21 July, 2019

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National Unity Government Needs To Govern With More Consensus 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

In the past two weeks there have been indications that the government parties are trying to sort out their differences. SLFP National Organiser, Minister Duminda Dissanayake has said that contrary to views expressed by some SLFP members, there were no discussions during the recent SLFP Central Committee meeting about the party trying to quit the National Unity Government. At the same time the Joint Opposition appears to have ruled out the possibility of reunification of the SLFP under President Maithripala Sirisena. Prof G L Peiris who heads the SLPP which outdid the SLFP at its maiden contest has said that they would also not be supporting the president in any re-election bid.

There seemed to be a real prospect of a break-up of the National Unity Government in the sequence of events that followed the poor showing by the government parties at the local government elections of February 2018. The unsuccessful attempt of President Maithripala Sirisena to remove Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from his post followed by the departure of 16 SLFP members from the government added to this likelihood. It seemed that the UNP and SLFP led by these two protagonists would go their own ways. But the anticipated break-up of the government has not yet taken place and now it seems it is not likely to take place.

Contrary to negative expectations the UNP and SLFP have continued to remain together, albeit with reluctance in the absence of bettering their prospects by going forward separately. The president and prime minister have been meeting in dialogue that has been promoted by some of the senior members of their respective parties. As a result there is a renewed prospect that the two parties will be able to overcome their differences and stay together, at least until the term of office ends at the close of next year. However, until the two parties find a way to reach agreement on their roles and responsibilities within the government, and on powersharing arrangements, there will continue to be mistrust and rivalry which will give rise to an unhealthy environment for governance.

Reparations Office 

The value of the continuation the National Unity Government is its continuing willingness to address the unresolved issues of the war and to reach out to the ethnic and religious minorities in a spirit that is responsive to their concerns is what distinguishes it from its predecessor. The former government showed itself unprepared to address the unresolved issues of the war, and approached the ethnic and religious minority communities from a national security perspective. It tended to see them from a national security perspective as a source of present and potential threats to be neutralized rather than as equal citizens of the country to be protected and nurtured no less than the members of the ethnic majority.

The most positive feature of the leadership exercised by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is that they continue to stand by the principle that the ethnic and religious minorities are part and parcel of Sri Lanka’s plural society and their concerns are legitimate. This was most recently seen in the correction that took place when a Muslim was appointed to a ministerial position that overlooks Hindu religious affairs. As a result the ethnic and religious minorities are able to live today with a greater sense of security.

The approval given by the cabinet of ministers to the establishment of an Office of Reparations is evidence that the UNP and SLFP under their present leaderships are willing to address the tragedies of the past, which is the most important challenge to sustain to the future. The Office of Reparations is one of the four reconciliation mechanisms that the government promised to the international community and to the country at large as part of the solution to the problems created during the previous three decades of war. It is reassuring to note that the UNP and SLFP and their leaders continue to be on the same page in respect of one of the most important issues that brought them together in a winning combination at the presidential and general elections of 2015.

This positive feature is has previously been reflected in the passage of new laws such as the 19th Amendment to the constitution, and the laws on the Right to Information and Office of Missing Persons and the establishment of mechanisms to implement their decisions, with the latest being the Office of Reparations. These are examples of consensual decisionmaking between the two parties. Where consensus has been obtained the government shows an extraordinary ability to push important laws through parliament. The passage of these laws is significant since it puts in place a framework of good governance that will serve the country well in the longer term.

More Consultation 

On the other hand, the weakness of the government is that on too many occasions there seems to be ad hoc decisionmaking by individual ministries that are then shot down by others in the government. One recent example would be the proposal by the Ministry of Rehabilitation that reparations should be paid to families of the LTTE. This proposal is not part of the legislation pertaining to the Office of Reparations. It is an entirely separate, even if laudable, proposal made by an individual minister. But because it has been made at the same time as the appearance of the legislation on setting up the Office of Reparations it is being seen as part of the new mechanism although it has not been discussed within the government.

A similar phenomenon was seen in an earlier proposal to permit women to purchase liquor which was vetoed by the president to the disappointment and anger of those who stand by gender equality. This type of decisionmaking that is done unilaterally by one part of the coalition government without the consent of the other parts, and vetoing by one party of the proposals of the other party give the impression of a government that is not governing effectively. The government needs to dispel the impression that it is not governing due to the contradictions within itself which gives rise to the dangerous yearning for a strong government that can make the trains run on time.

There is a need for greater consultation within the government before new proposals are made by ministers. As this is a coalition government comprising two major parties and several smaller ones, there is a need to have discussions and to reach consensus before publicizing the proposals. This may slow down the process of decisionmaking. But more than speed alone, it is the implementation of decisions made that gives credibility to the government. The government needs to show that once it makes a decision it will carry out that decision and that it has the political will to do so. There is also a more fundamental need to agree on a framework for governance by the two main parties up to and beyond the next presidential elections scheduled for end 2019.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    This will be the First and Last National Unity Government of Sri Lanka. One would only hope that they will do what is right by the people of this country (until the next elections), the majority of whom are going through a very difficult time in their lives due to the politicians they have elected.

