Effective Govt based on political reality:
The election manifesto of the alliance of political parties that
supported the candidacy of President Maithripala Sirisena highlighted a
100-day plan after which Parliament would be dissolved and fresh
elections called. After the passage of 150 days since the election of
President Sirisena, the Government formed by Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe appears to be running out of steam. The imbalance between
a ruling party which has much less seats in Parliament than the
opposition has begun to take its toll.
The engine of the Government in terms of parliamentary numbers is
small, and cannot pull the load any more, especially when the terrain is
getting uphill. This is causing frustration among the general population
who want the Government to take charge of problem-solving in all areas
of economic, social and political life.
The problem faced by the Government has become evident in the
difficulties being faced over the appointment of the Constitutional
Council which was to be set up under the 19th Amendment.
This body will be the most prestigious and important institution of
state, vested with the power to select those who would ensure that other
institutions of the state, such as the Judiciary, Police, Public Service
and Elections Commission are non-partisan and would maintain the
independence of those key institutions. According to the 19th Amendment,
the appointments to the Constitutional Council would be primarily the
responsibility of the President, Prime Minister and Leader of the
Opposition with the leaders of the smaller parties also having an input.
A fortnight ago it seemed that the appointments to the Constitutional
Council were on track, with the names of those who were to be members
announced. However, the choice of the three Civil Society
representatives has not been ratified by Parliament. Due to the failure
to appoint the Constitutional Council there is a deadlock where it
concerns appointments to key state institutions. It makes the Government
An example is the Bribery Commission which has been in the news over
the past several months as it has received a plethora of complaints
against members of the former government who are now in the Opposition.
One of the Bribery Commissioners has resigned but cannot be replaced
because the Constitutional Council is not yet constituted. Therefore,
the Bribery Commission remains without a Commissioner and is not fully
The lacuna that has beset governance is not limited to institutions
of state. It also has implications for Government policy. The Government
which has a ruling party with only a minority of members in Parliament
cannot pass legislation unless the much larger Opposition in Parliament
agrees. The parliamentary opposition has little or no incentive to
cooperate with the Government as its interest lies in weakening the
ruling party and showing it to be ineffective.
This has a negative impact on all areas of governance, not least the
economy. In the past fortnight, the stock market, which is a barometer
of economic performance, has been slumping. The economic dividend that
was expected after the replacement of the former Government has yet to
materialise. This is taking the gloss off the achievements of the new
Among the main achievements of the new Government that need to be
protected is the sense of freedom that the general population and the
Government system now enjoy.
They are free from fear that arose from the arbitrary use of state
power. The passage of the 19th Amendment has created the basis for a new
The proposed 20th Amendment to reform the electoral system seeks to
further secure the new political culture and form one of the bases of
the President's election manifesto.
President Maithripala Sirisena has announced his intention to seek
the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution as a priority. The
reforms envisage an electoral system in which the majority of
parliamentary seats will be obtained on the first-past-the post system,
while keeping to an overall proportional outcome. The experience at
elections held under the present proportional system with a preferential
voting option has been negative.
A considerable amount of work and compromise has gone into the
preparation of the new electoral system. Most of the parties, including
the small and ethnic minority parties have expressed their willingness
to go along with it. However, today the differences between the
political parties, including the small parties, make the passage of the
20th Amendment seem to be an uphill prospect.
The UNP is concerned that the 20th Amendment will be used to delay
the speedy dissolution of Parliament which was part of the President's
election manifesto. The small parties are concerned that the emphasis on
the first-past-the-post system will be disadvantageous to them as
compared to the proportional system.
It is in the interests of the Opposition to continue with the present
parliamentary configuration for as long as possible, and till April 2016
when the term of the present Parliament lapses. This is on account of
their fear that they will not be a part of Parliament again, and their
hope that the present Government becomes less popular with the passage
of time. Their interest lies in having the general elections later
rather than sooner.
It needs to be noted that the passage of the 19th Amendment itself
was not easy. There were many opinions and vested interests involved in
the process of decision-making. At times, it seemed that the 2/3
majority needed for Constitutional change would not be found. The
passage of the 19th Amendment was only made possible by the cohabitation
of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who heads the present UNP-led
Coalition Government with President Sirisena who heads the SLFP
Opposition who persuaded their respective party members to give their
support to the constitutional amendment.
This same political configuration exists today. The trust and
appreciation of each other's strengths that the President and the Prime
Minister have so far demonstrated in each other gives the hope that
seemingly intractable deadlocks and conflicts of interest can be
overcome to provide a similar successful outcome in the case of the 20th
The unique feature that President Sirisena has brought into national
politics is to act in the national interests and not in his personal
interest or for a partisan purpose.
This was seen when he gave unwavering leadership to the passage of
the 19th Amendment, which reduced the powers of the over-strong
Presidency. His statesmanship was also seen earlier, when he kept his
election-time promise to appoint UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as
Prime Minister if he won the Presidential election.
After winning the election, and becoming all-powerful, President
Sirisena gave deference to morality, and to the fact that it were the
UNP voters who by and large had voted him to office. President Sirisena
is again demonstrating his capacity to stand above the siren call of
partisan politics by turning down the demand of his party members who
wish to pass a vote of No-Confidence in Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
SLFP's erstwhile champion
The partisan interest of the SLFP is to unseat Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe and the minority UNP-led Coalition Government that he
leads. But it is in the national interest for the country to have an
effective Government that is based on the present political realities,
and not those that existed five years ago in 2010, when the present
Parliament was elected.
The defeat of the SLFP's erstwhile champion, former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, at the Presidential election in January this year was due to
the corruption that alienated the politically aware sections of the
population, and the ethno-nationalism that alienated the ethnic
The body politic needs to be cleansed of these two ills, and the
process has only begun and it must be permitted to continue. The pursuit
of consensus to pass the 20th Amendment must not stand in the way of
elections for a new Parliament. The overriding value of elections and
new Government leadership was seen best at the Presidential election on
January 8 this year, which has transformed life in the country. What is
in the national interest is to stabilise the current thrust of