Of that shotgun marriage
Posted on August 27th, 2015

Island Editorial Courtesy Island

The proposed national government project is likely to get off to a delayed start. The MoU signed by the UNP and the SLFP the other day to pave the way for their coming together has some loose ends to tie up and the issue of sharing ministerial portfolios is far from resolved. Beggars are said to be no choosers, but the SLFP which failed to obtain a popular mandate, at the recently concluded election, to savour power, is not satisfied with what is on offer. It is said to be doing an Oliver Twist!

The national government was conceived while the UNP and the SLFP were cohabiting for about seven months. Hence, their keenness to have a shotgun marriage!

The framers of the present Constitution should be blamed for the prevailing political uncertainty. They should have opted for a smaller National List (NL) and added some more bonus seats to districts to ensure that the winning party would get a working majority in Parliament. The NL has become a big joke today with party leaders abusing it to catapult defeated candidates to Parliament.

The UNP is in the current predicament because it put itself in the national government straitjacket. It may not have expected to get as many as 106 seats when it pledged to share power with other parties in Parliament. Else, it would have been able to cut the Gordian knot and formed a government on its terms as there are enough and more SLFP MPs willing to defect and hold ministerial posts. However, now, it has to accommodate to the ‘new political culture’ it promised.

The UPFA MPs are in an unenviable situation. They won without the backing of President Maithripala Sirisena. But, today, they have become his captives. Politically speaking, they are of two kinds—house slaves and field slaves. Those in the good books of President Sirisena belong to the former category and the dissidents to the latter.

President Sirisena has reportedly given the Rajapaksa loyalists the freedom to decide whether to join the national government on the cards or remain in the Opposition. But, he has said, in the same breath, he wants them to abide by the SLFP’s decisions. The SLFP does as its Central Committee says and the Central Committee does as President Sirisena says. And, thus, in effect, the President has said: ‘It’s my way or the highway!’ He has ensured that the fear of facing disciplinary action will haunt the dissidents!

Meanwhile, the JVP is smarting from its failure to obtain more seats. Its plan to eat into the SLFP’s support base with the help of the UNP boomeranged. It gained a lot of political mileage out of the Jan. 08 regime change, but it failed to gain lost ground electorally as it was seen to be backing the UNP. It was a case of swings and roundabout for the JVP. The UNP, too, trained its propaganda guns on the JVP, fearing that the latter would make inroads into its vote bank. JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath has put forth an interesting argument as regards the proposed national government.

Herath has told the media that the 19th Amendment provides for a national government to be formed by the UNP with the UPFA, and not the SLFP, as a partner. The second largest block of seats has been secured by the UPFA of which the SLFP is only a constituent, and the UPFA is not amenable to a political marriage with the UNP, he has maintained. Some UPFA MPs are openly opposing a national government.

The next UNP-SLFP administration will have to have the national government tag if the size of the Cabinet is to be increased in keeping with the 19-A. UNP lawyers are of the view that there is no such legal barrier. However, all indications are that there will be a legal wrangle over the national government issue.


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