responses from various quarters.
The latest stand might have been announced to neutralize the Joint Opposition harbouring thoughts to field a candidate at the election. Another school of thought is that abolition of the executive presidency will further diminish the political clout of the SLFP.
Though the election is due only in 2020, the political parties have, however, started readying for it with some form of preparations. Identification of possible candidates and social media campaigning are the activities presently being carried out in closed quarters.
As for the prospective candidacy of President Sirisena, it is highly unlikely that the United National Party (UNP), which is the main force that brought him to power this time, would throw its weight behind him at the election in 2020. The party is giving mind to fielding its own candidate for it as it looks at the moment. As such, if the President wishes to contest and win presidency for the second term, he will have to do it by making a compromise with the Joint Opposition only. Otherwise, his own political base will hardly suffice for the purpose. Be that as it may, any patch-up between President Sirisena and his predecessor Rajapaksa is a distant possibility, because bitterness runs high as things stands at the moment. Antagonism showed once again when the President pooh-poohed the avowal by Mr. Rajapaksa to topple the government this year by roping in the members of the ruling side in Parliament at a critical point.
In response to Mr. Rajapaksa who made such remarks during a meeting with the Foreign Correspondents’ Association, the President, addressing a function in the Kandy area to mark the inauguration of a recently constructed bridge, said the unity government would serve its full term, and it would be a daydream for anyone to unseat it.
“If there is anyone to form a government, a parliamentary majority will have to be shown. That is possible as far as I am, along with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in agreement with it. None of us will support such an exercise. It is a dream for anyone to change this government before its term ends,” he said.
The Joint Opposition rushed in, to respond to the President in the immediate aftermath of it. On behalf of it, Prof. G.L. Peiris who is also the Chairman of the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Party, countered the President at a press conference. Quoting the constitution, he said, the person to be appointed as the Prime Minister, should be the one commanding the majority support of Parliament. Otherwise, he said the government could not be run as legislations or annual budgets could not be enacted.
“We now have a situation in which a state minister has resigned. There are many others, as a result of deep disillusionment with the government, who are talking about coming over. There are informal consultations taking place. When it reached the situation in which the Prime Minister loses his majority, the duty of the President, in terms of the Constitution, is to identify an alternative Prime Minister who will command the support of Parliament,” he said.
He said that the Speaker had no role whatsoever in this case.
“The Speaker has a role in the situation of an impeachment of the President. If the resolution for an impeachment is passed by two thirds, he has to accept it. Here, there is no impeachment against the President,” he said.
Different views among MPs of both sides on forming a new government
On the formation of a new government under the current Parliament, the MPs of both sides hold different positions. Within the SLFP, some Ministers like Mahinda Amaraweera and Duminda Dissanayake want the status quo to remain until the term ends for the present Parliament. Alongside, there are others in the party who want to review the party stand after the initial two –year period meant for the unity government in September, this year and opt for a SLFP-led government with some understanding with the Joint Opposition. The President is not averse to some compromise with the Joint Opposition for future politics in general, as long as Mr. Rajapaksa is excluded. However, the Joint Opposition will not be ready for such exclusion in making compromises. Overtures are made to the Joint Opposition by the SLFPers to find any consensual point.
The UNP also consists of members who want to form a government of its own casting aside the SLFP. There again, some insist on proceeding with the current set-up till the next election, notwithstanding current odds against its forward march.
Aspirants of the local authorities’ election were in for a rude shock as the logistics for it hit the hard road once again. That happened after much wrangling emerged over the acceptance of the report of the delimitation review committee. Subject Minister Faizer Mustapha insists that all the five members who served in the committee should place their signatures on the final report whereas some others including his colleagues in the government argue that it was not wrong for him to accept it even with three signatures.
Against this backdrop, a new discussion has now been opened whether the election should be conducted under the mixed system or revert to the old Proportional Representation System. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a meeting with the political party leaders on Monday.
At the meeting, the political parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the All Ceylon People’s Congress of Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen favoured representation to the local authorities more from the Proportional Representation System. However, Joint Opposition’s parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardane who sat in the meeting despite not being invited, stood for the current mixed system. His position was asserted at the meeting by Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. In fact, the JVP voiced against the current system first, and was backed by the SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and Mr. Bathiudeen, desirous of the old system. At one point, the JVP representative MP Vijitha Herath even threatened to boycott the election, in case the government proceeded with the new formula. Over this, he was shot back by Minister de Silva and Mr. Gunawardane.
“It is characteristic of the JVP to boycott the election,” they snapped. Finally, there was agreement to conduct the election under the new system. Minister Mustapha also said he would accept the report and announce the electoral wards in a gazette notification as per the legal requirement to conduct the polls sooner or later.
Kabir takes on SLFP for decision to retain executive presidency
State Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim who was present at the meeting, took on the SLFP at once and inquired how it could make unilateral statements that the executive presidency would not be abolished.
“The SLFP has signed a MoU with us. How can it make such announcements?” he thundered. His views were not entertained as such at the meeting as they were not directly relevant to the topic for discussion on the day.
The local authorities - Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas – have functioned without elected representatives for the last two years now.
Meanwhile, a delegation led by Prof. Peiris met with Election Commission’s Chairman Mahinda Desapriya this week, and stressed the need for the election to be conducted as early as possible. The delegation said four committee members had signed the report on delimitation and therefore the Minister concerned had no ground to reject it.
TNA now skeptical on constitution-making process
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had its parliamentary group meeting early this week to take stock of things in terms of progress. Most of its MPs are of the opinion that the constitution-making process is unlikely to succeed.
They had some hope with the submission of reports by the sub-committees recommending power devolution in the interest of the Tamils. But, they lost hope after the SLFP announced that it would stand only for the unitary form of governance. After a careful calculation of the situation, the TNA, however, decided not to do anything that would derail the whole process at this juncture. Instead, the party would wait and see how the situation developed. It would also try to get something out of the process. Let alone, most MPs are of the view that nothing will happen in their favour.
It is learnt that the SLFP is to stick to the 13th Amendment as the basis. It will opt for anything, within the contours of the 13th Amendment.