UNP hamstrung by presidential interference
Posted on August 29th, 2015

Courtesy Island

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We are now nearing the end of the second week after the parliamentary election with no cabinet of ministers. UNP chairman Malik Samarawickrema announced September 2 as the date on which the cabinet may be sworn in and SLFP general secretary Duminda Dissanayake said that September 4 would be the likelier date due to many reasons such as the intervening SLFP anniversary celebrations. These dates are being announced unilaterally by the two sides. If the two sides that are supposed to form a ‘national unity government’ are unable to announce a mutually acceptable date for the swearing in, how are they to divide the portfolios in a manner that will satisfy both sides? Tentative lists of the way the portfolios may be divided have been appearing in the media throughout last week, but they look more like what the UNP would like the cabinet to be rather than how it will be in reality.

So the bottom line is that we still have no idea what the cabinet will be like. If we ask ourselves why the country is in this state of limbo, it is only because of one man’s quest to carve out a political niche for himself. The UNP’s victory at the August 17 parliamentary election was no less convincing than the victories of the winning side in the parliamentary elections of 1994 and 2001, yet a clean change of government is being hampered. In 1994 and 2001 there were clean changes of government with Chandrika Kumaratunga even relinquishing the defence portfolio in 2001. With 106 seats in parliament and the ability to engineer a few crossovers to make up the shortfall, the UNP should be allowed a free hand to form a government; otherwise the whole purpose of effecting governmental change will be vitiated. The preservation of democracy requires changes of government from time to time to relieve the pent up frustration of those blocked from access to power and patronage.

The UNP, partly due to their own folly and also due to circumstances beyond their control, languished in the opposition for nearly two decades and if they are now unable to form a government of their own, that pent up pressure in society will not dissipate. Many years ago, this writer asked Ravaya editor Victor Ivan why he supported Chandrika Kumaratunga in the early 1990s when he was also on good terms with Lalith Athulathmudali. The latter was undoubtedly a better choice to run the country. Ivan’s justification of his choice was to say that the UNP had then been in power for a long time and the country needed a change. The same argument holds good in this instance as well. That is a part of the give and take of politics in a democracy. There are high ranking members of the SLFP who realize this and are only too willing to sit in the opposition and give the UNP a free hand.

But now this process of governmental change that the people of this country had learnt to take for granted is being blocked by a new theory that the Sirisena faction of the SLFP is propagating. No less an individual than the newly appointed general secretary of the SLFP, Duminda Dissanayake, has gone on record as saying that since no one party has got a clear majority in parliament, it is up to the president to intervene in the process of forming a government! If this theory was applied in 1994 and 2001 as well, what would have happened to this country? It is one of the supreme ironies that a president who came into power promising to abolish the executive presidency is now misusing those powers in a manner that no previous holder of that office has ever dreamed of doing. The silence of the UNP in these circumstances is obviously due to the reason that they said during the election campaign that they will be forming a national government after the election and they used Maithripala Sirisena’s photograph prominently in their election campaign.

UNP not under obligation to Sirisena

However it is obvious that when the UNP said they will be forming a ‘national government’ what they meant was that THEY would take the initiative in the matter and form a national government on their own terms as the party that gets the highest number of seats. They probably never thought there would be a third party making all sorts of unacceptable demands. The UNP may be obliged to Sirisena for having aided their victory at the parliamentary election by messing up the UPFA campaign with his address to the nation predicting a UPFA defeat, writing letters saying that MR would not be made prime minister even if he won the election and finally sacking the general secretaries of the UPFA and the SLFP just 48 hours before the election. But then it was only the UNP that carried out Sirisena’s presidential election campaign in a situation where even the JVP avoided getting involved in it. One UNP organizer, Niroshan Padukka of Kesbewa, said that many UNP organizers had spent their own money on Sirisena’s campaign.

Furthermore, once you count out the votes of the UNP’s minority party allies from the results of the parliamentary election, it becomes obvious that over two thirds of the votes that Sirisena got in January were solid UNP votes. So in actual fact the UNP owes nothing to Sirisena – on the contrary Sirisena owes everything to the UNP. In such circumstances for Sirisena to force the UNP to accommodate large numbers of the SLFP parliamentarians as ministers is the height of ingratitude. Because the UNP is back in power after a long interval, its senior members have to see that they get the best possible ministries in order to look after their supporters and constituents. None of them can afford to step aside and miss the bus this time because there will be no bus after this. If they fail to get their due now, they’ll never get it. So they should naturally dig their heels in and refuse to budge.

