The no-faith trap
Posted on May 20th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Tuesday 21st May, 2019

Is the Joint Opposition (JO) confident of punching above its weight? It has handed over to the Speaker a no-faith motion against Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. That the JO lacks a working majority in the House is only too well known. After all, that was why it failed to retain the power it grabbed from the UNP, late last year. It is only wishful thinking that the JO will be able to secure the passage of the no-faith motion under its own steam if its rivals leap to Bathiudeen’s defence. If so, why has it sought his ouster in this manner?

Both the UNP and the SLFP are eyeing what is described as Bathiudeen’s block vote. Therefore, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are wary of ordering a probe into serious allegations against Bathiudeen.

SLFP MP and General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera was questioned by the police, the other day, over the recent anti-Muslim riots, in the North Western Province; he was seen transporting a group of persons who, his opponents said, had been involved in mob violence. He has denied any wrongdoing and asked the police to put the record straight. If it can be proved that he was on the wrong side of the law, he should be punished.

The police must explain why they have not probed serious allegations against Bathiudeen and Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M. Hizbullah. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake himself has revealed that Bathiudeen made an intervention on behalf of a terror suspect. This is a very serious issue that warrants a thorough investigation. The suspect concerned has been handed over to the Terrorism Investigation Division. The TNA has called for a probe against Hizbullah. Strangely, the government, which is at the beck and call of the TNA, has not heeded that call.

Is it that Bathiudeen and Hizbullah are ‘more equal’ than Dayasiri before the law?

The no-faith motion against Bathiudeen is a smart move by the JO. Allowing the JO to secure the passage of the motion is the last thing the UNP wants. The UNP will be compelled to vote against the motion, for two reasons. It will be dependent on Bathiudeen’s votes at the next presidential election, and cannot afford to allow the JO muster a majority in the House. If the UNP defends Bathiudeen, it will incur the opprobrium of those who are out for his scalp. The Army Commander’s revelation has aggravated the UNP’s woes. Whether its MPs representing the areas, affected by the Easter terror, will dare defend anyone accused of having links to the National Thowheed Jamaath remains to be seen.

The SLFP is also in a similar predicament. If it supports the no-faith motion against Bathiudeen, it will not be able to woo the latter at the upcoming presidential polls, and pressure will mount on it to take action against Governor Hizbullah as well. President Sirisena, who is planning to seek a second term, may be reluctant to antagonise Bathiudeen. The SLFP and the President will incur the wrath of those who are demanding action against Bathiudeen if they defend him.

The JO has failed to secure Bathiudeen’s backing, and that was the main reason why the hurriedly formed Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration collapsed, last October. Bathiudeen benefited immensely from President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, which gave him free rein, but he decamped before the last presidential election. The JO is also trying to settle old political scores with Bathiudeen through the no-faith motion.

If the UNP and the SLFP oppose the no-faith motion against Bathiudeen, the JO will be able to cast them in a bad light. The TNA and the SLMC will also be in a dilemma. They will have to make their position on the issue known soon.

As things stand, heads the JO wins, tails its opponents lose. Will the SLFP, the TNA and SLMC be able to extricate themselves from the no-faith trap?

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