Posted on April 9th, 2018


The ‘vote of no confidence’ on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, debated in April 2018 was treated by the watching public and also by Parliament as yet another decisive Yahapalana election.

The motion was defeated, after a stormy, heated debate with 122 voting against, 76 voting for and 26 abstentions.  The 122 votes in favor of Ranil Wickremasinghe was composed of UNP votes, 16 SLFP votes, Muslim votes and all votes of the Tamil MPs, excluding Thondaman. The 16 SLFP votes were from the government SLFP segment.

Of the 42 SLFP MPs in the government 16 voted in favor of the motion. They were Susil Premajayantha, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Dilan Perera, John Seneviratne, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Dr Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tharanath Basnayake, Susantha Punchinilame, Anura Yapa, S.B. Dissanayake, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Chandima Weerakkody, Anuradha Jayaratne, Sumedha Jayasena, T.Ekanayake and Thilanga Sumathipala.  They have now asked to sit in the Opposition.

There were   26 abstentions, Mahinda Amaraweera, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Duminda Dissanayake, Faiszer Musthapha, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Vijith Vijithamuni Soysa, Piyasena Gamage, Mohan Lal Grero, Shriyani Wijewickrema, Lakshman Seneviratne, A.H.M. Hisbulla, A.H.M. Fowzie, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Sarathi Dushmantha, Manusha Nanayakkara, Malith Jayathilake, Arumugam Thondaman, Weerakumara Dissanayake, Angajan Ramanathan, Kader Masthan and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana.

The ‘UNP vote’ was not a purely UNP one. The 106 UNP seats in Parliament came from the UNP led coalition which won the last general election. This coalition consisted of Tamil Progressive Alliance (Democratic People’s Front/National Union of Workers/Up-Country People’s Front) All Ceylon Makkal CongressSri Lanka Muslim Congress, Muslim Tamil National Alliance, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Democratic National Movement,  National Front for Good Governance,  United Left Front and the UNP.

Analysts agreed that it would not have been difficult to defeat the motion. The UNP already had 106 votes, with the TNA 16 votes. The motion could have been defeated easily. Chandraprema observed that the 122 votes which Ranil Wickremasinghe got are votes that he always had. The TNA did not contest under the UNP banner, but Ranil can trust the TNA to a much greater extent than most members of the UNP itself. So the votes that the UNP got were the votes he already had, said Chandraprema.

However, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) voted only after extracting promises from the Prime Minister. TNA   said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had accepted ten of its proposals in return for the group are backing him. Ranil had initially turned down those proposals. There had been a heated argument and finally a consensus had been reached.

TNA proposals accepted by the Prime Minister are: 1) providing a political solution to the North-East problem expeditiously. 2) enactment of a new Constitution with a two-thirds majority in Parliament before the next national election. 3) ensuring that the military vacates all property belonging to civilians. 4) a general amnesty to all political prisoners. 5) probing the wartime disappearances. 6) protecting of rights of those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 7) employment for youth living in the Northern and Eastern provinces. 8) ensuring that those who are not resident in the North and the East will not be employed in the two provinces at the expense of eligible candidates there. 9) appointing Tamils as Divisional Secretaries of eight Northern and Eastern administrative districts. 10) taking into consideration views of members representing Northern and Eastern Provinces in respect of development projects as well as priority for projects undertaken by the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils.

Chandraprema commented on these conditions. Some of these such as the formulation of a new constitution before the next election are obviously not practicable. The constitutional reform process ground to a halt months ago due to the inability of the Muslims and the upcountry Tamils to agree to the devolution proposals put forward. It is very unlikely that this reform process can be resuscitated before the next presidential election is called in October next year. Even if it is, the possibility of getting a two thirds majority on parliament is now virtually non-existent. .

The demand to release all ‘political prisoners’ however gives cause for serious concern. What the TNA means by the term political prisoners are the several dozen hardcore LTTE terrorists who are still in detention awaiting trial. Even though over 11,000 LTTE cadres were released, these several dozen hardcore terrorists who are considered beyond rehabilitation were kept in detention to be tried. It is these people the TNA wants released as ‘political prisoners’. The problem is that they were never political activists or dissidents but dangerous terrorists.

Another extremely dangerous condition is the appointment of only Tamils as District Secretaries (Government Agents) in the north and east. This combined with the conditions that government jobs in the north and east should be given only to those who are resident in those two provinces, and that the views of the two provincial councils should be respected in matters relating to development work, would be an unprecedented move that will turn the north and east into a ‘liberated zone’ for the TNA.. These are conditions that the opposition should vigorously contest.

