18 September, 2021

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The No-Confidence Motion & Beyond

By Harini Amarasuriya

Dr. Harini Amarasuriya MP

One of the things that I have learned during the past 11 months in parliament, is the importance of timing in politics. As a member of the opposition in a parliament where the government wields a large majority, I understood fairly early that this government wasn’t about to be magnanimous about their majority or relax their absolute grip on power. Demonstrating their might over the opposition – the fact that they could use their numbers to push through many things – from bills to parliamentary agendas and procedures – was deliberate and calculated and they never let up. Even when they could let things go – such as appointments to committees – if they were interested in signalling a more cooperative relationship with the opposition – this simply did not happen. At every opportunity, they used brawn and noise to get their way. Operating in such an environment, as members of the opposition, requires an immense amount of patience and a large dose of political acumen – both which admittedly, I need to develop much more! 

The Samaji Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) decision to move a motion of no confidence against Minister Udaya Gammanpila took us by surprise. Yes, the government was beginning to show signs of division. Public opinion was swinging away from them much faster than excepted and murmurs of discontent could be heard from within government ranks. The government was looking incompetent, weak and out of touch and becoming the butt-end of ridicule, especially on social media. The aura and magic of the Rajapakse brand was definitely getting a battering. What was critical for the opposition at this point was not to allow the emerging divisions and weaknesses to heal.

The NPP was of the view as made clear by Comrade Anura Kumara Dissanayake during the debate on the no-confidence motion, that mishandling of the no-confidence motion by the SJB provided an opportunity for the government to once again close ranks against the opposition and demonstrate its strength. None of the other opposition parties outside the SJB signed on to the no-confidence motion. It was quite obvious that with no election in sight and therefore no possibility at this point of a shift in the balance of power, whatever the disagreements within the ruling alliance, none of the constituent parties would do anything openly to show any division within government ranks. Even those whose absence in parliament during preceding weeks was notable – like Minister Wimal Weerawansa, rallied around to defend the government vociferously during the no-confidence debate, and predictably, the motion was not only defeated, but provided a platform from which the government (which for some weeks had been forced on to the back foot) to signal cohesion.

The NPP voted in favour of the no-confidence motion after much discussion because we were of the view that the government had placed an unfair burden on the people at this point with the increase in fuel price. For instance, fishing communities, bludgeoned by the X-Press Pearl disaster on top of the general economic downturn, were especially badly affected. Across the board, the hike in fuel prices meant a price increase on several essential goods – a price increase that few can afford at this point. However, we could have expressed and mobilised our opposition to the fuel increase without also giving an opportunity to the government to regroup. Despite our misgivings regarding the no-confidence motion, we voted in favour to mark our protest at the fuel hike and the rapidly unbearable increase in cost of living. The cost of essentials – food stuff – is higher in Sri Lanka than almost all neighbouring countries. A substantial percentage of household income is spent on food. With loss of income and employment experienced by many due to the downturn in the economy, these price hikes are proving to be unbearable for many.   

The debates around the no-confidence motion both inside and outside parliament, highlighted the volatility at the current political moment. Right now, there are various groups and individuals who are advocating a joint opposition or the need for all those opposed to the Rajapakse regime to come together and form an alliance. Various potential candidates for the next Presidential election are being discussed and efforts are underway to revive the idea of a ‘common candidate’ from the opposition. Comrade Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s critical comments against the SJB’s during the no-confidence motion were painted by some as evidence of NPP’s refusal to cooperate with the main opposition or an uncalled for attack on the Leader of the Opposition.  It was also suggested that it reflected NPP’s reluctance to work with other political parties and movements. This is an extremely superficial reading not only of NPP’s position but of this current political moment.  NPP is an alliance and has always indicated that it is open to discussion and collaboration on areas of common interest. The NPP is and will continue to be fully engaged in joint political and mass action. However, the idea of a ‘common electoral front’ needs to be deliberated carefully and the common programme developed prudently. 

What most efforts to form a ‘common front’ or field a ‘common candidate’ or calls for a ‘joint opposition’ fail to recongise is the extent to which the disastrous failures of the Maithri-Ranil government, which included members of the SJB, contributed to the return of the Rajapaksas to power and how stained the last government and those associated with it are in the eyes of the people of this country. The last government’s failure to deliver on the promise of ‘good governance’ not just returned the Rajapakses to power, but has also made the idea of change and reform highly suspect. What people are yearning for is something fresh and untainted by past debacles, not simply a re-hash of what was offered before and what failed before. This is the challenge before us all at the moment.