In contrast to the UNPers who are now not being allowed to reap the due benefit from their victory, the SLFPers who are trying to force themselves on the UNP have enjoyed an almost unbroken two decades in power, they have looked after their constituents and themselves but are trying to force themselves upon the system once again. President Sirisena too is a member of the SLFP who has enjoyed power continuously for two decades. The only reason why the UNP is being forced to accommodate an unnecessary number of SLFP parliamentarians in the ministerial team is because of the president’s need to redeem himself in the eyes of the SLFP voters by showing them that the SLFP was able to enjoy a significant share of power even after defeat due to his intervention.

The whole system of governance in this country is being destabilized by Sirisena’s attempt to wean the SLFP away from the Rajapaksas and to make them accept him as their leader. One prong of this strategy is to force as many members of the SLFP as possible into the ministerial team and to get them the best possible portfolios. If the SLFP members get anything less than what the UNP gets, he will be accused of having turned the SLFP into a ‘tail’ of the UNP; hence the demand for almost equal treatment in the allocation of portfolios. The UNP cannot afford to yield that much because that would vitiate their victory and place serious obstacles in the path of pleasing their own constituents. Both parties find it difficult to give way.

This deadlock can be cleared in no time if Sirisena gets over this idea of trying to win over the SLFP and to be accepted as its leader. Originally, when Sirisena took over the leadership of the SLFP, he justified this decision by saying that he needed to ensure that the SLFP voted for the constitutional reforms that were on the cards. But it was obvious from the beginning that Sirisena fancied himself in the role of an SLFP leader and probably one who contests on the SLFP ticket and wins the next presidential election as well. All this disruption of the political party system and the day to day administration of the country is because of the delusions of one man who is seeking to win friends by delivering a share of state power to the SLFP.

An SLFP government in two years?

SLFP national list MP S.B.Dissanayake said last week that nearly 70 SLFP parliamentarians had pledged to support the national government. If 70 MPs are to support the national government, all of them will have to be given portfolios and good portfolios at that. Otherwise, why would any SLFP parliamentarian want to cut himself off from the anti-government voter who elected him and join a government just to sit as a backbencher? It would be better for that individual to sit in the opposition and at least win the hearts of the anti-government voter so that he can make it to parliament at the next election. So this story of 70 SLFP parliamentarians willing to support the so called national government is yet to be seen. Dissanayake mentioned that figure probably to motivate the UNP to give the SLFP some good ministries.

It is clear that the duration of the MOU between the UNP and the SLFP was limited to just two years to leave provision for the SLFP to pull out and to form a government under President Sirisena after the first two years. This at least is the carrot that is being held out to bring rebellious SLFP parliamentarians under control. No SLFP parliamentarian can logically oppose any plan to form a government led by his party. Numerically, it is possible for the SLFP to form a government because there are around 20 non-UNP parliamentarians elected under the UNP ticket who will listen readily to any suggestion made to them by President Sirisena. These 20 parliamentarians with the 95 MPs that the UPFA has can easily form a government with a clear majority. This is why the UNP has to watch out. If an MOU is being signed between two political parties, it should be for the entire duration of that term of office unless some disagreement leads to the termination of that agreement half way. The fact that the UNP has agreed to a two year MOU plays directly into the hands of Sirisena loyalists who want to form an SLFP government under the leadership of Sirisena.

Since this looks like an attainable goal, Sirisena will leave no stone unturned to see to it that the SLFP is kept happy by extracting the maximum possible from the UNP. But the UNP cannot be expected to sacrifice themselves to make it possible for Sirisena to achieve his ambitions. Never has the political system of this country been in a bind like this. Ultimately all this is due to the unprincipled alliances that were formed in order to defeat the Rajapaksas. But this is not a moment to be preaching the ill-effects of unprincipled political alliances – the entire democratic system is in danger today and some means of unraveling the present mess has to be devised. Either Sirisena or the UNP has to take a step backwards. The UNP cannot (and should not) take a step backwards, because they represent a mass of people who have been out in the cold for nearly two decades. It is President Sirisena who can take a step backwards with no damage to anyone except perhaps to his now obviously inflated ego.

