Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe comfortably survived the vote of no-confidence brought against him by the Joint Opposition (JO) a short while ago. A total of 78 MPs supported the motion while 122 voted against it. Twenty six MPs were not present at the time the vote was taken.
Although both the JO and the UNP had claimed that victory was assured for the respective positions they took, uncertainty prevailed throughout the day after the debate on the motion commenced at 10 this morning.
Senior SLFPer and State Minister A.H.M. Fowzie dropped a bombshell claiming that the party had decided to vote against the motion. However, State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena refuted Fowzie, insisting that the party had decided to support the motion consequent to a meeting held at the residence of Minister Mahinda Amaraweera.
The Tamil National Alliance, whose position was unclear since it was reported that the constituent parties would decide separately how to vote, finally opted to vote against the motion.
At various points during the afternoon, SLFP MPs who were not with the Joint Opposition pledged to vote for the motion, notably S.B. Dissanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera and Susantha Punchinilame. Meanwhile one of the first to moot a no confidence motion against Wickremesinghe, Palitha Range Bandara of the UNP, declared that he would vote against it. Wijedasa Rajapaksha (another UNPer who has made negative comments on the party leadership) voted against the motion while UNP National List MP Rev Athureliye Rathana Thero absented himself at the time the vote was taken. The JVP, one of the most vocal supporters of the Yahapalana project, finally broke ranks by voting with the JO.
The result considerably enhances the parliamentary strength of the Joint Opposition while weakening further President Sirisena’s hold on the SLFP.
The overall implications of the result on the political arrangement in the country is yet unclear. However, Rajitha Senaratne who has backed Wickremesinghe has stated that the UNP will form a ‘a new unity government on Monday with support from the SLFP and other parties’.
Whether the SLFP will back a UNP-led Government is unclear at the moment. The TNA, which has 16 MPs has not indicated that it would be part of such a government. As such it is likely that Wickremesinghe would have to form a minority government whose stability will depend on the TNA continuing to use parliamentary numbers to protect the UNP from moves such as this no confidence motion.
In any event, the government has lost the two-thirds majority it enjoyed when the SLFP and UNP came together to form the first ‘unity government’ in the country’s history.