Confidence set in motion | Daily News

Confidence set in motion

The motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which will be taken up for debate in Parliament and voted on next Wednesday has become the focus of all political activity in the major political parties, who are lining up to take up their respective positions on the issue.

The motion is based mostly on allegations that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe should take responsibility for the Central Bank bond sales debacle which was the subject of an inquiry by a Presidential Commission. The Commission found that the Prime Minister had made an error of judgment in placing his confidence in former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran but did not find him responsible for any wrongdoing.

The main instigators of the motion have been the Joint Opposition (JO), the faction of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) loyal to former President Rajapaksa. The motion was signed by 55 members of Parliament and ironically, the only JO parliamentarian who did not sign the motion was Rajapaksa himself. Rajapaksa was however present when the motion was handed over to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

Four MPs loyal to President Sirisena - State Ministers T B Ekanayake, Deputy Ministers Nishantha Muthuhettigama and Susantha Punchinilame and parliamentarian Cader Masthan - have signed the motion. Among them, Punchinilame is a former UNPer.

It is known that the JO itself was divided on whether it should submit the motion for a vote right now. A section of the JO believed they should, to take advantage of the momentum generated by their political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) winning the recently concluded local government elections which in fact was the catalyst for the motion.

Anti-government sentiment

However, another group within the JO was of the opinion that if it does submit the motion, it must be sure of victory. A defeat of the vote would negate the gains made by the SLPP at the polls, they argued. Even Rajapaksa agreed with this view but later changed his decision, it is understood. It remains to be seen whether this is because he is confident of the vote succeeding or whether it is because he believes that the vote would generate much anti-government sentiment anyway remains to be seen.

Now that the motion has been submitted, the numbers game has begun. Political parties are scrambling to get a simple majority - 113 MPs - to either see the motion through or defeat it.

On Tuesday, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main opposition party in Parliament announced that they would be opposing the motion. At least on paper, with 16 MPs in the ranks of the TNA and the UNP having 106 MPs- along with one MP from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) supporting it as well, the UNP appears to command the support of the majority in Parliament- and UNP stalwarts have been keen to point this out.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the other major party in Parliament, is yet to announce its stance on the motion. It has been vocal in its criticism of the government, the UNP and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe but if anything, it has been even more strident in its criticism of the previous regime and the conduct of the Rajapaksas during that time.

It had, at one time, stated that it would support the motion if it also included the Prime Minister’s failure to act against those responsible for corruption in the previous government but this will obviously not eventuate as the motion is being sponsored by the JO.

Petroleum Industries Minister Arjuna Ranatunga claimed that the real target of the motion was not merely the Prime Minister but the entire government. It was part of a plot to oust Speaker Jayasuriya and then impeach President Maithripala Sirisena, he said. “The motion was planned by those who have no future in politics. They expect to come to Parliament after the next general elections through the backdoor because none of them could win in an election,” he told the media.

Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leader Champika Ranawaka, while maintaining that the government needed urgent reforms, has also spoken out against the motion. He would not support the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister because it was submitted by a group involved in serious financial crimes much worse than the Central Bank bond issue, Ranawaka has said.

The UNP, however, is taking no chances. It has requested all parliamentarians who are now overseas to return to the island well in time for next Wednesday’s vote. UNP MPs Ranjan Ramanayake, Dr Kavinda Jayawardena, Dr Tusitha Wijemanne and Rohini Kumari Wijeratne are part of the delegation headed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya visiting China. They were scheduled to return on April 3 but have now been advised to return by April 1.

This is because of reports- propagated mostly by the JO but by some UNP dissidents as well- that some UNP MPs would vote in support of the motion. There are at least three MPs who are likely to vote for the motion: Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Palitha Range Bandara and Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thera.

Bandara, in particular, has been extremely critical of the Prime Minister recently and while addressing a swearing-in ceremony of the newly appointed UNP councillors to local government bodies in the Anamaduwa electorate on Monday claimed that there were 27 UNP Parliamentarians who are ready to cast their votes in favour of the no-confidence motion or at least abstain from voting.

UNP leadership

It is clear from a look at the numbers in Parliament that the motion does indeed require the support of at least a dozen UNPers if it is to succeed. The rationale of the JO- and indeed some ministers such as S B Dissanayake - is that UNPers are sufficiently dissatisfied with the UNP leadership that they will vote for the no-confidence motion to oust the Prime Minister.

It is understood that Dissanayake has been entrusted with the task of ‘delivering’ the UNP MPs to vote in support of the motion. Dissanayake has proclaimed this is possible but given his reputation, his announcements are viewed some degree of scepticism.

The Minister of Social Empowerment has had a chequered career in politics, being General Secretary of the SLFP, falling out with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, joining the UNP and then serving time in jail for contempt of the Supreme Court.

Dissanayake supported Rajapaksa during the 2015 presidential election campaign but failed to secure a seat at the last general election. However, he was appointed to Parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena through the National List. He now appears to favour reconciliation with the Rajapaksa faction.

President Maithripala Sirisena has maintained a stoic silence over the motion of no-confidence. Senior UNPers have met him for discussion but he has remained non-committal. Nevertheless, it is the view of the majority of the UNP that the SLFP’s support for the motion would require at least the tacit support of the President who has, quite noticeably, also not spoken out against the motion of no-confidence motion. It is also well known that he did request Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to step aside following the declaration of local government election results.

The stage is thus set for an enthralling week ahead as the country debates its third motion of no-confidence against a Prime Minister. Hopefully, by this time next week, the curtain would have finally fallen on this drama- and the nation can look forward to a government returning to the business of governing the country without any distractions.

 


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