If Sirisena was to be loyal to the vast majority of the voters who made him president, then he can give the UNP a free hand without forcing them to forego what is rightfully theirs. The UNP should find some way of making Sirisena back off – the intervention of the foreign sponsors of the yahapalana project is a method that immediately comes to mind. Another method would be to wait until parliament meets on September 1 and then show a clear majority in parliament with the help of the TNA. This latter method will make Sirisena yield because if the UNP can show a clear majority in parliament even with the help of the TNA, he will be compelled to allow them a free hand in appointing a cabinet. But this will make the UNP captive to the TNA and their unreasonable demands. The safer and more feasible option would be for the UNP to utilize the good offices of their foreign partners to bring Sirisena to heel.

If you look at the current political situation, the only source of political instability in this country is Sirisena. In contrast to him, Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped aside and vacated Temple Trees the moment he knew he was being defeated at the presidential election. Even at the parliamentary election, after conducting an election campaign which was sabotaged by Sirisena at every turn, Rajapaksa still acknowledged defeat and was quite content to sit in the opposition. Even in the SLFP only Sirisena loyalists like Duminda Dissanayake try to concoct theories to say that the president has a right to intervene in the process of forming a government because ‘neither party has got a clear majority’. No one has yet heard a Mahinda loyalist saying that. Sirisena is now functioning as a one man wrecking squad destroying both the main political parties and the democratic system as well.

Given the fact that he owes everything to the UNP, Sirisena should not be making demands from them, but instead helping in the process of forming a UNP led government by ‘donating’ a few willing MPs to the UNP to make up the shortfall in the numbers. Instead we see him trying to force a whole horde of SLFP members into the government for no other purpose than for him to build a base for himself within the SLFP. People like Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha who are responsible for bringing Maithripala Sirisena to the fore as the presidential candidate who will abolish executive presidential system have not said anything about the outrage that is taking place.

When Sirisena refused to allow the abolition of the executive presidency and sabotaged the 19th Amendment, the UNP did not rise up in protest instead they allowed themselves to be browbeaten into submission probably for fear that if they started a confrontation with the president that they elected into power, that would impact negatively on their prospects at the parliamentary election which was due. So the UNP grinned and bore the great betrayal and even praised it in public. Sirisena was hailed as a paragon of selflessness who gave up his powers willingly and the 19th Amendment was hailed as a document of hallowed import like the Magna Carta. This pusillanimous behaviour in the face of open political chicanery and presidential abuse of power may have been justified at that time in terms of the looming parliamentary election, but if they follow the same policy in the matter of appointing the next cabinet, the UNP will be done for.

There are only two options before the UNP – to face the reality and resist, or risk losing control of the government that they won with such difficulty. Because the UNP has been out of power for so long, its members cannot afford to be kept out of power. As we said earlier if they miss this bus there is no other bus. So some members of the UNP may reach out to Sirisena even above their own party in order to get what they think they deserve. This blurring of party lines is something that the UNP will have to watch out for in the coming days. Even at this moment, there are several Sirisena loyalists who have been elected on the UNP list and who will decamp at any moment to Sirisena’s side. It should also be borne in mind that if Sirisena is trying to establish control over the SLFP and lead that party, then it is not in his interest to see that the UNP remains strong and united.

Weakening the UNP so that it can’t pose a challenge to the Sirisena-led SLFP is also obviously a part of the unfolding medium to long term game plan. So the UNP should be mindful of that fact as well. Why would a man who is moving heaven and earth to establish control over the SLFP want to help the UNP to strengthen itself? One thing that Sirisena has shown in ample measure in this short period of time is that it does not matter to him who or what he has to destabilize in his quest to have his way. The UNP fell victim to this once when Sirisena brazenly flouted his main election pledge and refused to abolish the executive presidency. Now he is doing it again by refusing to give the UNP a free hand to select a team of ministers to run the country.

 

6 Responses to “UNP hamstrung by presidential interference”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    19 amendment, anyone?

