Towards a new political culture
UNP-SLFP make history, sign MoU for government of
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
President Maitripala Sirisena acted as a bridge between the two
parties after defeating all odds within his party to form this
government of consensus.
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
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.
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