The government, for the first time after its formation, was in for a rude shock in Parliament on Tuesday when its resolution to raise Rs. 400 billion by issuing Treasury Bills in the local financial market was voted out by the opposition.
At the previous Business Committee Meeting of Parliament, the government representatives; particularly Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ajith P. Perera, sought the support of the opposition representatives to secure parliamentary approval to pass this resolution under the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance.
The government is in dire financial straits to make various payments accrued both due to actions done by the previous rule, and fresh initiatives taken by it after the Presidential Election. Today, the Opposition commands the parliamentary majority, and that its support is fundamental for the smooth operation of governmental affairs in the House. Likewise, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), despite occupying back benches in the House, has accepted Cabinet portfolios in the government.
Against this backdrop, it never anticipated any attempt by the opposition or, at least section of it, to scuttle the passage of this resolution through Parliament. Yet, a section of the Opposition, including some SLFP members, had a discreet plan in their mind to defeat this resolution. They pre-planned everything.
After the debate on the resolution was over, it was Frontline Socialist Party MP Ajith Kumara who called for a division, an act never anticipated by the government. By the time, even Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake who moved the resolution was not present as he did not expect any resistance to the regulation.
Finally, it was put to a vote, and 52 Opposition MPs said ‘No’ to the resolution whereas the government could muster only 31 votes in favour.
In this fashion, the resolution was voted out, ringing alarm bells for the government to be more watchful about the Opposition in the conduct of its parliamentary affairs in future hereafter. This was the first time the Opposition members acted to thwart a governmental business, despite the hierarchies of the two main parties - the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP) – having politically aligned with each other to form a national government to execute the 100-day programme for which a mandate was received at the last Presidential Election.
In the light of the current political developments in the country, this defeat can never be taken in isolation as the political powwow between the sides have reached a critical point now over some policy differences. Hence, the Tuesday’s fiasco in Parliament is seen as the initial step of setting the trend against the government.
Also, this happened at a crucial moment when the country awaits the unity of the two main parties to enact the important constitutional bill – the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Bill is listed to be taken up for debate today. But, already, the SLFP has announced that it will oppose to the enactment of it unless the government evolves fresh legislation for electoral reforms. Likewise, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has expressed its opposition to the contents of the Bill, and that, the parliamentary passage of this legislation is slated to hit snags during the two-day debate.
Amid such developments, the straining of political relations between the two parties will not bode well for the exercise by President Maithripala Sirisena to carry out his 100-day programme with important legislation featuring it prominently.
Commenting on the situation, Minister Karunanayake said the government would not face any problem in the payment of salaries to public servants though its bid to raise Rs. 400 billion through Treasury Bills was thwarted.
“We will even pay festival advances to them,” he said.
He said Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva assured that there would not be a vote on the resolution.
UNP sets the stage for A general election
A soured political relation with the SLFP is interpreted by the UNP analysts as a blessing in guise at this moment. The party, which remained in the Opposition since 1994, barring the two-year period between 2002 and 2004, considers this as the most opportune moment for an electoral victory. As a result, the party appears to be setting the stage for the dissolution of Parliament though SLFP seeks a postponement of it.
There are reasons for the UNP to consider this as the most appropriate time for dissolution of Parliament. On the one hand, SLFP, after the electoral defeat of its Presidential Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa, is politically distraught, and remained divided. A divided SLFP will provide the opportunity for the UNP to make headway in politics.
But, in case the dissolution of Parliament is delayed, SLFP will find a breathing space to get things in order, and to position itself well for an election. Probably, the UNP is trying to capitalize on the current situation to convert it to its electoral gain.
Also, the UNP has a valid point to advocate the dissolution of Parliament at this hour as President Sirisena sought a mandate for a 100-day programme slated to end on April 23. After that, it is clearly said, Parliament will be dissolved for an early election. The party is working in this direction now. Its MPs have already started working at their respective electorates in view of a general election.
Pro -MR campaign gathers momentum
SLFP rift is getting widened and visible as MPs, agitating for the nomination of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, are acting rigorously with the four parties that took the initiative first.
An office has already been set up at Abhayarama Temple in Colombo to coordinate political work for Mr. Rajapaksa. SLFP’s local authorities and Provincial Council members representing the Galle district had a meeting at this office yesterday.
Though Mr. Rajapaksa has not articulated his position openly, clear indications have emerged from his side that he will stage a comeback in politics.
Especially, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), National Freedom Front (NFF), Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) and Democratic Left Front (DLF) are playing an active role in this respect. They are backed by a sizable chunk of SLFP MPs and parties such as the Communist Party and Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).
They are planning to have their next rally in Kurunegala on April 25 to press for the nomination of Mr. Rajapaksa as the prime ministerial candidate.
Though most of the SLFP’s junior MPs, local government members and provincial councillors yearn for Mr. Rajapaksa to return to active politics, however, the party hierarchy is not in favour of his nomination as the prime ministerial candidate. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is opposed tooth and nail to the presence of Mr. Rajapaksa in active politics again. Incensed by the latest developments, Ms. Kumaratunga has started criticizing Mr. Rajapaksa for trying to stage a comeback.
“All other Presidents retired after their terms. Mr. Rajapaksa is the only President who was defeated after his bid for a third term. If he can do politics, he is free to involve in party activities. Otherwise, he can leave it,” she thundered at a party meeting.
Sensing the impeding electoral impact without Mr. Rajapaksa in its fold, some SLFP seniors are in an arduous task of uniting Ms. Kumaratunga, Mr. Rajapaksa and President Sirisena during this trying time.
However, a senior MP from the party opined that the unity between Ms. Kumaratunga and Mr. Rajapaksa is hardly possible as their personal animosities against each other have reached epic proportions.
What are they trying to achieve. Transfer the Presidential powers to a nominated prime minister. Then they have not mentioned about a term limit to the prime minister. Ranil who got defeated 30 times still the leader of UNP. But in the SLFP with one defeat a political turn coat assume office of the president. All these jumping band wagon, and things being done under the name of good governess should stop. Today the government making announcement that all the MPs can import a vehicle. Laksman Kiriella making a statement in the parliament yesterday that they will excuse all the opposition MPs of corruption charges if they vote in favour of 19th amendment. What are these moves. Perhaps there is another aspect of good governess I do not see.
Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.