In the early hours of 3rd December 1998 a meeting was convened at the official residence of the late Minister and Leader of SLMC, M.H.M. Ashraff. Among those present at the meeting was Prof. M.T.A. Furkhan, Dr. Rohan Edrisinghe and a few others. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the forming of the National Unity Alliance (NUA). Mr. Ashraff explained the purpose of convening the meeting and unfolded his thinking to those present.
The initial reaction of those who were present was not encouraging. It seemed Mr. Ashraff had some benevolent ideas which sounded more like simple rhetoric. He said fifty years of post independent politics could not bring in unity among various communities and the country was facing one of the greatest challenges. Inter community relations were strained irreparably and one of the causes was the inability of the people to interact with each other freely due to language barrier.
Professor Furkhan welcomed the formation of the NUA and stressed the need to spread the message throughout the country and to especially target the younger generation. Dr. Edrisinghe was more circumspect and generally agreed with the long-term objective of the NUA. Though both of them dropped out subsequent to the first meeting the process of forming the NUA continued. A core group was appointed to identify priorities, formulate policy and to draft a manifesto. It was tasked to identify changes that are needed in the executive, legislative and judicial spheres.
Fifteen years after his untimely death we are witnessing a unique situation in Parliament. Majority of Sri Lanka Parliament are members of the UPFA. President Maithripala Sirisena is the Chairman of the biggest constituent party, the SLFP. Section of the SLFP MPs supports President Sirisena and the Prime Minister from the government ranks and the rest support his 100 day programme whilst remaining in the Opposition
Roughly one year later the NUA was declared to the public as a political organisation. An invitation was extended to “those who are prepared to work selflessly and tirelessly with patience, the National Unity Alliance promises a united Sri Lanka by the year 2012”. The motto was “Mother Lanka wants every citizen – All citizens want one Sri Lanka”. The invitation was open to all like minded Sri Lankans to come and join the march.
In his long-term vision Mr. Ashraff envisaged that a united Sri Lanka would emerge with the establishment of a new democracy without Opposition. NUA was to be the vehicle for the long and difficult journey. Certain salient features of the “democracy without Opposition” concept were identified and articulated in public. They included freedom of the individual, abolition of the Westminster type of adversarial politics, constitution of committee system where every Member of Parliament shares executive power, accountability of the Head of State and the strengthening of the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary. Great emphasis was placed on the committee system which prevailed under the Donoughmour Constitution.
The NUA was recognised by the Commissioner of Elections as a political party and Mr. Ashraff fielded candidates of the NUA in several districts in the Parliamentary Elections that was held in 2000. During the campaign he died in a helicopter crash.
Fifteen years after his untimely death we are witnessing a unique situation in Parliament. The majority of Sri Lanka Parliament are members of the UPFA. President Maithripala Sirisena is the Chairman of the biggest constituent party, the SLFP. A section of the SLFP MPs supports President Sirisena and the Prime Minister from the government ranks and the rest support his 100 day programme whilst remaining in the Opposition.
President Sirisena commands the unequivocal support from more than 2/3 of the MPs. Incidentally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the national leader of the UNP which has less than 50 MPs in Parliament. The UPFA does not challenge him to prove majority of MPs support him. The bulk of the Cabinet of Ministers is from the UNP. It sounds surreal but that is the present governing arrangement. No one would have imagined Sri Lanka would end up with this unique cohabitation arrangement when President Rajapaksa declared his intention to contest for the third time.
Though the run-up to the election was bitter, acrimonious and violent, the post election period witnessed a time of reconciliation as a substantial section of the MPs of the SLFP supports the Prime Minister in Parliament. The 100-Day programme is a good cover for them to offer support to a programme rather than to individuals.
The current Cabinet of Ministers is dominated by members of the UNP and includes members drawn from the SLFP and some other political parties. One wonders whether we are witnessing the first seeds of democracy without Opposition taking root. No doubt as Mr. Ashraff would be a happy man that the party he created, the SLMC is part of the evolving political culture.
The test begins when the Parliamentary Elections are announced. Both President and the Prime Minister will have to work out a miraculous deal to maintain the political equilibrium. At present it is unthinkable that there would be a coalition of the UNP and the SLFP for the parliamentary elections. Even the candidature of the President Sirisena was beyond imagination before he announced his intention to contest his own President and party Chairman.
The test begins when the Parliamentary Elections are announced. Both the President and the PM will have to work out a miraculous deal to maintain the political equilibrium.
No doubt there are dissenting voices and ideas. President Sirisena and the government are mindful of the mandate and the responsibilities on their shoulders. SLFP led coalition is also well aware of the near 48% mandate received from the people. Both put together one can assume that the President currently enjoys the confidence of more than 98% of the people.
The tme has come to put an end to antagonistic and confrontational politics and usher in a democracy where all are equal stakeholders. It is up to both the President and the Prime Minister to consolidate the hard earn victory and protect the foundation the people have built through their ballot.