    Who said the president HAS TO LISTEN TO the PM when selecting the cabinet?

    What BS! We are in a right royal MESS. I wish SL people will FEEL the MESS in their stomachs, etc. VERY VERY BADLY.

    What MR and team should do is FUEL the WAR between Maru Sira and Run-nil. NEVER let them patch up. BREAK UP this devil’s alliance. FUEL TNA and SLMC demands too. Soon all 4 groups will be OPENLY fighting.

    TNA has threatened to launch its infamous CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE campaign if NO international investigations and federalism given.

    Happy days!

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Ado LORENZO the TREACHEROUS Facebook HYPOCRITE!

    But YOU are the one who was ADVOCATING and HOISTING Somarama Sirisena and the Yamapalaanaya Junta on the Patriots here!

    We will NEVER FORGET your TREACHERY … you EELAMIST Agitator! So, STOP PREACHING to US here on what to do …. we will not accept the worrds of a BLOODY TRAITOR to the Patriotic Cause!

    SHAMELESS MODAYA thinking we don’t know what he has DONE ans what he is DOING!

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Better LATE than NEVER …. FORM a NEW Party to Provide Leadership to the Patriots while the Ship Jumping Hogs Wallow in Somarama Sirisena’s slop trough!

    …………………………
    Mahinda Rajapaksa’s allies to form new Lanka opposition alliance

    Aug 29 (PTI) COLOMBO- Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s allies are planning to form a new opposition alliance, breaking away from President Maithripala Sirisena’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition, senior leftist leaders said today.

    “We are looking to form a new political front. We are having talks with different groups,” Tissa Vitharana of the Trotskyist Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) said.

    Vitharana was a senior minister under Rajapaksa in his near decade old regime which ended in January.

    “We have to form a new front, we are against this national government arrangement,” Vasudeva Nanayakkara of another left party said.

    With the August 17 parliamentary election results and Sirisena’s decision to form a coalition government of national unity between the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the old left have felt overlooked and ignored by Sirisena.

    None of them were picked by Sirisena to fill in the national list parliamentary seat allocation which the UPFA won on August 17. These parties played a main role in the return to politics of Rajapaksa since his defeat in January.

    The old left parties have been part of the UPFA since its formation in 2004 as an anti UNP political front. The coalition ruled the country between 2004 and early this year.

    Vitharana and Dinesh Gunawardena, the leaders of the nationalist Mahajana Eksath Permauna (MEP) have accused Sirisena of breaking the UPFA coalition.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Opposition should appoint Sri Lanka’s Opposition Leader, not President, NFF leader says

    Aug 30, Colombo: The leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent party of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa says the opposition leader of the Parliament should be chosen by MPs who sit in opposition and not by the President.

    Speaking to Media today, Weerawansa asked how can a national government can be formed when the opposition leader will get a ministerial post and members from the Sri Lanka freedom Party (SLFP) will be given the choice to go to the other side.

    The SLFP Central Committee allowed elected SLFP MPs to sit in opposition if they do not wish to support the national government. However, the Central Committee empowered the President to decide on an opposition leader and the ministerial portfolios given to SLFP members of the National Government.

    The NFF leader said that the so called National Government bringing a proposal in parliament to increase the ministerial portfolios is contradictory to the Constitution.

    He explained that in order to create a National Government, the SLFP must become stakeholders in the government and there will be no need for an opposition.

    “Even if parties hold positions in the government or not, they will all become stakeholders in the government. However, such political streams do not become so-called stakeholders in the government not even the entire Sri Lanka Freedom party,” he said.

    Weerawansa said the government cannot implement such a proposal and bringing in such a proposal is contradictory to the constitution.

    Speaking to BBC Sandeshaya Weerawansa said the President is killing the country’s democracy by appointing the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Opposition Leader and the Chief Organizer of the Opposition all by himself.

    Weerawansa said that it was not sufficient to allow SLFP MPs to sit in opposition. They should be free to act as they wish within the opposition.

    He said the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and several SLFP MPs will sit in the opposition with the other UPFA members.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    SLFP rejects TNA’s claim for opposition leader post

    By Chris Kamalendran
    SundayTimes.lk
    August 30, 2015

    Main Tamil alliance rocked by breakaway group over National List

    The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) last night rejected a call by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for recognition as the main opposition party in Parliament. The move was aimed at making Rajavarothiam Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition.
    “The Opposition Leader’s post should be given to the party which has the highest number of members and are not supporting the National Government,” Acting General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake told the Sunday Times.

