The politics of coalition in survival mode | Daily News


The politics of coalition in survival mode

As we approach the end of two weeks after the recent Local Government poll there is a motley of political developments that point to somewhat receding divisions within the ruling coalition of the UNP and SLFP-UPFA, and strategic thinking among the SLPP aimed at the longer goals of electoral success in the future.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and UPFA General Secretary, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, informed Parliament that National Government – which brought the UNP and UPFA together by the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of September 3, 2015, remains valid, and the National Government is in place. This followed questions raised with the Speaker by members of the Opposition – those of the Joint Opposition and the JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, regarding the lack of validity of the MoU, not been extended beyond its two year term. The two statements from the UNP leader and the UPFA General Secretary sought to clear the doubts expressed to the Speaker by the Opposition, and convey the message that the post-Local Government election differences between the two parties of the ruling coalition, had not led to a breakdown of this political and governing relationship.

The continuing validity of this MoU is important in the context of the structure of the government, especially the size of the Cabinet, because the absence of a Government of National Unity would mean there could only be 30 Cabinet Ministers, and reducing the number of Deputy Ministers and State Ministers. While Parliament is given this assurance, there remains an area of doubt, in view of reports that President Sirisena has sought the opinion of the Supreme Court on the status of the agreement on unity.

The statement to Parliament by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe underscored the constitutionality of the present position, stating the MoU was signed in keeping with provision 46(4) of the Constitution, as amended, and submitting such documents of agreement between parties in the House, to Parliament, is not mandatory. This position on constitutionality was similar to the position the Prime Minister took last Friday, when he told the media that he remained as Prime Minister under the provisions of the Constitution, when there were strong demands, both by the SLFP and SLPP for his removal from office, and such demands appeared to affected President Sirisena, leading to concerns about the unity of the coalition.

Reports of a Cabinet reshuffle have not materialized at the time this is written on Thursday (when the shakeup was due), and it appears the coalition of unity would continue; causing major issues to members of the UPFA-SLFP within it. They were among the loudest calling for the removal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, after the local polls, which was a continuance of the campaign of attack against the UNP and its leader by the UPFA-SLFP Ministers during the local poll campaign, more than echoing attacks at the UNP and its leadership by President Sirisena himself. It certainly gives the impression that the UPFA-SLFP voices in this anti-UNP and anti-Ranil campaign are not aware of constitutional realities, which came about through the 19th Amendment, adopted with their support. Most of the UPFA-SLFP Ministers display a great liking for their former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR), who now leads the SLPP in substance, and show a major display of constitutional ignorance and political unreality, which does not seem wholly acceptable to MR himself, in the context of future politics.

Harsh realities

Had the National Unity coalition collapsed as the SLFP Ministers and activists campaigned for, the ability of the UNP to form even a minority government, with support on an issue basis with the TNA, Muslim parties, and even the JVP, would mean reduction of the Cabinet to 30 members and the complete elimination of UPFA-SLFP members. If some UPFA ministers cross over to support PM Wickremesinghe and the UNP, as things were evident, the loud and screaming SLFPers would have little choice but to be independent members of the Opposition, This is certainly not the stuff they bargained for, when they abandoned Mahinda Rajapaksa, after the August 2015 General Election, and responded to President Sirisena’s call for a National Government, with all the perks and privileges of ministerial office. The reality of politics has certainly dealt a harsh blow on these leapfrogging players of the blue camp.

The SLPP that won so hugely in the Local Poll, to control the vast majority of local bodies, continues its own call to be the leading party of the Opposition, with Mahinda Rajapaksa himself as the Leader of the Opposition. This goes beyond the earlier call for the Joint Opposition (JO) to be the main opposition in parliament, claiming to have the largest number of opposition members in Parliament. This is indeed a major fallacy, which does not take note of parliamentary tradition, and the realities of the SLPP’s recent electoral success.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, with his considerable experience in parliamentary politics would no doubt make a good Leader of the Opposition. But, both he and the JO members in parliament are not members of any parliamentary opposition. All of them won as candidates of the UPFA at the August 2015 General Election. The leader of the UPFA-SLFP at that election was President Maithripala Sirisena, who in fact said before the election that he would not recommend MR to be Prime Minister, if the UPFA obtained a majority of seats. The UNP obtained the majority of 106 seats, and the UPFA was many seats behind the 113 needed for a majority in the 225 member House.

The memories of those in the JO, and now the SLPP claimants, have certainly shut down the reality that the UPFA, led by President Sirisena joined the UNP, with the MoU of September 2015 to form the government of National Unity. All JO (or now SLPP claimed members) remain in the UPFA, that is part of the Government, and its leader, President Sirisena chairs Cabinet meetings. So, how can the JO or SLPP members claim any status as Opposition members or the office of Leader of the Opposition?

The TNA became the main Opposition party because it was the party with the largest number of opposition members, just like the TULF became the official opposition party after the JR Jayewardene UNP landslide victory in 1977.

The JO members, who are making loud noises about it being the formal and largest Opposition, would have to resign from the SLFP or UPFA, and declare their new party allegiance to Parliament, to be considered a separate Opposition party. This is true for Mahinda Rajapaksa, too. Of course they are no doubt aware of the dangers of resigning from the party they were elected to parliament from, and declaring a new party allegiance, because this could lead to expulsion from Parliament. This is the harsh reality.

Or else, there must be a calculation to remove the leadership of the SLFP and UPFA, leading to a new Rajapaksa leadership there, which could be the stuff of later politics, considering the massive defeat suffered by the SLFP in the recent local poll, and the longer goals of the SLPP.

A timely warning

TNA and Opposition Leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan has certainly given an important warning to the SLPP and Mahinda Rajapaksa not to use the resounding majority it got in the Local Government poll, to raise issues of communalism, especially with regard to the threat of Eelam, as seen in the campaign of MR and the key SLPP players in the recent election.

He has made it very clear the result of the recent poll, where the SLPP won 44.69 % of votes polled, and all parties opposed to the SLPP – UNP –UPFA – SLFP – JVU – polled 55.31% of votes, have clearly showed the result as not being that of a referendum for the SLPP.

In this context, considering the anti-Tamil minority and anti-federal slogans used by the SLPP during the campaign to vote for the Pohottuva against an Eelam, he warns could lead to new ethnic tensions in the country. He said the SLPP propaganda was malicious, vicious, fallacious ad false… and cautioned that “if you proceed with this agenda, I want to tell you, Eelam will bloom, not on account of us, but on account of your “Lotus Bud”. Your “Lotus Bud” will bloom into an Eelam. That is what will happen. Therefore, please resist your temptation to achieve cheap political gain by carrying on such false propaganda.”

One does recall that in his first media comment after the SLPP won the poll; Mahinda Rajapaksa did look at the purple spread on the map hanging behind him and said the size of Eelam had been reduced. This shows the Eelam issue and the campaign against a new Constitution were key factors in the SLPP campaign. This was clearly beyond the purpose of the election, which was to elect Local Government bodies. As the politics of this poll settles down, one must hope that racism is not given new opportunities to bloom, through the longer political goals of the SLPP.


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