One of the key breaks that have to be made with the past is with regard to the economy. It is now abundantly clear that we are heading towards a debt trap unlike anything we have ever experienced before. Whatever the glib assurances being offered by the government there is no doubt that the months and years to come are going to be extremely tough for the majority of people and that the government’s only response to the economic crisis is selling assets and getting further into debt. Already, consumers are experiencing shortages of goods: shelves in grocery shops are beginning to look bare; prices of mobile phones, computers and computer accessories have shot up. Particularly for those of my generation and above, memories of the times of austerity and shortages in the 1970s are being re-kindled. Public services are barely able to deliver and social security is at its lowest. Since the majority of people have little to no safety nets to protect them from economic crises, there will only be an intensification of discontent and unrest.   

Yet, this does not mean that change of regime will be easy or a given. The people of this country have been fed far too many lies for far too long. Promises of change and reform are made and broken. Whatever alternative we offer the people at the next election must be evident in policy positions, ideologies as well as political practice and culture. The alternative we offer to the brand and politics of the Rajapaksas, must not be simply about replacing one set of people with another – but an alternative that is based on a choice people have on substantive issues, especially with regard to economic and institutional policies. 

The politics in which the NPP is currently engaged is precisely to mobilise around that alternative: an alternative that is not limited to rhetoric of change and difference. In that effort to mobile and alternative political and socio-economic model, certainly, there will be collaboration and co-operation with a variety of other groups and individuals. It will include struggles where we may come together on issues where we can form a common platform or agree on common positions. But it does not mean that we can over-estimate the strength of growing public dissent or take the challenges before us lightly. It is also important to note that any electoral opportunity for challenging the current government’s hold on power is at least 3 years away – and as the opposition, we have to be able to read the political moment carefully and choose our battles strategically with the long haul in mind. The growing discontent and the ineffectual nature of the ruling party does not mean that power will shift automatically or easily to another camp. There is work to be done – much work to be done. The NPP will always be open to broaden its alliance; at the same time, we believe the alternative we offer the people of this country must provide a real choice rather than a mere political charade that seeks to obtain power at any cost.   

*A version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on the 31st of July

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    Dr.HA, Your experience inside confirms that present politics is about absolute grip on power, even bigger than the money grab. If only the leaders had the same hunger to build up the nation, we could have expectations. But leaders are very insecure, specially those who cannot have the same earning capacity. Your task could be to have an all inclusive group whose leader will eventually be the one who gets the highest number of votes. The competition gets less then. Suggestions from all need to be allowed and accepted if sound. There has to be relational co-operation. The severe debt trap is because of ego projects without a return, but was to build a family kingdom which could end up shot like the family of the Tsar of Russia in 1918. But for robbery, prosperous nation.

  • 1
    26

    I would not give my second thought to her gobbledygook. She is also yet another political conjurer of the pack, an opportunistic hitch hiker in the bandwagon.

    • 14
      2

      HP,
      .
      beg to differ Mr. She is one of the rare politicians in the current parliament. Please read it again before jumping to attack her.

    • 8
      2

      I think that Dr Harini Amarasuriya is already one of our best Parliamentarians, and I expect her to improve further. As I write this at 21:40 today, I see that one person has liked this comment by Mr Navalagama Charles Upasena Cooray (alias hanchopancha) while six have disliked it. Do those other five (I’m the sixth) who why hanchopancha made that comment?
      .
      Harini is talking about the common good and long-term strategies. What does hanchopancha want?
      .
      He has some long-running personal problem; something to do with a land. He wrote to me asking me to help. I’m not a lawyer, and I cannot understand the legal intricacies of his problems. I grant that he may have suffered injustice.
      .
      I saw somewhere that he had asked Harini to solve his land problems. As is his wont, when somebody refuses to help, he turns nasty. Harini is not in Parliament to solve our individual personal problems; she has to attend to public issues (some of which may have personal ramifications for us).
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (NIC 483111444V)

      • 1
        11

        Padini Edirisinghe you are a man with a short stick. You are a national tragedy terribly deficient in common sense to have been a school teacher. Thanks to teachers of your caliber the Srilanka has become the cesspit of the world, solely depending on charity and generosity of the world. You are a Srilankan Tragedy lacking in all decency. What I complained to her is about a very fundamental human rights issue and she being afraid to ruffle golden feathers found a way out like an eel.

