30 September, 2020

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Strengthening UNP-SLFP Unity Is Of Paramount National Importance 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The passage of the second reading of the budget by a 2/3 majority in Parliament is an indication that the National Unity Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues to be strong. Although the SLFP component of the government headed by President Sirisena is divided, with a majority of the members not voting in favour of the budget, a sufficient number of them voted in favour of it giving the government a comfortable majority that exceeded 2/3 of those present and voting. The government was also able to obtain the support of the ethnic and religious minority parties to bolster its majority. This will boost the confidence of the government when it comes to the question of constitutional reform which it has flagged as its priority after the passage of the budget.

A second notable feature of the budget debate was the accommodative attitude of the government leadership to the concerns of those who felt that their interests had either been insufficiently considered or been adversely affected by the budget proposals. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe proposed and accepted last minute changes to the budget. The government had sought to raise revenues and to reduce expenditures to bridge the budget deficit. But both of these requirements would have been disadvantageous to some sections of the population. Therefore instead of standing firm as required by the imperatives of economic rationality, the government has sought to buy time for itself by exploring the option of a very large loan from the IMF that would help to bridge the budget deficit.

The most important need from the national perspective would be to ensure that the government stays in power in order to achieve the reforms it pledged at the presidential and general elections held earlier this year. At those elections the rampant corruption and abuse of power in the country of the previous government, and the looting of economic resources that emptied the treasury were highlighted and solutions based on the principles of good governance were promised. However, the opposition that draws its strength from the nationalist leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to remain a potent threat. The former president continues to have a special place in the sentiments of the Sinhalese ethnic majority on account of the military victory obtained during his period over the hitherto invincible LTTE.

Vicious Cycles

The ability of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to neutralize the appeal of the former president and to keep the National Unity Government viable will be crucial to the direction that the country takes. Any rift between these two leaders or weakening of their holds over their respective political parties will threaten the stability of the government. The 2/3 majority in parliament that their unity has brought is crucial if Sri Lanka is to embark upon successful constitutional reform in order to get out of the vicious cycles into which it fell in the past due to weaknesses in the constitution and supreme law of the land. One of these was the over-powerful presidency that enabled the president to govern even outside of the rule of law. The other was the inability to ensure genuine sharing of decision making power between the ethnic majority and minorities.

The most protracted vicious cycle that the country has experienced is the ethnic conflict that led to three decades of war. Now for the first time, there is a consensus at the highest level of leadership from the two main political parties and also with the ethnic and religious minorities. This has never been the case before. On previous occasions, the political solutions that enlightened leaders of the government presented were opposed by those in the opposition, even when those solutions were a variant of what they themselves had proposed when they had formed the government. The National Unity Government headed by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presents a unique opportunity that needs to be taken forward to the long term resolution of the ethnic conflict. The iron frame of such a solution will be a constitutional settlement. It needs to be one that lays to rest the fears of the ethnic and religious minorities that there could be a backsliding in the future.

The government has set itself a six month time frame to reach a constitutional settlement and to promulgate a new constitution. The main pillar of the proposed new constitution would be the reform of the executive, which is currently seen as being about abolishing the executive presidency. The executive presidency has been the main instrument by which power was over-centralised and the independence of state institutions such as the judiciary and public service was undermined and in which the devolution of power to the provinces was negated. Other pillars of the new constitution would be the replacement of the present proportional electoral system with a mixed system that includes first-past-the post representation. Neither of these two constitutional changes is likely to be overly controversial with the general population as there is a consensus that fundamental changes to them are necessary.

Ethnic Conflict

On the other hand, a major problem is likely to arise with regard to the solution to the ethnic conflict. On every occasion in the past beginning in 1957 when a solution was agreed to by the Prime Minister and leader of the major Tamil party, known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, the solution was opposed. There was street mobilization by the opposition that led to riots and pogroms. In both 1957 and 1987 when the 13th Amendment was passed which devolved power to the provinces, there were even revolts within the government that destabilized those governments and made it difficult to implement the agreements. After the LTTE took the upper hand in the Tamil militancy, it became a formidable obstacle to a negotiated political solution.