The   no confidence  debate  held   in Parliament, which lasted  for 12 hours was a right royal mud-slinging match in which one side’s allegations against the other were answered with counter-allegations by the other, with no one attempting to clear their names by disproving the allegations, said Jayatilleke de Silva. Amidst all the cheers, jeers and catcalls, there was agreement that the Yahapalana Government had under-performed, that it had not lived up to its pledges and much needs to change.

Susil Premajayantha spoke for about half an hour receiving cheers of the Joint Opposition MPs and jeers of the UNP backbenchers. In a tirade against the Government he said that when the SLFP old hands such as Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne, Anura Yapa, Dilan Perera and himself leave the Government, there would not be a Unity Government anymore, He challenged  the government to form a single party government after their defection.

The Sunday newspapers of the 8th April hailed Ranil Wickremasinghe as a hero who had won a resounding victory. The no confidence  vote has lifted Ranil from the doldrums, turned him from a lame duck to a savvy swan, placed him on the pedestal of triumph and strengthened his hand to a degree none thought possible a week ago, said Sunday Times.

It is difficult to agree with this. Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister took over positions which went beyond the powers normally held by a Prime Minister. Thanks to ‘no confidence’ Ranil Wickremasinghe has lost some of these powers. Central Bank and the Securities Exchange of Sri Lanka were sent back to the Ministry of Finance. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) was scrapped. Its functions reverted to the line ministries and the Cabinet.

The closure of the CCEM is a blow to Premier Wickremesinghe who chaired its weekly meetings, said analysts. It is here that most of the Government’s economic programmes were discussed and decisions taken. SLFP ministers charged that it was a parallel cabinet. They also complained that decisions were sometimes made without consultation with them or their senior officials, a fact which President Sirisena also emphasized in his Cabinet Memorandum recommending the closure of the CCEM.

The No confidence vote against Ranil Wickremasinghe, led to a surge of interest in the powers Ranil held. The National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry which came under the Prime Minister had under it, the National Operations Room, the Department of Project Management and Monitoring, the Credit Information Bureau, the National Pay Commission, the National Insurance Trust Fund, the Strike, Riot and Civil Commotion and Terrorism Fund, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, the National Human Resources Development Council, the National Youth Services Council and the National Youth Corps.

This Ministry was responsible for the formulation of monetary policies and macro-economic management in coordination with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, coordination between public and private sectors to facilitate the participation of private sector in economic development, coordination, direction, monitoring and evaluation of projects at national level and provincial levels, formulation, monitoring and evaluation of projects and programmes in relation to the subject of youth affairs formulation and implementation of attitudinal development programmes that aim to guide the young generation in the right direction, implementation of unemployed youth-centric skills development programmes, youth organization related work, formulation of volunteer programmes for youth.

In the run up to the No confidence vote, observers had plenty to say about Ranil’s leadership style. None of it was flattering. Some of it is very amusing. Ranil is a leader who has survived for forty years in politics outwitting rivals, said Sarath de Alwis. Some fate has given him command of an established political party,   UNP, with a solid voter base.  The UNP stage is his home turf where he alone is the only soprano in town.

Ranil is a leader who treats the public with disdain. He locates himself above the hoi polloi on an elevated grandstand. From those lofty heights he looks down on us. He has a faithful coterie of cronies and self-serving followers. They have bestowed the charisma of a clean, resolute leader on him. These cronies belong to the elite and they hold much power backstage in the UNP.

Ranil does not consult the party. He manipulates it. He assiduously concentrates decision making in his own hands. He has by deliberate design, concentrated all powers in guiding the nation’s economy in his hands. He does not heed contrary opinion. The Bond fiasco has undermined the leadership of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe   but he had not learned his lesson, concluded Sarath de Alwis.

Wickremesinghe obviously fits the self-image of the UNP’s decision-making strata, even while he fails to enthuse the UNP voters, leave alone voters in general said Dayan Jayatilaka.

However, it will be a mistake to take into account only the local factors in relation to the politics of the present government. One must not forget that foreign parties had much to do with bringing this government into power and they will want to protect their investment, said Chandraprema.

One of the biggest strengths that Ranil   has is the fact that the foreign powers that brought this government into power need him much more than any other leader in the coalition government. The whole Yahapalana project will be different without Ranil. It is his single minded willingness to submit to foreign diktat that makes RW such a valuable ally to the foreign powers.

He is not following foreign diktat reluctantly, simply for the sake of power. He is in fact even more convinced than the foreign powers themselves that that foreigners are always right and that Sri Lanka should be governed the way the foreign powers want. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the most willing client that any foreign patron could hope for, and they are not going to allow him to be ousted if they can help it, said Chandraprema.