      • 3
        0

        Dear Both (Mr Edirisinghe /Mr Perera)@

        I truly believe if our seniors of this nation succeeded, things would not have reached to the levels we experience it today. Not just stupid majority (as we know it isbeing brainwashed by Sinhala Buddhism which I think is not at all based on true teachings of lord buddha – being born born into Buddhagama as many). but even so called educated people should have contributed their part adequately.

        Today, the people fall dead on the roads, but the govt stays as if they are blind and deaf. Gota as the leader of 22 mio island nation, does not utter a single word to the nation. Dr Merkel whom I respect that much today than anytimes in the past, always encouarged her nation. She is amongst the grand nations, that genuinely did her job, now with few more weeks to go with her tenure, people in Germany feel like “MUTTI DER NATION” should stay as the leader.
        Now about srilanken situation: I have got enough evidence to prove that a significant number of elderly people was not provided with the jabs in many places across the country as WHO instructed govt to go for it (elderly and the other vulnerable groups first and then the others).

  • 8
    0

    She is right on the point that SJB’s no-confidence motion on Minister Gammanpila was helped the Rajapaksa regime to show that every one is behind them. Most of those who supports Rajapaksa family understands well that Rajapaksas depends on them and Rajapaksas also know they depends on Rajapaksas. All of them are corrupted and they wants to maximise their benefits and it is only possible under Rajapaksas. The police, military and even judiciary are under their control and Rajapaksas can put you in jail as a criminal or can make you as a millionnaire. You cannot trust Weerawansa, Vasudeva or Muslim MPs and Tamil MPs who voted in favour of 20th amendment based on what they say or what they do. You can only defeat them with the people, not with opportunistic politicians.

  • 7
    2

    Dear Dr Amarasuruya
    I am also one who feels you are a positive exception in the current Parliament, a breath of fresh air. May you live long!
    —-
    I wonder if you can explain the anomalies I find in the daily reporting of C-19 stats by the Health Promotion Bureau.
    At 22:08 on 9 Aug they report total number of cases was 332,947.
    At 22:08 yesterday 10 Aug they report total no. was 339,947. 
    This is an increase of 6145.
    But they report a daily increase of only 2940!

    Have I missed something or was there a mistake in the stats given on 9/8?
    —-
    A matter for a no confidence motion in the HPB?

    • 0
      0

      MF
      Life will be simpler if there is a single authority responsible for the data.
      We deserve more information than numbers for infected cured and dead.
      Age and gender wise distribution and number who dies with serious comorbidities (heart, lung, kidney and liver conditions and diabetes).
      *
      People with comorbidities should be prioritised for both prevention and treatment in all age groups.
      *
      I read today a long awaited comment by Tissa Vitharana (in the DM) about risks of certain vaccines.
      Infection is no issue if mortality is kept low.
      I wish he had proposed a strategy for minimising casualties in a context of inadequate vaccines.

    • 3
      0

      Ms Fonseka,
      .
      I m in full agreement with u.
      .
      No doubt Dr Amarassoriya is the inspiration for all of us.
      Main stream TV channels should give her more chances to transport the message. .
      🤨🤨🤨🤨🤨🤨

    • 2
      0

      Oh dear, typo in my figures above.

      On 10 Aug total = 339,092
      ……..9 Aug total = 332,947

      Increased daily deaths for 10 Aug = 6,145

      But Bureau gives only 2,904!

  • 6
    2

    Harini A, is a new writer on CT – at least I have not seen anything from her before.
    I hope she will continue to write and ignore the occasional unnecessary rudeness (as distinct from the right to disagree) that some commentators resort to.

    • 4
      1

      eeakdavi,
      .
      she is unique to her style. No doubt hers will pollarise if people would see it right and the media would allow her to transport the message.
      :
      Unfortunately, the public would be interested not yet in fact based information. Nor is media. Media is race of gaining rates. I really dont know why do media yet take it serious. If MEDIA would take the LEADING role, work on improvement of the awareness would be much easier.
      :
      People regardless of race, religions, party boundness and all others, should be trained to listen to the FACTs. but facts.
      Those news papers being widely read by a larger portion of the public should realize – the need of the hour-. which is to feed the PUBLIC with facts….