On the present occasion, however, there are three factors that stand in favour of a political settlement. The first is the military defeat of the LTTE after which the parliamentary vote of the Tamil people went in vast numbers to the politically moderate TNA. The LTTE aimed for a maximalist solution that approximated a separate state. They opposed any solution that gave the central government power over the North and East that they claimed as the Tamil Homeland. The Interim Self Governing Authority they proposed had provision for two governments and two militaries and showed no abiding interest even in a federal solution that shared power between the centre and provinces. By way of contrast, the TNA leadership has repeatedly pledged their willingness to negotiate a solution within a united Sri Lanka based on power sharing arrangements.

The second factor in favour of a solution to the ethnic conflict is that the National Unity Government is headed by two of the most non-racist political leaders this country has ever seen. They are supported and backed by a strong group of likeminded leaders, most notably former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has emerged as the peace builder and trusted problem solver within the government. The third factor is closely related to the second, and is based on the trust and goodwill that the leaders of the ethnic and religious minority parties have in the present leadership of the government. What exists today is a never-before-obtained confluence of factors and a unique opportunity that needs to be prioritised. In these circumstances it would be advisable to put aside anything that could jeopardize this unity. In this context, the postponement of local government elections scheduled for March 2016, which falls within the six month time frame of constitutional reform, and which pits the UNP and SLFP against each other needs to be given consideration.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    Thank you sir for the englightening article. In all of the recent CT articles yours is the most optimistic and a beacon of hope. We, the supporters of Yahapalanaya, share in that optimism. We hope that the powers that be take note of your concerns and make necessary course corrections to ensure best conclusions.

    • 3
      3

      Excuse me Jehan Perera, but what will Sirisena do once he stops being President?! Let Ranil take over and run the country?!

      What we need first of all is to rid Lanka of the CORRUPT POLITICAL CULTURE and corrupt politicians who use Racism to distract Sinhala Modaya masses from CORRUPTION of the politicians.

      Root cause of RACISM is CORRUPTION. Racism is used by corrupt politicians to DIVIDE, DISTRACT and RULE.

      Please do not be naive. Sirisena and Ranil both want to rule and Sirisena definitely wants to be head of state – that is why he has appointed so many CORRUPT Mahinda Jarapassa SLFP cronies into a 90 plus minister group!

      Sirisena may not be racist but he certainly is corrupt and power hungry, so too is Ranil. The first priority is prosecuting the corrupt criminals – who are also war criminals to solve the ETHNIC CONFLICT.. Jehan Perera you need to think creatively and strategically.

      • 6
        1

        Quite right Dodo. Jehan Perera is a one track man who has only the so called ethnic conflict on his brain and does not see the connection between a rotten and corrupt political culture and the culture of racism that politicians use to distract and divide the moda masses.
        JP needs to be educated on POLITICAL ECONOMY!

        Fact is that Sri Lankan economy is in a disaster because of the corruption of politicians and economic inequality and poverty are one of the root causes of conflict.

        1. The new budget should have cut back on the perks of the politicians to set an example to the country and reduced the cabinet to 24. Useless Ministers are a massive drain on the economy.
        2. The budget has NO environmental strategic thinking. Good Public transport is necessary to reduce the drain of foreign exchange on cars. The car culture is promoted by the auto industry and Ravi and his cronies are all bought and sold and only talk about cars. Ravi K. have failed to give tax breaks to electric cars that are low on environmental pollution.

        • 3
          1

          Dude Jehan time to wake up!
          Strengthening UNP and SLFP partnership is to strengthen the corrupt political culture and the stranglehold of corrupt politicians on the masses. The masses as Dinuk say are distracted by corrupt politician who play the racism card and use religious and ethnic hate speech to distract masses from the fact that they are ruled by a bunch of corrupt criminals called UNP and SLFP politicians and MPs..

