President’s ire and yahapalana logan
Posted on January 18th, 2018

The yahapalana administration is like a logan which rocks but doesn’t fall. Bitter infighting within the government ranks came to a head on Tuesday with President Maithripala Sirisena launching into a tirade against the UNP, at a Cabinet meeting. He was so incensed that he stormed out. The UNP drew the President’s ire because some of its backbenchers had inveighed against him for ordering a probe into the Central Bank bond scams. One of them went to the extent of calling him an ingrate.

It was reported yesterday that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had warned his MPs against badmouthing the President. Now, the SLFP ministers will have to refrain from criticising the PM. Rapprochement will be more beneficial to the UNP, which is in hot water owing to the bond rackets, than the SLFP, which has taken the moral high ground.

Coalition partners usually lead a cat-and-dog life. But, one can argue that the yahapalana leaders ensured that Tuesday’s stormy Cabinet meeting got wide publicity in the privately-owned media to shore up their vote banks. How so? Although the SLFP and the UNP are sharing power in Parliament their members haven’t gelled as a group at the grassroots level. The UNP is under pressure from its rank and file to pull out of the yahapalana coalition and form its own government so that they could enjoy patronage. The same goes for the SLFP, whose leadership has drawn heavy flak from the party membership for playing second fiddle to the UNP in the unity government. The coming together of the UNP and the SLFP has also stood the Joint Opposition (JO), consisting mainly of the SLFP dissidents, in good stead. So, it may be that the SLFP and the UNP have resorted to fake wrestling matches at Cabinet meetings to jolt their demoralised supporters into rallying behind them.

Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake’s brand of politics may not be everyone’s cup of tea. He seems to consider real life an extension of the celluloid world, where he is the super hero. Once an actor, always an actor, one may say. So, he is given to theatricals. But, he should be praised for his courage to call a spade a spade. He has gone on record as saying that the yahapalana leaders obtained a popular mandate to catch thieves of all political stripes and the hunt must go on until all rogues are thrown behind bars regardless of their party affiliations. One couldn’t agree with him more!

Only the naïve may believe the UNP and the SLFP formed the current joint administration for the sake of the country. They did so for their own sake. But, there is no way they can employ the triple talaq method, as it were, to end their union. They are under pressure, both internal and external, to continue their alliance. Above all, they are faced with very formidable challenges from their common enemy, the JO, which is all out to capture power and pay them back in the same coin.

President Sirisena cannot afford to break ranks with the UNP. If the UNP ditches him he will fall between two stools, so to speak, as the JO will let him stew in his own juice instead of throwing a lifeline to him so as to grab the SLFP leadership. The UNP is in a position to form a government on its own, if push comes to shove, by engineering a few crossovers from the UPFA in such an eventuality.

The 19th Amendment has clipped President Sirisena’s wings and he cannot dissolve Parliament without rhyme or reason. So, Sirisena will have a hostile Cabinet, undermining his position in a far worse manner if the SLFP leaves the government and the UNP manages to retain power. From 2001 to 2004, the UNP harassed the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at Cabinet meetings in every conceivable manner even though she had powers, at that time, to sack the UNP-led government. She exercised that power in the end. One wonders whether the UNP has, through a smear campaign carried out by its backbenchers, let President Sirisena have a foretaste of what is to be expected in the event of the SLFP leaving the government.

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