  • 3
    0

    Dr. Haruni: Please always remember the “Snakes Under Grass” who are also “Opportunists” who will play whatever “Dirty Games and Tricks” to come to power and hang on to power and occupy a seat in the Parliament. These “GANGS” in known political parties (UNP, SLFP, SLPP, SJB, TNA, PHU, NFL, etc.) are “Proven Masters” in that “Dirty Game” and “Tricks”. From the very beginning, I knew this “No Confidence” was such a “Dirty Game” ( a stupid one too) of SJB led by Sajith & Co. the “Dimwits” – a “Leader” who doesn’t know which way to “Cut the Cake”. I am glad NPP did not sign the NCM but took the opportunity to expose both the “Proposers” and the Government.

    I hope at least the newly formed “NPP” will have the strength and courage to identify these “Snakes under Grass” and “Opportunists” and keep them out of any sort of “Alliance”, but introduce NEW faces and blood into politics to make a “CHANGE”.

  • 3
    1

    Dr.HA,

    “But it does not mean that we can over-estimate the strength of growing public dissent or take the challenges before us lightly. It is also important to note that any electoral opportunity for challenging the current government’s hold on power is at least 3 years away – and as the opposition, we have to be able to read the political moment carefully and choose our battles strategically with the long haul in mind.”

    You are right to stress this. I felt that recent articles from Dr. Kumar David and Dr. Ameer Ali were over-optimistic on this.

    With leaders like you, the NPP can come up with a blueprint for addressing the national question involving the Tamil and Muslim people.

    Of course, this has to be done in a way that doesn’t raise the hackles of NPP’s already low Sinhalese vote bank. But as a long-term strategy, the NPP can become more acceptable and gain a greater share of votes nationally by doing this balancing act, difficult though it may seem.

    A policy for addressing the difficulties with the language of administration in government services faced by the minority communities, and removing the peacetime insertion of armed forces in many civilian issues and the agricultural economy in the North-East, can be a good starting point for NPP.

    • 2
      0

      Agnos
      The JVP has a serious ideological problem.
      Having denied the existence of a national question to justify its revamped chauvinism of the 1980s, the JVP is in a fix.
      Joining hands with Mahinda in 2005 only to be made fools and suffer a three way split (one in 2006 and the other post-war) and ganging up with the JHU to go to courts to de-merge the N&E Province and force CBK to abandon the PTOMS deal are part of an ideology (use the word mindset if you like) from which it is hard to break out.
      The JVP had a very brief respite from openly communal politics after 1978 until 1982. But its ideology got the better of sense.
      *
      The language of administration for all important things is English.
      Sinhala is for smaller matters and to annoy non-Sinhalese occasionally.
      Tamils could not care less about Tamil if there is a sticker with English letters.

      • 0
        1

        JVP is a party of Lost Souls looking for strands and bits to hang on to. HA is one of those loose strands.

        • 1
          0

          hanchopancha,

          Let us say your view is the right one; then what are the alternatives to the current morass that SL finds itself in? Do you think Sajith and the SJB on their own have what it takes to lead the country out of the clutches of the Rajapaksa family mafia?

          I think it takes a certain amount of toughness and organizational capacity to tackle the tentacles of the current ruling mafia, and I think AKD has sometimes demonstrated such toughness, but Sajith hasn’t. So I think he has to be a leading part of the process, even though I don’t think NPP will have the voter base needed to go it alone for a couple of decades.

          • 1
            0

            Agnos,

            Destitute Srilankans who need the world to help for their basic survival must find a foreigner like Lord Chris Patton who was the last Governor of Hong Kong to sort out this bloody mess of a country mismanaged by dingle berries.

      • 3
        0

        SJ,

        I agree about the JVP’s chauvinist mindset, but we can hope people will have a change of heart and mindset; that the JVP under AKD, supported by well-educated people like HA and KD, can be very different from what it was under Somawansa Amerasinghe and Rohana Wijeweera. The base doesn’t change its mindset easily, but often the leaders can set the tone for gradual change. From what I read, AKD had a good rapport with Sampanthan when they were opposition leaders under Yahapalanaya, and we can hope that things can improve from there.

        Many rural Tamil and Muslim people can’t handle even English. They will need to have the ability to deal with issues in their own language. Of course, that is hardly the main issue, but working on less controversial things like that can be build up confidence and trust.

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