          Not a single corrupt and criminal politician has been tried or convicted for all the dancing of the Financial Crimes unit- all in the name of national unity to help out and reconcile with the Tamils..! Joke indeed.
          Jarapassa is not so powerful as you and Ranil and Sirisena like to say. People are not stupid, it is the so called leaders and JP who is!
          Yahapalanaya is yet another joke and an sop to the international community which uses the ethnic conflict view to distract from the rotten and corrupt global economic system that has cause the global inequality and poverty pandemic that helps also the rise of ISIS.
          Dude Jehan, time to wake up and see the light!

  • 4
    0

    Yes, However, the unity to plunder, favor relatives, shelter the corrupt, subvert the law and misgovernment, are not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

  • 4
    2

    Mr Jehan Perera, you are leading us up the garden path with this one.

    We the people thought that a strengthened UNP-SLFP relationship will be a match made in heaven. A panacea to cure the putrid mess left to us by the great liberator and his thieving thugs. On the evidence that we have seen so far, not bloody likely. You are right, there are plenty of people of goodwill ready to work towards reconciling the too long-fractured communities. But the despair as we look around and see the disgraceful bun fight that goes on, taking and hiding, thieving and cheating. Bleeding the country dry, Remember?

    The minions that MS and RW have gathered round are excelling at every trick in the book. Bribery, corruption, cronyism, nepotism…and a few still to be classified. All this before the first anniversary. Worse, MS and RW are getting in on the act, and hoping no one would notice.

    No, Mr Perera, do not set your sights too high. You state the three factors that will draw heaven closer to this thrice-blessed land, but look again. The Puppet-Mistress is probably pulling the wrong strings. Unelected, she stands tall and graceful but the lady cannot be that naive to not know and see what is going on around her.

    March 2016; think again before you tempt WE the people.

  • 0
    1

    Please do not be naive. Sirisena and Ranil both want to rule and Sirisena definitely wants to be head of state – that is why he has appointed so many CORRUPT Mahinda Jarapassa SLFP cronies into a 90 plus minister group! -Dodo

    This is the problem with educated NGO crows.
    They are already synchronised to follow a pattern path set by their pay masters.

    What is it? Sirisena – Ranil Government or, CBK/Mangala/Jayampathy puppeteers of Sirisena – Ranil Government.

    We just saw basil fernando the know all AHRC in town for (02) weeks, Chauffered by whom & lavishly paid for connections?
    He flies to Europe & belgium before returning to Hong Kong. A marathon journey for what importance?
    Visited belgium to combat ISIL?
    Who were the Catholic Clergy basil met in Sri Lanka? Will Anura Kumara submit that list in Parliament?
    NGO/HR Wallahs having a field day under yahapalanaya.

  • 1
    1

    This optimistic article ignores the wastage still going on in all state owned enterprises which have massive debts to other organs of the government- which ‘flourish’ in the same ways as before, with no efforts made to lessen the cataract of outflow of national wealth to service IMF,World Bank & other “economic hitmen”.
    These debts are ongoing and enlarging steadily.
    Most government income goes to service the interest payments of the massive international debt burden – to get out of which, our children and their children will suffer low grade living standards for decades.
    The COPE reports are still being swept under the carpet.
    Corrupt deals like Avant Garde are being ‘whitewashed’.
    The parliament with 90 ministers, and the monthly parliamentary pensions to former presidents & MPs and their surviving dependents is a staggering amount which is never mentioned in budgets, and are being steadily increased, while public service pensions earned by 40 years faithful honest service – compared to pensions after mere 5 years by parliamentarians & their minor functionaries which are increased yearly with rises in the Cost of Living indices – are static, and are the most immoral discriminatory largesse in any country in the world.

    Jehan Perera is living in ‘cloud cuckoo’ land – or, is he paid for this b.s ?

  • 1
    1

    It is time this ‘Unity Govt’ charade was called off….they got together to ROB together – as was forecast when this happened in Jan. The pattern emerged through the months into August and is now even more clearly so. JehanP is in some kind of make-believe world. The time has come to drop the mirage and face the facts.

  • 2
    0

    Jehan, you say, “Strengthening UNP-SLFP Unity Is Of Paramount National Importance”.

