Political Hara Kiri

The No Confidence Motion (NCM) against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsingheis to be taken up for debate and voting in Parliament on April 4. It is clear that whether the NCM is defeated or not, it will be a clear case of political hara kiri for the National Unity coalition government.

The UNP led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the SLFP led President Maithripala had been co-habitating in a most disunited manner for much of the past three years and the proof of the level to which the political marriage has sunk is reflected in President Sirisena’s actions ahead of the NCM.

On Wednesday (March 28) President Maithripala Sirisena, in an Extraordinary Gazette, moved two key institutions; the Central Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); which were under the National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry headed by the Prime Minister, back to the Finance Ministry. His timing left no doubt where he stood on the NCM although he has not voiced outright support for it (although senior members of his party have).

Senior SLFPer and government minister, S. B. Dissanayake stated this week that the SLFP found reasons given in the NCM were valid and the party had ‘no reason to oppose it.’

While claiming that the SLFP had no intention of destabilizing the government Dissanayake maintained that the SLFP is finding it ‘extremely difficult’ to oppose the allegations leveled in the NCM.

Another senior SLFPer, Dilan Perera who is also a government Minister, Friday called for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down before April 4 declaring it as the only option to prevent the removal of Wickremesinghe through an NCM.

He claimed that the UPFA, SLFP and the UNP want to protect the government and continue till 2020 but that the only roadblock is the Prime Minister and therefore he should resign from the post and save himself, President Maithripala Sirisena, the government and the country.

President Sirisena who has to credit his ascension to the Presidency in the 08 January 2015 election to Wickrmesinghe, for supporting him, an SLFPer as the Common Candidate of the UNP led coalition, has taken on the role of a vehement critic of Wickremesinghe who is now finding himself the sacrificial lamb, where all the ills of non governance and corruption and blamed on him.

The SLFP which suffered a crushing defeat in the recent local government elections is following suit, assuming that a removal of the PM would pave the way for a new nomination that would also create the path for a union with Rajapaksa’s SLPP.

The No Confidence Motion (NCM) against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by the Joint Opposition Group (JO) backing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was submitted in the Sri Lankan parliament on March 21 and it has the silent support of almost all SLFPers who believe that a PM should be appointed from the SLPP clan.

The JO has 51 MPs. But it needs the votes of 113 MPs (or just over half of the parliament of 225 members) to oust the Prime Minister which means it has to get 58 more supporters. The NCM has to get the support of the 37 SLFP MPs still with President Sirisena and 18 others from other parties, including the UNP.

The NCM accuses the Premier of bringing the Finance Ministry under his purview to carry out the Central Bank bond scam, recommending appointing Arjuna Mahendran in 2015 as the Governor of the Central Bank (responsible for leading the scam soon after), being directly involved in the bond scam, appointing a committee consisting of his associates to exonerate those in the bond scam, misleading Parliament by making false statements regarding the Bond Commission 17 March 2015, violating financial regulations, failure to curb the rising cost of living and failure as the Minister of Law and Order to take action to contain the recent communal riots that took place in early March in Kandy.

However, interestingly, it is intriguing how President Maithripala Sirisena has managed to exonerate himself completely from responsibility of some of what the PM is accused of, keeping in mind that he is not a bystander of the Opposition but the Head of State, responsible for his government.

The stand of Sirisena on the NCM is getting more ambiguous (the word is an understatement) with each passing day (despite a meeting between him and Wickrmesinghe on Friday) which only broke weeks of bitter silence between the two.

But clearly in this current game, the person to fear absolute isolation and almost everything to lose is President Sirisena who is a mere figurehead of the SLFP with his party emotionally attached to Rajapaksa and where his popularity as President has dropped to lowest levels especially among the liberal set that lobbied for him in 2015.

It is hard to envisage a victory of the NCM and the ousting of the PM becoming a victory for Sirisena. Numerically there is little chance that the UNP will lose the vote on the NCM, unless its members stay away from parliament on April 04 where by law the majority present and voting will be the deciding factor.

The UNP is the single largest party in parliament with 82 members out of a total membership of 225 and combined with its allies in the United National Front (UNF), it has 106 MPs.

Significantly, the UNP also has the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) consisting of 16 MPs, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress having one MP.

Numerically, even if the SLFP and the SLPP-led Joint Opposition group combine, their NCM will get only 95 votes.

To ensure that they leave nothing to chance, the UNP Working Committee had met Thursday and unanimously decided that all UNP MPs would work to defeat the no-confidence motion against Wickremesinghe, where significantly even those from the UNP who had earlier supported the no-confidence motion have pledged to oppose it.

While the anti Rajapaksa Marxist party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has said that they would reveal their stance on 2 April, the Tamil National Alliance has asserted that they would back the Prime Minister and the UNP in defeating the no-confidence motion. The Muslim parties are unlikely to support the NCM which is backed by former President Rajapaksa who is largely seen as anti-Muslim.

While the general political-numerical math makes it safe to presume that the NCM will get defeated what is significant is the political repercussions that even a defeat of the NCM will have on the coalition government, in a background of President Sirisena allegedly identified as a key figure in mobilizing or helping forces against the Prime Minister.

That the NCM has the tactical support of ruling coalition partner, the SLFP is an overall defeat for governance, where the political tug-a-war between the UNP and the SLFP along with interference by the Rajapaksa clan, has already resulted in development projects coming to a standstill.

This will clearly in the 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary election result in a repetition of the February 10, 2018 local election result where former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new party the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) swept the polls.

All that the coalition government seemed to have achieved in the past three years appear to be bringing about laws that heaped hefty taxes on the people, an eternal and seeming non-ending battle with trade unionsof every conceivable institution (currently the non academic staff of the universities) and a series of trade agreements with various countries which merely exist on paper.

Ad hoc policy making and President Sirisena taking on the PM as a virtual enemy, seemingly at even a higher scale than Rajapaksa, has made the government a record breaking non-performing one.

Agriculture which had been doing well three years ago have been taken to a new low with weak and irresponsible policy making and a blanket ban on the chemical weed-killer, glyphosate has almost brought the country’s lucrative tea industry to its knees.

The landslide victory by Rajapaksa’s new party the Sri Lanka PoduJjana Peramuna (SLPP) at the local government election signifies the level to which the current government has sunk into unpopularity. By helping the Rajapaksa sponsored NCM the SLFP and President Sirisena are only digging their own political grave. (South Asian Monitor)

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