    He said the person holding that office will be announced when Parliament meets on Tuesday. Early yesterday the TNA sought recognition as the main opposition in Parliament even while a third of its new elected parliamentarians were rebelling against the leadership.

    The TNA, which contested the August 17 parliamentary elections as ITAK, said in a statement issued yesterday that there is “no question whatsoever of the UPFA sitting in opposition in Parliament.” This is because the UNP and the UPFA which will form a National Government with a joint Cabinet of Ministers “would bear collective cabinet responsibility.” As political parties in Parliament, the statement said, “they must publicly support all Government decisions made in the Cabinet.”

    TNA leader Sampanthan told the Sunday Times, “We are entitled to the post of Opposition Leader.” His remarks came as six parliamentarians of the TNA were planning to meet in Colombo today. One of the contentious issues with the leadership is a demand that Suresh Premachandran and Vino Noharthalingam who lost the elections be named on the TNA National List. The two who have now been named on the TNA National List are Shanthi Shri Skandaraja and K. Thurairatnasingham.

    Mr. Sampanthan defended his party’s decision. He said, “The National List vacancies were shared on the principle agreed by TNA partners. There was no discrimination and we have given an opportunity to a female candidate too.” Shiva Shakthi Ananthan, newly elected TNA parliamentarian for the Wanni District, confirmed that the group of six MPs would meet today in Colombo. The TNA has 16 members in the new Parliament.

    The TNA statement said that both President Maithripala Sirisena and the Government had gone public “in a commitment to treat the Tamil people as equal citizens of this country.” It added, “However, a reluctance to recognise the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East as the main opposition party when such is clearly the case can only be reflective of an unwillingness to honour this commitment….”

    The SLFP/UPFA group that is unlikely to support the National Government and sit in the Opposition is estimated to number at least 25 MPs. The SLFP Central Committee which met on Friday gave President Sirisena who is also the party leader the authority to nominate the leader of the opposition from the SLFP.

    In 1977, Appapillai Amirthalingam who headed the Tamil United Liberation front (TULF), the precursor to the TNA, became the Leader of the Opposition when the SLFP won only 8 seats in that year’s general elections. All TULF MPs resigned en bloc in 1982 in protest against the 6th Amendment and Anura Bandaranaike became the Leader of the Opposition from the SLFP.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Bravo …. Wimal Weerawansa … you are almost the ONLY HONEST MAN with GUTS left among the Greedy Ship Jumpers!

    I hope that MORE and MORE UPFA/SLFP MPs will join to form a SEPARATE Opposition Party and BRING THIS Yamapalanaya Govt to its KNEES!

    It is IMPORTANT to PREVENT the Anti-National LEGISLATIVE AGENDA of the UNPatriotic Party and its TNA Allies from EVER TAKING ROOT!

    Newly Elected SLFP MPs! FORM a NEW Opposition Party NOW to PREVENT your Motherland from being made a Colony of the Western NeoColonialists and CHOPPED INTO PIECES to serve their NeoColonialist NGO and Tamil Diaspora-Driven Agenda!

    IF YOU FAIL TO DO SO …. you will EARN the WRATH of those Patriotic Citizens who ELECTED YOU! They didn’t vote for you to SELL THEM OUT for a Political/Government Job and a BAG of money!

    Don’t be BRIBED and CONNED into BETRAYING your Motherland! WE Patriots are WATCHING YOU CLOSELY!

    REMEMBER …. YOU are OUR ONLY DEFENCE against the DISINTEGRATION and RE-ENSLAVEMENT of OUR Motherland!

    …………………………
    President calls for a meeting with UPFA party leaders tomorrow

    Aug 30, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has invited the leaders of the parties in the defeated United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for a meeting Monday.

    According to the leader of the UPFA constituent party National Freedom Front (NFF) MP Wimal Weerawansa the meeting will take place at the President’s official residence tomorrow morning.

    He said he will be attending the meeting to express his views on several issues including his opposition to a national government between the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

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