Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 14 June 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Sirisena’s political mettle put to the test

In a stormy week of disagreements and splitting of hairs:

If the process of enacting the 19th Amendment was largely a flexing of political muscles and a show of power, the process to have the 20th Amendment appears to be more daunting than the previous.

Political parties are finding more reasons to disagree than to agree, splitting hairs on the issue of delimitation and playing number games, even in the aftermath of the draft receiving the multi-party Cabinet approval.

During a politically stormy week, the Government appeared to have demonstrated some navigational skills, especially, President Maithripala Sirisena, who weathered another political storm with his UNP-led Government, by obtaining, in principle, the agreement of his indecisive and fractured SLFP- led UPFA, that 20th Amendment too may become law.

Difficult process

Sirisena’s political mettle was further tested as he handled divergent opinions, emotional outbursts and scepticism, during an array of critical meetings with political leaders as he held marathon sessions with a record number of Cabinet meetings being convened within a single week.

The President, in a bid to muster support for the 20 Amendment, the introduction of which he considers a reflection of his own commitment to the public, convened three Cabinet meetings, met with the Sri Lanka freedom Party (SLFP) and the leaders of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and Chief Ministers.

During each of these meetings, he sought to convince those within the UPFA and the SLFP, to unconditionally support the 20th Amendment, insisting that the draft shared was still open to amendments, offering them an opportunity to further improve it, before submitting the same to the Supreme Court, for verifying constitutionality prior to placing it before the House.

As one of his senior advisers said, for the President who was elected to office on a good governance platform, having the 20th Amendment enacted is also a demonstration of accountability.

Quick moves

However, given the quicksand nature of current politics, it seemed that the Government took serious note of the massive opposition to a previous move to restrict the size of the legislature to 225 members, when the Cabinet finally on Friday agreed to increase the number of parliamentarians to 237.

As things stand, out of the 237, some 145 members will be elected through the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, 92 on the basis of Proportional Representation (PR). The 92 member component will include 55 elected on the basis of District PR while 37 members will be accommodated through the National List.

The next step, now that the draft has received the Cabinet nod, is to place it before the House, and once there, broker better consensus among the majority of political parties represented in Parliament.

At the moment, the stakes still remain high, especially in light of the manner in which the UPFA members are likely to vote, as there is a still a question of loyalty, given the current political undercurrents.

Besides the technical areas of disagreement, the problem, according to political analysts, lies with the SLFP led by President Sirisena, who is still struggling to keep a shaky coalition afloat, while his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, continues to make moves to regain the lost leadership, convincing many in the process, that his leadership is still valid.

In a fresh move, the President meanwhile also added four more to an expanding Cabinet. Thilanga Sumathipala, Sanath Jayasuriya, Vijaya Dahanayake and Eric Weerawardhane were all sworn in as Deputy Ministers, bringing the total number of Cabinet of Ministers to 82, well beyond the promised number of 30.

This move, seen by many as an attempt to ensure the numbers are in place when the 20th Amendment is finally placed before Parliament for a vote, is also seen as an attempt to draw more members into the Sirisena camp, which needs to consolidate itself in order to move further.

The new ministers have been cautioned by others in the UPFA against accepting portfolios, citing the examples of those who quit in the recent past due to differences in opinion and inability work within a UNP-led administration. However, it is learnt that the new ministers have justified the choice made by them as one of political prudence, which will help them nurse their electorates better, even for a short while. What perhaps goes unmentioned is the possibility of utilizing political power as well as having better access to public resources, which all come in handy during election time.

Convince the UPFA and SLFP

President Sirisena meanwhile, launched his own initiatives to convince the rank and file of both the UPFA and the SLFP. First, at a special Cabinet meeting convened last Monday (8), he sought to explain the salient features of the proposed constitutional amendment to his Cabinet colleagues, where he insisted that promises made to the people must be honoured.

However, this meeting ran into a storm when Rauf Hakeem, Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) decided to lock horns with the President, insisting that if the SLMC views were not taken into consideration, the premier Muslim political party would be compelled to boycott parliamentary sessions. In addition, he also put forward the proposal of issuing two separate ballot papers to make the new mechanism work.

After Hakeem’s rant, a smiling President said to have responded that Minister Hakeem was now able to lodge strong protests against what is proposed, even in an aggressive manner, whereas during the previous Cabinet, ministers were shouted down and their views were largely disregarded. “At least here you get a full hearing,” the President had remarked.

According to insiders, the President also used the time spent with his coalition and party members to counter argue that he was not trusted or supported enough, despite his sincerity of purpose in moving constitutional amendments according to what he promised during his Presidential campaign.

