22 June, 2018

Blog

When Things Fall Apart

By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda

Political events that followed the local government election of February 10 as well as last week’s mini cabinet reshuffle have re-energized Sri Lanka’s public discussions on changing the dynamics of current politics. Regular media reporting of actual events as well as the never-ending speculation about possible twists and turns in politics, no doubt sharpened the intensity of public debate.

Yet, there have also been many instances where the line of demarcation between fact and fiction, and authenticity and fakeness, of the news had got blurred. The relentless enthusiasm of some of the media to see an instant political change with drama and spectacle, soon after the election results came to be known, also created an unprecedented degree of confusion all around. It was remarkable that the enthusiasm for a sudden change at the highest level of the government was shared by sections of the citizenry as well as the country’s President. President Maithripala Sirisena seemed to have thought, quite correctly, that some kind of decisive intervention was necessary to revive the capacity of the coalition regime to govern, let alone fulfill its largely forgotten mandate.

A change at the top?

The first move for a quick response came from President Sirisena himself. He seemed to have thought that a change in the post of the Prime Minister was the most suitable and effective first step, a kind of surgical act, for restructuring the government. That was also a course of action he had indirectly indicated during the local government election campaign. There were also unconfirmed reports that the President retracted a move to prorogue Parliament, after wiser counsel prevailed at a crucial moment. Little did President Sirisena seem to realize that there were constitutional as well as political constraints to such a drastic and unilateral course of action.

Thus, President Sirisena had to manage an unusual dilemma. He had committed himself to a radical sort of restructuring of the government after the local government election. That was a key promise he made during the local government election campaign. But, when the process started rolling, what became dramatically clear was that reconfiguring power relations within the coalition regime was easier said than done. Amidst much confusion, three things contributed to a state of haziness and disquiet in the political scene. The first was that there was no clarity about the constitutional possibilities according to which the President could have unilaterally carried out a major re-structuring of the government. The second was the doubt whether the President had adequate political strength and an electoral power base to effectively tilt the balance of power within the coalition away from the UNP. The third was the concern whether the President could politically manage such governmental restructuring within the rules of the game that govern coalition politics.

Power Struggle

At the end, and after a series of informal mediation, a potentially explosive crisis was averted. Yet, a serious problem remains unaddressed. The two main partners of the present coalition government do not seem to have found a framework of accommodation and reconciliation or a will to reinvent their coalition in any meaningful manner.

All indications are that President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will go their own ways, pursuing their own agendas, goals, and even new allies. The reason is quite obvious. They are locked in a struggle for restructuring the balance of power between the two centres of power within the ruling coalition. In simple terms, it is a power struggle that had remained dormant for some time, and come to the surface sometime late last year. It has now erupted in full force.

The presence of two centres of power within the coalition government and its contribution to the present state of affairs warrants a little elaboration.

The 19th Amendment actually formalized what had existed de facto since the conclusion of the Presidential election of January 2015. The immediate aftermath of the election saw the emergence of two centres of power within the new coalition government around two individuals, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The conceptual foundation of the 19th Amendment is a constitutional diarchy, although the framers of the Amendment have not so far used that terminology. It is actually a dual diarchy consisting of the Executive and the Legislature on one hand, and the President and the Prime Minister on the other. The idea of two centers of power – a bi-centric constitutional scheme – was a response to the executive-led mono-centric framework of government created by the 1978 Constitution and subsequently enhanced by the 18th Amendment.

For two years, it appeared that the bi-centric framework of government seemed to work reasonably well. There were positive initial indications that the executive and legislative branches of the government were cooperating in advancing the government mandate of January 2015. At the same time, there were also indications that fissures were slowly developing, raising doubts about the political unity of the two coalition partners. These fissures were precipitated by the contradictions evolved within the so-called unity government that was established under the 19th Amendment. The unity government brought two traditional political ‘enemies’–the UNP and the SLFP- into a formal coalition, one led by the President and other by the Prime Minister.

