Resignation touches off speculation

The resignation of the popular Sri Lankan politician and State Minister for Local government, Priyankara Jayaratne, from the Council of Ministers on Friday, complaining of harassment by Ministers of the coalition partner United National Party (UNP), has touched off rumors of ten other ministers from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) quitting the government.

According to Ceylon Today these resignations will be timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe coalition government on January 8, 2017.

The multi-party “rainbow coalition” led by the UNP and SLFP, has been rocked by internal disagreements over practically every domestic and foreign policy issue.

The UNP, being in larger numbers than the SLFP, tends to be domineering and taking decisions unilaterally – decisions which the SLFP considers detrimental to  its electoral prospects.

President Sirisena, as head of the SLFP, has been overturning the UNP ministers’ decisions routinely. Disagreements cover a wide range of issues including key ones like taxation; the way the anti-corruption campaign is being conducted with the help of official investigating agencies; economic deals with China; and commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council on the ethnic issue. Recent attempts by the UNP to introduce a bill to set up a Super Ministry to control economic development has been defeated by eight of the nine Provincial Councils, given the SLFP’s opposition to it.

Outspoken SLFP ministers like Dilan Perera have been openly saying that if the UNP works in contradiction with the SLFP’s policies, the SLFP will quit the coalition.

Perera’s threat is potent in the context of the rising popularity of Sirisena’s rival in the SLFP, former political strongman and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The internal contradictions in the government; slack governance; and lack of concrete economic development are being deftly exploited by the Joint Opposition and the non-parliamentary Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) headed by Rajapaksa.

The Rajapaksa faction of the SLFP (The SLPP is but a faction of the SLFP) is of the view that the Sirisena faction of the SLFP has the support of only 10 percent of the SLFP’s traditional voter base. It believes that when the time is ripe, most of the SLFPers now with Sirisena, will flock to Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa told foreign correspondents earlier in the week that January onward there will be frenetic political activity with elections to three Provincial Councils due in September. And the all-Island local bodies elections are expected in June-July. Rajapaksa confidently declared that he will oust the government in 2017.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine came to power with the overwhelming support of the minority Tamils and Muslims, and substantial, if not majority, support from the majority Sinhalese-Buddhist community. But since coming to power two years ago, the government has not delivered on some politically and economically critical promises made to the war-affected Tamils. The Minister of Justice, Wijedasa Rajapakshe, has been publicly mollycoddling extremist Buddhist monks who have lashed out against Tamils and Muslims publicly and that with impunity. This has made a section of the Muslims wonder if the present regime is any different from that of Rajapaksa.

In the face of doubts about the government’s ability to last till the end of the stipulated six year term, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have, from time to time, assured their followers that it will last. But in view of the fact that Rajapaksa has thrown the gauntlet declaring his intention to oust the regime in 2017, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has decided to speak to the nation on January 5, three days ahead of the government’s second anniversary. (NIE)

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