    I think this supposition is totally incorrect. So far this unlikely union of two former foes are not boding well for the people. Nepotism and corruption is rampant and seems to be the only thing that the politicians are concerned about. All the rogues of the former times are with the yamapalanaya government.

    Jehan, pay heed to all the comments posted here and you will see that your optimism is far off the mark.

    I for one believe the UNP will be better off disassociating itself from Sirisena who contrary to what we were made to believe is on a course that emulates the disgraced Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    Also it is high time for Ranil to bow out of the leadership of UNP. He is long past his use by date.

  • 3
    0

    Jehan Perera,

    How did the ‘ Yahaplalanaya’ UNP- SLFP cohabitation government make what was claimed to be an unacceptable Port City Project acceptable? How were the environmental concerns resolved? How was the issue relating to the 99 year lease of a part of the reclaimed land to China resolved? Where is the transparency we were promised? Are we to expect more of such summersaults?

    Dr.RN

  • 0
    0

    “Yes, However, the unity to plunder, favor relatives, shelter the corrupt, subvert the law and misgovernment, are not acceptable and should not be tolerated.”
    Dr Rajasingham Narendran

    “The most important need from the national perspective would be to ensure that the government stays in power”
    says Jehan Perera who’s gone crazy.

    The NEED OF THE HOUR is a bullet into the head of Greedy Sirisena.

  • 0
    0

    The Jehan is leading NGO, worker funded by EU countries UK, US and Norway nations which that ‘peace maker’ now turn into political marriage broker of UNP and SLFP Parties.

    What is that a laughing stock of New Politics of has been an introduce by UNP-Ranil MS and CBK, that junta regime since 2015 9th January of “changes” of new Regime back by US and Indian intelligent services.
    Is this that so-called ‘good governance and rule of law’ by in words not that indeed ?

    Jehan is NGO worker, who want that UNP and SLFP jointly work together that interest for whom?

    Interest of what class?

    What are power groups behind this hegemony? Tamil diaspora want that UNP and SLFP work together ?

    What is the most paramount issues of that jointly working with UNP and SLFP?

    Is that of vital interest of newly growing nation state of
    Sri lanka? I think that is not.

    Well is that the vital interest of UNP and SLFP are identical by its social base and its class roots?

    How do you working different Political, Economic and Social issues of SLFP& UNP and their interest is going working on the same platform?

    The nation most paramount issues currently challenge by divide and partition of People of Sri Lankan by ethnic and religion basis of
    so-called power devolution proposed by UNP road map agreed with SLFP policies?

    How is that set of policies of UNP come to similar agenda with SLFP!

    The Ranil- CBK – MS that UNP’s very Principles and policies of surrender the People ‘s sovereignty to US and Indian, how that can be agreed by SLFP.

    Indeed that is the most paramount issues on survival of Sri Lankan nation , in the current stage of democratic revolution and its sustsnibility of democracy .

    UNP in process of betraying that cause of our sovereignty, that all round way to surrender country independence to the New colonial master of USA, UK and Indian hegemonies!
    How can SLFP’s joint hand with that such cause ?

    Jehan is NGO worker that he can do any thing, what ever he want; while that the interest of his maters voice that because he is funded by Westerns political interest ,not that Sri Lankan nation vital interest.

    First NGOs leaders are working on power changes/regime changes and,

    Second become power marriage broker

    Third NGO leaders are working ,that on UNP power custodian and protection of western vital interest of “Democracy”.

    The Nation interest of Jehan ‘type democracy’ undermined an Independent Sri lanka.

    That his policy proposed by Jehan of that UNP & SLFP unity is nothing else, that is completely surrender People ‘s sovereignty to USA and Indian by all basic social class interest of Sri lanakn

  • 0
    0

    Jehan Perera – You are one of the few writers on CT, other newspapers and journals,and constantly followed by devout readers of modern politics and this is one of ‘off the cuff’ request for you to write on the recent statement written by CBK in the Island newspapers stating that she got a survey done by a reputable French firm and the result was that 68 % of the majority community favoured devolution. People are debating much about reconciliation these days and this is the time to give the feed back by able writers, so that this burning question of unity among all communities, could be solved once and for all at the earliest.

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