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Sunday, 23 August 2015

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Towards a new political culture

UNP-SLFP make history, sign MoU for government of consensus:

The August 18 parliamentary election results have not given the much needed 113-seat majority either to the United National Front for Good Governance (UNF) led by the United National Party (UNP) or the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

This was a clear indication that the people are no longer ready to give excessive power to any political party in Parliament, as they have realized that it would be disastrous to the country as politicians exploit that power to make whatever reforms for their survival in politics under the guise of serving the country.

However, the two main parties, the UNP and the SLFP have decided to overcome the obstacle of having a hung Parliament having reached an agreement to form a government of consensus for two years as a strong government is a pre-requisite for the long term economic and political stability of the country. The General Secretaries of the two parties Kabir Hashim UNP and Duminda Dissanayake, SLFP signed the MoU on Friday, after Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Prime Minister before President Maitripala Sirisena.

This was the sort of political culture Sri Lanka as a mature democracy in the Asian region expected from politicians for decades as this would prevent political headhunting, a common feature after a general election that leads to money-making politics, to form governments.

President Maitripala Sirisena acted as a bridge between the two parties after defeating all odds within his party to form this government of consensus.

Challenging tasks

For any leader whether he or she is from the UNP or the SLFP, running such government becomes a challenging task. However, this time, there is no hostile environment between the President and the Prime Minister as it was during the UNF regime run by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe under Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's presidency from December 2001 to 2003. Instead, now there is a mechanism to have power balance between two parties to form the government.

The UNP has a strong representation with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while the SLFP also has equal power as President Maithripala Sirisena, the head of the Cabinet is the Chairman of the SLFP. The fact that the President came to power with the backing of the UNP strikes a balance whilst their agreement to work on a common agenda prior to the general election avoids any disagreement between the executive President and the Prime Minister.

Therefore, this creates a favourable situation for the smooth running of the government and bonds the two parties to work on a common agenda to take forward the country towards economic prosperity and social improvement.

The formation of a national government came as a bonus for the SLFP, which has fewer number of seats in the final tally of the election results; it has come as a disappointment for many UNP MPs who waited to form a government of its own after a long lapse.

Many UNP MPs who aspired to become Ministers, have now to share the Ministerial portfolios with the SLFP. Many of them thought that only a hand-picked number of SLFP MPs required to have the majority in parliament will join with the UNFGG to form the new government. Therefore, it is expected that the issue will be resolved by the President and the Prime Minister without disappointments becoming issues to topple the government.

The government of consensus as explained by President Maithripala Sirisena to the elected SLFP MPs to get their consent for the move to form the government is the need of the hour, given the challenges the country has to face internationally. The two major parties have to bear the responsibility collectively while sharing the blame and the praises equally without criticizing each other at political platforms.

As the deferred UNHRC report on Sri Lanka over the alleged Human Rights violations and war crime charges during the final stages of the internal conflict in Sri Lanka is due to be presented shortly there is a necessity to make strong representation to the UNHRC on these issues and such representation and commitments by a government representing two major parties will have added credibility.

Not only the TNA the representation of the Jathika Hela Urumaya by Patali Champika Ranawaka and now by Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thera through the UNFGG National list will strike a balance in the issues of national security and also in favour of the Sinhala community as they are expected to oppose any move that would put the sovereignty and the national security of the country at stake. Their alliance with the President and the SLFP will defend the security forces from being penalized for defeating the LTTE. The concerns and fears of people over national security issues will be neutralized with the presence of the JHU within the government.

Moderate view

As extremism in the North and the South have been rejected the parties will have to take a moderate view on the ethnic issue. At the same time there are many disadvantages when forming a national government. Limiting the number of Cabinet Ministers to 30 as stipulated in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution will be a difficult task as it has to accommodate all parties represented in the government.

The anti corruption movement, the striking force to defeat the Rajapaksa regime at the Presidential election and also to thwart his bid to become the Prime Minister is facing a daunting situation. The setting up of independent commissions as stipulated in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution will help the government to move in the right direction.

However, there may be spoilers for the smooth functioning of the government as the SLFP MPs mostly are members who have strong affiliations to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Since the presidential powers for early dissolution of parliament have been curtailed under the 19th Amendment they will have to go political head hunting to make such a move feasible.

However, the last clause of the MoU signed between the UNP and the SLFP bars them from changing parties if they adhere to it. The fact that the UNF needs only few MPs from the SLFP to have their majority in Parliament, a move to topple the government will be an impossible task for the spoilers.

Above all, civil society organizations which strongly backed the UNF at the general election will observe what is happening within the government to prevent it from going in the wrong direction.

Therefore, the formation of a government of consensus, if it works out properly, will be ideal to address the long standing issues, create a workable mechanism to prevent corruption and to move ahead to create a new constitution as it enjoys the required two-third majority in Parliament.

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