By Sarath Jayasuriya –
February 10th Local Government election is over. Unity government partners suffered a significant loss at the polls while a few months old party consisting of breakaways of UPFA constituent parties and the SLFP, emerged victorious with 44.69%. UNP retained 32.61% its block vote while the UPFA and SLFP spearheaded by the President was reduced to dismal 13.38% of the total votes polled. It was interesting to note that JVP has managed to increase its voter base to 6.26% overtaking even the SLFP.
Many pundits have joined the race to analyse the results by favouring their own interested political parties. No one has given an impartial analysis as yet. It is heart breaking to note that some news media both electronic and print, also joining the fray by publishing and displaying baseless stories just to beat up the drums driving the general public to run helter skelter for the truth.
Fact remains that, it was not an election to select candidates to the Legislative Assembly but to the local bodies. What we have just completed was a Local Government Election to elect local bodies such as Pradesheeya Sabhas, Urban Councils and Municipal Councils. It is a foregone conclusion and an acceptable scenario that the government in power always loses elections to local bodies. This is such a situation but in a greater magnitude. How did such a turn of events occur?
We need to understand the composition of the present government. M. Sirisena, two days after he was sworn in as the President the present Prime Minister was sworn in removing the then Prime Minister along with the cabinet of Ministers. A new cabinet was appointed breaking all the promises given, increasing the number in the cabinet way beyond 30. The parliament MPs over the divide flocked around the President and the newly appointed Prime Minister to canvass for Ministerial positions. The action by these members was encouraged by both leaders in the name of gaining a 2/3rd majority in the parliament for the purpose of introducing a new constitution which never happened except for brining in the 19th amendment.
However the 19th amendment was welcome by all since the article 31 of the constitution was amended to “(2) No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the People, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the People” which explains that the number of terms that a person could hold office of the President is limited to two terms. 19th amendment also included appointment of Seven (7) commissions which was greatly appreciated by the intelligent public.
One needs to take stock of the current situation carefully. As per the constitution President cannot remove the Prime Minster until he is made to understand that the PM no longer commands the majority in the Parliament. Even if PM does not command the majority in Parliament he cannot be removed unless the PM gives his resignation in writing.
Article 42 of the constitution clearly states “ 42 (2) The Prime Minister shall continue to hold office throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution unless he– (a) resigns his office by a writing under his hand addressed to the President; or (b) ceases to be a Member of Parliament”
The present PM was sworn in by the President immediately after the 2015 August General Elections, when the PM led UNF won 106 seats in the parliament. UNF government teamed up with minority parties to record a majority in the house to form a unity government. UPFA was fragmented and few members of the UPFA constituent parties with majority SLFP, under the advice of the President joined the government once again to command a 2/3rd majority in order to bring in promised constitutional changes such as the 19th amendment. Since the UPFA in general terms was supporting the unity government the TNA leader was nominated to the position of the Leader of the opposition.
With the release of local government results President is facing pressure from his own UPFA which includes SLFP members to remove the Prime Minister and appoint one from their camp. The question arises whether UPFA led alliance could muster majority support in the parliament?. Even then can the President remove the present PM? As per Article 42 of the constitution President cannot remove the PM unless he resigns.
Maithripala Sirisena came to power on the shoulders of the UNP supporters. He did not have a party to contest. He borrowed a part symbol SWAN from Shyamala Perera’s party which was also used by the General in his election campaign. He was backed by the Civil Society movements, Bar Association, University Teachers association and all other political parties such as JVP, TNA, Mano Ganeshan’s party etc except for his own UPFA. There were closer to six (6) members of his SLFP walked out with him on that historic day in November 2014. In his own words “I would have been 6ft under if not for the UNP taking the leadership to nominate him as the Presidential candidate”. President was appointed to do a specific job. It was the President who promised the people that he will clean up corruption, catch thieves and murderers of the Mahinda Rjapakshe’s regime, bring in changes to the constitution and fix the economy.
The work undertaken by the President has been partly delivered by the Ranil Wickramasighe led unity government. Fixing of the economy, changes to the constitution (19th amendment) Freedom of information, Freedom of movement are few to mention. However in terms of eradicating corruption all what MS did was to appoint a commission to investigate Central bank issue created by the present government while intentionally omitting the period of corruption that occurred during 2008-2014 giving refuge to the rouges of that era.
Adding insult to the injury he criticised the Bribery Commissioner for her active work, where she was targeting the rogues of the Mahinda ear to fulfil a promise given by the President during his election campaign. His verbal barrage at a public meeting resulted in the Bribery Commissioner resigning her position.
At the election of the local bodies he went on a rampage damaging his erstwhile trusted partner UNP assuming that he would convince the rural voter to vote for his fraction of the UPFA and SLFP. Unfortunately his calculations were proved wrong. The result had done an irreparable damage to his partner UNP. Also he has let down the other political parties and the civil society organisations. It is not only an electoral damage but the friendship and trust that was built between the President and the UNP has suffered a major setback. His actions has damaged not only the UNP but his own persona and his party SLFP. Has the President committed political suicide by listening to his newly found so called advisors? We still believe he still has around 2 ½ years to correct the errors that he made.
President has a definite obligation to fulfil the promises that he gave at the 2015 Presidential election. All what he needs to do is to strengthen the present government not by word but by action and support all activities launched by the government to establish a free and just society.
A word of caution to those who are running behind the “Flower bud” (FB) is that the life is short. We all know SLFP is a party that was formed on principles. It was backed by all walks of life such as “Weda (Doctros) Sanga (Monks), Guru (Teachers), Govi (Framers) and Kamkaru (Labourers)” It has a Vision. Unfortunately the FB Party has no principles nor a Vision. There is no leader. MR is still a member of the SLFP. It is a decoction of few minor one man parties. Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Tissa Vitarana, Udaya Gammanpila, Vasudewa are all one man parties. President of the FB party GL Peiris appears to be lost in the political wilderness. No one knows, which party he belongs to. SLFP or FB. FB party is a gathering of a few, without principles but retribution. Do we want to give the reins to run the country to such a group? Further what happens after MR. The family will fight tooth and nail to secure power and there would be a power struggle to select the leader at the expense of the poor voter. The FB will wilt in no time leaving everyone behind. The people were driven into “Virtual Reality” rather than actual. Unfortunately large sections of the society live in virtual status without having the knowledge or proper understanding of the surroundings. Hector Kobbekaduwa, Vijaya Kumaratunga and Lalith Athulathmudali with Gamini Dissanayake, all formed political parties. Where are the parties now?
During Mrs Bandaranaike’s time once SLFP was reduced to only 19 seats in the parliament. UNP had been reduced to only 8 seats in the parliament. But both parties emerged victorious in subsequent elections. These parties are based on principles. These two parties have a block vote in the country. JVP is also a force to recon. They have set principles. Unfortunately they are a party who tries to survive on negativity rather than being positive. They need to change their approach.
Time has come for MS and RW to once again reconsider to move forward together, in the name of the electorate and the country as a whole and deliver the promises made. If they fail to do so they will be sent to political wilderness by the voter in a legitimate manner rather than attempting form governments through the back door. President must engage himself in immediate damage control.