A perfect storm
Posted on April 10th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The Joint Opposition (JO) is bragging that it has caused extensive damage to the yahapalana government with its no-faith motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Its ill-conceived move to oust the PM was born out of pure political adventurism. The abortive attempt has, however, yielded some results the JO did not bargain for.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, out of sheer desperation to defeat the no-confidence motion, enlisted the backing of the TNA on ten conditions, some of which he must be regretting now. He also undertook to restructure the party. But, introducing reforms, as demanded by the UNP ginger group, will require him to clip his own wings. Unless he makes good on his promises the resentment of party dissidents is likely to spill into the streets.

As we reported yesterday, the UNP is in a quandary over selecting its general secretary because, unlike in the past, the person selected for the post is debarred from holding a ministerial post. The UNP leadership seems to have adopted the famous Kamaraj Plan, which in the 1960s, made the key figures of the Congress party in India resign from their ministerial posts so as to devote all their time and energy to party work. It is said that this plan helped Indira Gandhi remove some ambitious Congress heavyweights from her path.

Minister Navin Dissanayake is reportedly coming under pressure to give up his ministerial portfolio and accept the post of the UNP General Secretary. This country is notorious for patronage-based politics and a ministerial post is the dream of every politician. After all, it was only the other day that Dissanayake lamented the UNP’s failure to have given jobs to party supporters. Is there any minister who is willing to give up his Cabinet post and be confined to Sirikotha?

As if its internal problems were not enough, the UNP has decided to get rid of the SLFP ministers who voted for the no-faith motion against the PM. What we are witnessing is an interesting turn of events replete with irony. It may be recalled that the UNP hailed Maithripala Sirisena as a hero when he broke ranks with the SLFP and challenged his boss, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the presidential race in 2015. After defeating Rajapaksa, Sirisena went on to sack the SLFP-led government, take over the SLFP leadership and engineer the SLFP-led UPFA’s defeat at the last general election so as to prevent Rajapaksa from becoming the Prime Minister. The UNP broke into a rapturous applause. Having welcomed what the SLFP considered downright treachery on the part of Sirisena and benefited therefrom, the UNP is now baying for the blood of the SLFP ministers who voted against the PM.

The SLFP’s reaction to the UNP’s hostile campaign against some of its ministers has been to threaten to leave the government. The SLFP ministers boycotted yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. A possible SLFP pull-out will prompt the UNP to form a government of its own with the help of some SLFP crossovers and the TNA. But, such an eventuality will be to the advantage of the JO. For the position of President Sirisena will be further weakened and the JO/SLPP will swallow, so to speak, what remains of the SLFP and its vote bank in time for the next presidential election. The SLPP secured about 45% of the votes countrywide at the Feb. 10 local government polls and the UPFA/SLFP 13%. If one extrapolates these percentages to a presidential election, the SLPP’s battle plan will become clear.

There seems to be no end in sight to the disintegration of the SLFP. The Sirisena faction of the SLFP has suffered another split with six more SLFP MPs having joined forces with the ministers who stepped out of line and voted against the PM. The SLFP Central Committee had a stormy session on Monday with most of its members apoplectic with rage. It is scheduled to have a crunch meeting today to decide whether to remain in the government or leave it. Speculation is rife that some of the SLFP ministers who abstained from voting last week might switch their allegiance to the UNP in case the SLFP decides to pull out of the unity administration. If what is being speculated comes true, the President will be further isolated in the SLFP.

The yahapalana government is caught in a perfect storm. Whether President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will be able to keep the troublemakers in their parties on a tight leash and save the yahapalana marriage remains to be seen. As things stand, there is little chance of rapprochement between the UNP and the SLFP.

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