On Tuesday, when he convened a party leaders meeting to further discuss the amendment that is causing a furore, he invited all parties to submit their recommendations for consideration, explaining that the Cabinet’s assent was only a policy level approval and the draft could be further improved upon.

Going to the heart of the matter, he also agreed that it was an inalienable right of legislators to move No Confidence Motions in the House, as many UPFA members claimed the No Faiths were gathering dust or made to gather dust. At present, there are three No Confidence Motions lying in Parliament, against Ministers John Amaratunga and Ravi Karunanayake as well as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe.

However, the Head of State stood firm as he said there should be a sense of propriety, and political moves such as No Faiths are presented, they should not be used as tools that might defeat positive moves like the introduction of a vital constitutional amendment that incorporates serious electoral reforms, addressing yet another issue that had caused serious problems.

At the meeting, there was considerable letting out of steam by members over a number of issues.

Expressing serious disenchantment with the people and the process involved was Dilan Perera, one of the few new ministers who quit his portfolio, under protest. He alleged that 160 electorates have been reduced to 125 without any explanation or further consultation, and expressed dismay that having spent many weeks working on the proposed draft, the final document could not be compared to what some of the senior SLFPers, tasked to draft it, were engaged in. “We could not even recognize the draft when we saw it and therefore, this is not a trustworthy exercise,” Perera had reportedly said.

This view found much support and D. E. W. Gunasekera, especially questioned the Government’s sincerity in wanting to implement the proposed electoral reforms. “It is all hogwash. The Government is not sincere in this exercise,” Gunasekera had said.

Moving a fresh argument – but one that resonates extremely well with his UPFA colleagues was Bandula Gunawardene, a vocal dissenter who openly leans towards Mahinda Rajapaksa. His grouse was that the new Government was quick to brand everyone in the former administration as thieves, even in the absence of any evidence to support such claims. Gunawardene complained to the President that UPFA members continued to suffer attacks on their reputation as a political witch-hunt of a new kind was being implemented, dragging senior politicians through alleged corruption probes.

Adding to this was Keheliya Rambukwella, who also took cudgels with the UNP –led administration for relishing every opportunity to brand UPFA members as thieves. “For this Government, everyone is a rogue,” he reportedly said.

Rambukwella also faulted the Government for not being willing to share the credit of introducing the 19th Amendment, for petty political gain. He noted with concern that UNP leaders were habitually belittling the support extended by the UPFA members to make it law, even at a time when the Government was again looking for numbers to have the 20th Amendment passed in Parliament. “This is so degrading. Without the UPFA, the previous amendment would not have seen the light of day,” Rambukwella remarked.

However, amidst serious expressions of anger and mistrust, President Sirisena has prevailed upon everyone present, claiming that as the new President elected on a mandate of expressed public trust to introduce sweeping reforms, he was only seeking to fulfil his mandate through the introduction of amendments that are vital.

Honouring a mandate

The President also tackled another serious concern among the UPFA members, dispelling the myth about a possible agreement with the UNP to reappoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minster, after the general election.

It is learnt that the President has laboriously explained that the agreement was to appoint Wickrmesinghe for the position after the January 8 polls, but at no time was there an undertaking to create a UNP Government after winning the January election. The President has repeatedly explained, it is learnt, that it was the lack of support from within his own party and the alliance that resulted in the formation of a UNP- led Government. “The UPFA members did not wish to accept portfolios and then, it turned into a UNP Government, by default,” he had reportedly said.

Seeking to build bridges, President Sirisena has also given an undertaking to his party leaders that after the general election, the person who commands the majority in Parliament will be called upon to form a Government and that there were no foregone conclusions in this regard. However, it had also been explained that in keeping with his pledge to the people, he would include opposition members in a future Government, irrespective of which party secures victory.

“I am the SLFP leader and with the party’s backing, it is possible to create a UPFA Government if the members pull their weight. Instead of assisting me to do that, the UPFA members stood by someone else this time, not by me, overlooking the incumbent leader. I am asking to stand by me, and help create a UPFA- led Government,” the President has requested, urging members to desist from supporting destructive and disruptive elements who are trying to take the country backward.

Readying for polls

While the SLFP remains splintered in two, with different members identifying themselves with the former leader and the incumbent, the UNP, once a party besieged by divisions and infighting, appears to have got its act swiftly to present a more united front, as it lays out plans for the forthcoming elections in earnest. As such, the UNP has navigated from its original positional of 225 MPs to a 237-member house.

As the 20th Amendment remains hot, elements within the UPFA, it is learnt, are preparing to initiate a series of talks with Tamil political parties, in particular, with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to muster support to vote against the proposed amendment, which is broadly opposed by minority political parties.

The coming week is likely to prove stormier, by the current turn of things.

Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | World | Obituaries | Junior | Youth |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2015 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor