Taken for a ride | Daily News

Taken for a ride

An enforced break because of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year has not slowed down intense political manoeuvring both within and without the government in the aftermath of the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and these moves are bound to intensify in the weeks to come.

The outcome of the motion of no-confidence came as a surprise to the Joint Opposition (JO) and sections of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The comments of some former ministers such as Susil Premajayantha, Dayasiri Jayasekera and S B Dissanayake prior to the motion indicated that they were extremely confident of the no-confidence motion being adopted by Parliament.

In the JO, which spearheaded the motion, its de facto leader, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa initially resisted moves to introduce the motion until he was ‘certain’ of a positive outcome. Following numerous discussions with the mainstream SLFP and having received assurances that a sufficient number of parliamentarians from the United National Party (UNP) will back the motion, Rajapaksa gave the green light to go ahead with presenting the motion to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

Speaking after the defeat of the motion, SLFP ministers acknowledged that they had been taken for a ride. They were unable to explain how, after apparently having received assurances of support from more than a dozen UNP MPs, the UNP voted en bloc to support Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. It was to cost six SLFPers their Cabinet portfolios.

No-confidence motion

However, even as the day began on April 4, the day the motion of no-confidence was taken up for debate in Parliament, it was a well-known secret in the corridors of power that the UNP had closed ranks and rallied around the Prime Minister. That was why 25 SLFP MPs absented themselves and thereby abstained from voting. For some of them, it saved their ministerial posts.

Now, the fallout from the motion of no-confidence has slowly but surely begun. The UNP’s first reaction was to submit a motion of no-confidence of their own against the six ministers and Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala who voted for the motion of no-confidence.

Although Prime Minister Wickremesinghe asked the UNP MPs who signed the motion to withdraw it and they did so, the call for their resignations grew louder. The six ministers who voted for the motion of no-confidence were Dayasiri Jayasekera, S B Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Chandima Weerakkody and W.D.J. Seneviratne.

Most of these ministers were not in favour of maintaining the status quo, although President Maithripala Sirisena indicated that he would prefer them to remain in the Cabinet. It was clear that the President would not be demanding their resignations or sacking them. These ministers, however, boycotted the first Cabinet meeting after the vote on the motion of no-confidence, indicating that they too were not happy to remain in the Cabinet.

Initially, the matter was supposed to be decided by the Central Committee of the SLFP, the party’s highest decision-making body. The Central Committee meeting was a stormy one, with the majority of members stating that the SLFP should leave the government, an option President Sirisena was not keen to pursue.

Among the minority arguing that the SLFP should remain in government was former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Kumaratunga strongly advocated the continuation of the National Unity government arguing that any decision to leave it would be a betrayal of the mandate received by President Sirisena and pave the way for what she called the “return of the Rajapaksas”.

resignation of Six ministers

It was against such a backdrop the President Sirisena finally reluctantly agreed to accept the resignations of the six ministers who voted for the motion of no-confidence. Along with them, ten others who held state and deputy ministerial rank also resigned, thus causing a ‘defection’ of sixteen MPs from the mainstream SLFP.

Publicly, this ‘group of sixteen’ have stated that they will sit on the opposition benches in Parliament but function as an ‘independent’ group. They have indicated that they may support policies endorsed by the President on an ‘issue by issue’ basis. Despite these public pronouncements, most expect them to now identify and align themselves with the JO faction of the SLFP.

That still left the question of what the remaining 25 SLFP ministers and MPs- those who abstained from voting for the motion of no-confidence- should do. Following discussions with President Sirisena, this group has now decided to remain in the government, retaining their Cabinet portfolios.

Thus, the stage is now set for a major Cabinet reshuffle. The reshuffle will occur after President Sirisena returns to the country from the United Kingdom, where he is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The broad parameters of the reshuffle have been agreed upon, in talks between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe prior to the President’s departure to London. The SLFP, for the most part, will retain the portfolios it held and the UNP will do likewise but new faces are likely from both parties. There may be a few exceptions such as the Samurdhi Ministry, previously held by S B Dissanayake, being now handed over to the UNP.

The net result of the no-confidence motion, therefore, is that the strength of the government- more particularly the SLFP faction loyal to President Sirisena- has been pruned. Previously, the President commanded the support of about 45 MPs; now that number has dwindled to about 25 MPs.

Significantly, this would mean that the government, by itself, will now lose the two-thirds majority it enjoyed in Parliament. However, it could still muster a two-thirds majority if it can convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to vote with it.

Therefore, the JO by itself does not have the numbers to thwart the government of a two-thirds majority. This could become a crucial factor if, in the remaining period of this government, there are attempts to bring about constitutional changes that require parliamentary approval by a two-thirds majority.

Sirisena faction of the SLFP

Consequent to the recent events, the Sirisena faction of the SLFP and the UNP have now moved to the next phase. This will involve the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two parties. The previous MoU lapsed on December 31 last year. Minister Sarath Amunugama, a former civil servant who began his political career in UNP who is now loyal to President Sirisena, has been tasked with preparing the new MoU.

It is expected that the new MoU will prioritise the government’s development plans for the next two years and set out the guidelines under which the two parties would work together, without having to encounter difficulties such as the ones seen in the recent past.

Within the UNP, the introduction of party reforms is pending. Already, the party’s Chairman Malik Samarawickrema and General Secretary Kabir Hashim have resigned. All new party appointments are expected to be ratified by April 30. Much would depend on whether there is general acceptance as to whether these reforms embody a real change of direction and a transformation of its image for the party.

In the final analysis, although the JO lost the motion of no-confidence and with it, some momentum it derived from its recent local government election victory, it may have gained a number of SLFP stalwarts to swell its ranks. The UNP, on the other hand, has rallied around its leader and if its reforms see the light of day, maybe in a better position to canvass for public support.

The big loser would be the Sirisena faction of the SLFP which now has to cast its lot firmly with the UNP, at least for the rest of this government’s term of office, if it is to have even a semblance of a chance of making an impact at the next national elections which are due by January 2020- less than two years from now.



There are 2 Comments

I hope the uneducated realise " return of Rajapaksas " is the last straw. Only the wise can discern its only a "Rainbow".

Bad and good always will be with us. What happen in the past not that good society knows it. Do it tries what one fo change the faces. Expect actions there is a sense of disappointment. No alternative. No mental checks possible.what we see bad people actions if not acted upon the fault fell upon good people. Education help to analyse but numbers around to analyse and act was not there


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