The constitutional reform process to devolve power to nine semi independent provincial units, the UNHRC resolution 30/1 whereby Sri Lanka has undertaken to institute war crimes tribunals with foreign judges, the proposed ETCA with India, the 99 year lease of the Hambantota harbor are all associated with Ranil Wickremasinghe and his immediate cabal of friends including Mangala Samaraweera, concluded Chandraprema.

Dayan Jayatilaka, analyzing the No confidence vote, stated that the real winner was Rajapaksa not Wickremasinghe. If a person walks into a game or a battle and walks out with less than he had when he went in, he is a loser. Similarly, if a person walks out of a game or a battle with more than he had when he went in, he is a winner said Dayan.

Ranil Wickremasinghe came out with less than when he went in. He could not command the complete support of his government. He retained much of it but lost some. His was a net loss, not a net gain. There was however, someone who walked out with more votes for his motion than when he walked in, and that’s Mahinda Rajapaksa. He arrived with only 53 votes and left with 76. This was one third of the Parliament vote observed Wimal Weerawansa.

The No confidence vote also marks a significant decline in the SLFP. the SLFP is ‘definitely disintegrating’ said Chandraprema,   soon there will be no SLFP. The present members of the SLFP will either be absorbed by the UNP or the SLPP. They will strengthen the UNP to some extent by bringing in people who have resources and a certain amount of political capital as well.

The decline of the SLFP started with arrival of Yahapalana. Yahapalana was probably given an instruction by the west to weaken and kill the SLFP. To achieve this, SLFP National list MPs were removed and SLFPers who had lost the election were appointed. Then SLFP was joined to the UNP in a single national government. This created government SLFPs and Opposition SLFPers   who started clashing with each other. Now comes the no confidence vote, which split the remaining government SLFPers into two.

But a new complication has appeared on Yahapalana’s horizon. Pohottuwa has emerged and is trying to bloom. Therefore, the west, meaning probably America, may now feel obliged to reverse its original instruction and order Yahapalana to speedily revive the SLFP, make it powerful again, and use it to crush Pohottuwa.

That will not be easy. Pohottuwa showed its confidence early. For instance, Yahapalana had said that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would be arrested and jailed if he dared returned to Sri Lanka after local government election.  Gotabhaya returned to Sri Lanka   the day after the election. He spoke to the media at Katunayake airport. He was not arrested.

The no confidence vote against Ranil Wickremasinghe was Pohottuwa’s debut appearance in Parliament. Pohottuwa was mentioned as a political force in the debate. Premajayantha in his speech said the local government polls had shown the real mandate of the people. If it had been a General Election, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna would have received 102 seats, the UNP 65 and the SLFP 30.

Pohottuwa’s voter base will grow with the SLFP split in Parliament, said Dayan. It will probably lead to the transfer of what remains of the SLFP vote base to Mahinda, together with its leading personalities in an eventual alliance. Mahinda Rajapaksa today has a higher percentage of the country’s vote than does Ranil Wickremesinghe said Dayan Jayatilaka (April 2018).

The balance of forces has shifted even further in favor of Mahinda Rajapaksa, after the no confidence vote than it did at the local government elections’, said Dayan. When Rajapaksa walked into Parliament, for the no confidence vote, the government had an internal struggle underway but it was not openly split. When he walked out, it was. The Unity government was undeniably disunited. It had also probably lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said that when it captures power at the next general election it would repeal all Acts passed by the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government that had negative impacts on the country. SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris told the media that the Inland Revenue Act (IRA), Office on Missing Persons Act (OMPA) and Active Liability Management Act (ALMA) would be scrapped immediately the SLPP forms the next government.

The OMPA Bill was passed by Parliament last June and the ALMA last month. The IRA was effective in Sri Lanka from April 01, he said. Highlighting the ill-effects the IRA, he said those who did not pay taxes would have to pay a tax from their EPF money as the bank would deduct five percent tax when the money was transferred to the bank. There are many people who live on the interest gained from the fixed deposits and they should be excluded from the government taxes as those people were not in a condition to pay taxes, he stressed.

Bandula Gunawardena said that the IRA would be amended once they came to power by giving more relief to people. when the country was in a 30-year costly war, the previous government under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa had however provided tax relief to the people and the present government had taken away those relief measures A government should collect taxes without making life miserable for the public, he said.

Yahapalana, undaunted, plans to come back to power in 2020 and then go careening along till 2030, with the help of the west. Yahapalana would like to continue forever. This series however, ends today, with the No confidence vote of April 2018. ( to be continued)

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