The union of the two major parties or rather coalitions led by the two major parties that have ruled the country since Independence was a first when it happened in January 2015. It was strange and few would have expected a smooth relationship.
Many welcomed it and even hoped it would put an end to the endless, meaningless and counter-productive bickering between two parties, which were ideologically not really at odds with one another.
It was a new experiment and a new experience. There was bound to be teething issues. There was hope and there was skepticism because, after all, it was ‘those two parties’ and ‘well-known’ politicians operating in a political culture few could cheer.
It was going to be difficult for another reason. The composition of Parliament did not change when President Sirisena was elected. The ‘Unity Arrangement’ would have resulted in even those who campaigned against the newly inducted regime becoming part of the Government. It was certainly not the best situation for reasons that do not require elaboration.
Parliamentary Democracy is obviously not just about the Government and governance. It is also about an Opposition. That was another problem. The strange circumstances in which the new Government came into being also spawned the strangest Opposition the country had ever known. We had one faction of one of the key constituents of the new Government being deemed ‘The Opposition’. And the new Opposition Leader was technically a part of the Government given his party affiliation.
The August 2015 General Elections could have put things in order or at least in more recognizable form in terms of established parliamentary practice but that wasn’t to be. The United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) contested separately and put together a second ‘Unity Government’ which cynics could well dub the political version of the movie ‘Odd Couple II’. It was a marriage of convenience not only to sideline the ‘common enemy’ but to satisfy the ministerial-longings of MPs, this time courtesy an escape clause in the 19th Amendment.
A section of the SLFP openly stood against the arrangement but they were still technically part of the ruling coalition. The Opposition Leader’s post went to the party that had the most seats outside of those who now made the Government. The political veteran R Sampanthan of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) became the Opposition Leader.
It was less of an aberration than Nimal Siripala Silva being the Opposition Leader but an irregularity nevertheless since the TNA was part of the coalition that supported Maithripala Sirisena’s candidacy in January 2015.
When the Opposition Leader on account of his or her political affiliations has a split identity, it is tough to discharge duties which are essentially a matter of questioning the government of the day and hold it accountable to the public. The TNA, today, has taken a stand. It stood with the Government on a crucial vote, a vote on a motion of no-confidence. The TNA, thereby, has forfeited all moral authority to hold on to the post of Opposition Leader.
The results of the local government elections on February 10 clearly demonstrated with which political coalition the people who are against this government stand; the joint opposition which of course is the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in all but name.
The Unity Government is in disarray, this is a fact. The Opposition Leader seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. There are things that cannot be corrected short of dissolving parliament, but there are anomalies that can be set right. For example, the post of Opposition Leader in a Parliament that has 76 MPs standing against the Government whereas the party of the current Opposition Leader not only has just 16 but has stood with the Government.