    • 4
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      Right on Steve! Jehan is a Fake Reconciliation or Con Xpert.

      For non-recurrance of Hate crime the perpetrators need to be punished.
      Mahasohon Balakaya, Pathal Champika’s, outfit attacked Muslims in Digana to distract all from Ranil’s Bondscam, just when the PC Bond Report was released.

      Ranil and MR are godfathers of the policy Divide. Rule and Loot Lanka after distracting us with Hate attacks.

      • 0
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        TOSH Xpert: Anti-buddhis tMAFIA working full time. YOU think with the incarceration of a bhikku, you won. That is why Sri lanka absolutely, definitely needs a DEEP STATE. rule of law does not work.

  • 1
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    JAhan PErera: did you read about the story in Vashvamadu, from which many LTTE cadres came, because the village was backward. Pne Army colonel became a hero there. there were photos. That wa snot Wellawaththa or Yapanaya. that is a Tamil village. That was true human spirit. What you are saying is BS. Why you are tlaking only the political organization approved items. YOU do not have any conscience. YOu should apply to CNN, FOX NEWs like organizations.

  • 0
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    Every govt is a national govt. Even Mahinda Rajapkse claim his govt as national. the reason is Everygovt has tamils, muslims, buddhists, catholic, hindus and protestants. The truth is both UNP and SLFP are failed parties. None of the parties can not establish a govt on their won. some some how they want a name. It is no point of reasoning here. YOu say make my fund provider happy. Talk about Reconciliation. Politicize it. So, Missing person’s office is there. when 100,000 sinhala youth died, there were not here. Now, in order to fund about suicide bombers, black tigers and ones got killed by them need to be found and not even the anti-LTTE srilankan from every ethinic group, every religion killed. Because, in short USA want something to hurt the wound. that is, at present, to cover up their work in Sri lanka which they say we were supporting you since 1948. the truth is American church was in th enorth even before 1948. right now they are operating via Tamilnadu. Why did not you write Ranil’s name as the future presidential candidate here. USA is not supporting him now ? what is going on ?

  • 3
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    Jehan…………. Is this a message from harvard that is delivered.
    Have you done anything substantial in keeping with your qualifications or lived of free supply of bread and butter? You are an uncouth & a disgraceful Intellectual to say the least.

  • 1
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    The author, and all participants,
    What is the life expectancy of a Sri Lankan? 80 years? How long before Sri Lanka got independence ? Did you see a genuine Government for the last 70 years working for the people of Sri Lanka? What are you talking about the present time political parties? What have the learned Journalist, Academicians, respected Politicians done so far for the future of their children? Because all of you are just towing the line with petty communal politicians and unable to come out with the truth that might put your life in danger, the Country gets pushed down. You don’t care. Now the Country is taken care by the opportunists Countries and it will not take long again for Sri Lankan politicians to start again to fight for freedom.

  • 1
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    The NCM has shocked MS/RW team. MR team found through SLPP that the weapon language/religion-divide is still usable.
    MS/RW must realise that working together is good for all of us and will also help their self-survival.
    “The Island” of Tuesday 19 June has news of leasing AirLanka aircrafts. Mis-management was crude and brutal. Coal purchase, sub-standard petrol dump etc. etc. Time to put these right.

  • 0
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    JEhan PErera is no different from the USA, UK and EU govts.

  • 0
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    No point talking about a National Government when neither President nor Prime Minister has credibility any more. We have to look to the next elections.

    Almost all will vote for just one Presidential candidate.
    .
    What I’m now posting has been rehashed from something I am about to post here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/why-vote-at-the-next-presidential-parliamentary-elections/
    .
    At best, 1,000 English-speaking [I know that there are articles in Sinhalese, and even Grush Andrews published one of his articles there in Sinhalese] ; how can we few communicate a message to Swabasha speakers? And they will play the communal card!
    .
    If the Sinhalese are going to boycott, it’ll be said that a Tamil (or even a Muslim) candidate will win.
    .
    No. Please comment on my earlier suggestion. I know nothing of Nagananda Kodituwaku except what has come to me through the Internet. Can some please tell us what they know of him? Just now I googled for a Wikipedia entry on him. He’s been raising such storm that I’m sure Wikipedia will allow an entry to be made about him.
    .
    We must start doing things ourselves to determine the future of this country. Can somebody who knows how to do it, please construct a balanced Wikipedia entry for him?
    .
    As it is, we’re like the blind men examining the elephant!
    .
    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-blind-man-and-the-elephant/
    .
    There’s the poem, words and audio.

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