President charts new course for coalition | Daily News

President charts new course for coalition

President Maithripala Sirisena diagnosed correctly when he said that the failure of the two partners of the unity government to duly appreciate their own respective roles in a coalition arrangement has led to the present confusion and frustration of the people.

Addressing the new sessions of parliament on Wednesday the Head of State said the last three years demonstrated that the country is still lacking in political and social maturity needed to realize the objectives of a coalition government adding that the power struggle in government and political parties in the last three years had driven the people to despair.

“If we are to overcome the challenges faced by the country, the power struggle between the two main parties in the coalition government must cease. The competition for power between the Opposition and the ruling party must also cease”, he said.

He went on to point out that even though consensus governance is adopted in many countries in the world it is yet a foreign concept to Sri Lanka. The President went on to stress that the role of the Opposition as well as the approach of the political allies of the coalition government should undergo change.

The President has hit the nail on the head. The two parties in the coalition were working at cross purposes from the very outset, one trying to trip the other at every turn, in complete ignorance, or, lack of understanding as to how a coalition government should function. Ministers on both sides were contradicting each other and often times critical of each others’ policies and approaches. Needless to say, the wrong signals were sent to the public of instability and chaos and their frustration found expression at the recent local government elections.

True, this was a novel experience to the sworn enemies in Sri Lanka's politics and cracks were bound to appear in the coalition sooner rather than later. To begin with, this was also the first experiment in coalition governance since independence featuring the two main parties (there were other coalitions like Dudley's hath havula and the United Front Government of 70-75, though the SLFP entered into a No Contest Pact with the Reds).

If one is to put the finger on the precise reason for fissures in the current unity government it boils down to the electoral fortunes of both constituent parties. Both vied with each other for the attention of the electorate. Ministers and MPs in the SLFP/UPFA were making comments uncomplimentary of those in the UNP and vice versa. This naturally led to a clash of opinions, which is the bane in any coalition arrangement. Hence, the President's appeal to the warring factions to hold their fire and work as a single unit for the benefit of the people for the remainder of their tenure.

This could now pose no problem with the exit of the troublemakers in the form of the 16 renegades who, though vowing to remain within the SLFP fold, while occupying the Opposition benches, betrayed in no uncertain terms where their true loyalties lay. The good riddance should be seized upon by the unity government to steer a clear course and deliver on the promises.

It should lose no time in fitting into coalition mode taking a leaf out of other such arrangements around the world, such as Britain and Germany which are having smooth runs despite the occasional hiccup. Ministers should speak in one voice on policy decisions strictly adhering to collective Cabinet responsibility.

Inter-party disputes should also be settled in the process, particularly within the UNP. Back benchers should fall in line with the decisions of the leadership. Any form of dissension at this stage could pose a challenge to the smooth run of the unity government and ruin the electoral prospects of the Greens.

Immediate steps should be taken to rectify the ills on the economic front and order brought out of chaos. In his statement the President called for a social friendly people oriented economy and a political vision that recognizes the political heartbeat of the public. However care should be taken to avoid a splurge in government spending on populist projects lest this leads to runaway inflation and further impact on the cost of living.

Be that as it may, the President has signaled a new beginning for the unity government in his speech to parliament. He has also included the Opposition in his invitation to assist the government, shedding the vituperative politics now on display. He told the House that the country is not in a situation to play power politics, but it is in a position where a collective effort to overcome its challenges have become mandatory.

What he said in so many words was that this country cannot enjoy the luxury of divisive politics at this juncture but that a collective will is needed to confront the multiplicity of challenges that lay ahead.

It will be the hope of all patriotic Sri Lankans that all political parties will shed their parochial considerations for the achievement of the common goals set for the country.


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