Maithri’s breather
Posted on April 17th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The prorogation of Parliament, which came as a bolt from the blue, has left many bewildered. Everybody seems to be wondering what is there up President Maithripala Sirisena’s sleeve. Our contention is that there is nothing up there. The prorogation of Parliament is only a desperate measure the President, stuck neck deep in trouble, has adopted to give himself a breather. Faced with the prospect of 16 more UPFA MPs defecting to the Opposition, the President is at his wits’ end and, therefore, he needs time to cogitate on what to do next. It is said that desperate situations call for desperate remedies.

President Sirisena has had to portage the yahapalana canoe which has run aground. But, there is no guarantee that he will ever be able to row it again or float the UNP’s boat, let alone have his ducks in a row. That the UPFA MPs, including ministers who turned against the PM, had his blessings is only too well known. After all, he himself sought to remove the PM, albeit unsuccessfully, following the Feb. 10 local government polls defeat. He had to give in to the UNP’s pressure and ditch the SLFP ministers who voted against the PM. They obviously expected him to defend them and reject their resignation letters which they readily tendered immediately after the no-faith fiasco. But, he had to save his skin at their expense. The problems are not over for the beleaguered President. Now, the SLFP has to remain in the so-called unity government on the UNP’s terms which are infra dig. The executive presidency has been reduced to a paper tiger with the PM being in a position to call the shots for all practical purposes.

President Sirisena may not have realised the extent to which the 19th Amendment had curtailed his powers. He cannot either sack the PM or dissolve Parliament. Some legal experts have even argued that we already have a titular President in all but name. Exaggerated as this argument may sound, it is not devoid of merit. Even prior to the introduction of the 19-A, the President was powerful only when he or she happened to lead the party which controlled Parliament. When a different party formed a government, the executive President became vulnerable as we saw between 2001 and 2004. The yahapalana arrangement, introduced to overcome a similar situation following the 2015 general election, is now past its shelf life.

The SLFP is currently divided into three factions. The biggest of them is loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa; following the abortive no-faith motion against the PM, there has been a split in the Maithri faction of the SLFP with some of its MPs making overtures to the UNP. At this rate, President Sirisena will be lucky if he manages to prevent the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA from breaking ranks!

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, who lost his ministerial post the other day, owing to his support for the no-confidence motion against the PM, has called the yahapalana project a farce. He has made no revelation; that is what it has been since its inception in 2015. The coming together of the UNP and the SLFP/UPFA was a marriage of convenience; it served the purpose of the two parties thereto and no one else’s. The composition of the present legislature has become antithetical to all known parliamentary norms as a result.

Parliament has become synonymous with confusion and muddle. A section of the UPFA, which shares power with the UNP in the unity government, functions as the unofficial Opposition; it has come to be called Joint Opposition (JO), which is not legally recognised as a party because all its members are MPs elected from the UPFA! In a dramatic turn of events, 16 UPFA MPs, who are not members of the JO, have declared that they have no confidence in the PM by voting for a no-faith motion against him.

The official Opposition has become a mere appendage of the government. The TNA makes no bones about the fact that it is ready to ensure that the present government remains in power, presumably until the promulgation of the proposed Constitution, which is expected to devolve more power to the provinces. It does not care two hoots about the very serious allegations of corruption and abuse of power against the powers that be because it is all out to advance its agenda at the expense of the national interest. The country is badly in need of an Opposition which cares to address broader national issues which affect all communities. The JVP is taking swats at the Elephant in the hope that it will be seen to be anti-government as a result. In so doing, it only provides some entertainment to the discerning public.

It looks as if President Sirisena had realised, at long last, that the government cannot muddle along and should be given a radical shake-up. But, the question is whether anymore tinkering, which pass for reforms, will help make the yahapalana arrangement workable, try as the President or other government grandees might. They are apparently flogging a dead horse.

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