Failures

This ‘unity government’ was a coalition of the strangest kind. It brought together two sworn political enemies – the UNP and the SLFP – who had just fought the presidential election against each other. Yet, the coalition government initially did some magic. The passing of the 19th Amendment, with so many compromises and deletions to its initial draft, was no mean achievement. Both, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe demonstrated that they could work together, make compromises and advance their reform mandate overcoming challenges that initially appeared formidable. However, when we now review the events of the last three years with the benefit of retrospective hindsight, we can see a cardinal failure on the part of both these leaders: their inability to sustain, nourish and protect the coalition within as well as outside the government. Now it is a thoroughly disjointed and mal-aligned coalition

That is a theme that requires a separate essay.

To return to what has been happening during the past week, the Cabinet reshuffle gave us some clues to what we are likely to be witnessing in the coming weeks and months.

Cabinet Re-shuffle

The Cabinet re-shuffle can be seen as a tactical victory to the Prime Minister in his competitive engagement with the President. Contrary to the signals coming from the President and his SLFP colleagues, there was no significant change in the UNP’s Cabinet team. Through that nominal reshuffle, the Prime Minister also communicated the message that his response to the local government election outcome was very different from that of the President. He also made a very significant political point: the SLFP partners cannot alter the coalition government’s existing balance of power at will.

So, the fault lines of the coalition government continue to remain wide open. Estranged from each other, leaders of the two main partners of the coalition seem to be pursuing unilateral political agendas. The fact that provincial council, presidential and parliamentary elections are lined up in succession makes it easier for them to further drift apart. There is absolutely no way for them to return to the reform agenda of 2015 as a team. The idealism and romance of January 2015 is irretrievably lost. Stark political realities might also force the two parties to seek new allies, on the principle that the adversary of my adversary should be my friend.

This is where some sense of prudence has to be introduced to the thinking and action of both leaders of the government. They have to acknowledge a number of unpleasant truths. For example, (a) their actions have gravely harmed the coalition they are disunitedly leading; (b) their tactical alliances with forces opposed to the coalition’s mandate have led to a paralysis of major components of the government’s reform project; (c) both have suffered defeats at the local government election by not doing certain things on the fear that doing those things would cause electoral defeats, and (d) worse still, their shared failure is likely to pave the way for an unrepentant authoritarian political formation to return to power with popular backing.

While promoting reconciliation in the country, they should also seek reconciliation among themselves. Instead of paying lip service to the Lichchavi tradition of consensus governance by discussion, they should immediately work out a framework of consultative governance for the coalition they are leading not-so jointly. They should also learn how a coalition government of unlikely partners should survive another two years with some meaningful political and policy shifts. And finally, they should be aware of the enormous political risks to which they are pushing the country when they seek out new allies in their competitive bid to outmanoeuvre each other. 

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Latest comments

  • 11
    1

    Great piece.

    Both leaders must considerably bolster their sagging statesmanship and be less the unprincipled politicians they have shown up to be.

    This country surely deserves better from both ?

    • 7
      1

      J&F – Both these jokers are reluctant to appoint Field Marshall S.F. as Minister of Law & Order, why?

      • 5
        3

        Because he is fricking dictator minded, unpopular, ill-bred bast……ard!

      • 1
        1

        Why? Kamalawatie! do you want to see yourself dead on the street along with your kith and kin. He was rejected many a time by the people during every previous elections; he could not garner even 10,000 votes as a party leader.
        Don’t just throw up things in the name of making comments just like a kid. We are a responsible people trying to get out of a messy political situation that we ourselves created on 8 January 2015. You people want to take revenge but that’s not what we want today. We had enough of that freaking jealousy and revenge taking from the Rajapaksas. And enough is enough!
        Please show me a single practical point/act where, as a political leader, SF has demonstrated political maturity, farsightedness, impartiality, and empathy?
        Kamalawatie! do you understand those words? They mean a lot in politics.
        President Sirisena knows this and at least it is time to think before he leaps.

    • 9
      2

      I feel Sirisena is more unsuitable to be the president ………than Ranil being unsuitable to be the PM……………

      Form the first day in office, Sirisena’s loyalty has been to the SLFP and not the country ………..for the entire 3 years he has been at the helm, he has spent all his energies trying to work for and save the SLFP ………….than work for and save the country……and he received less than 10% of the SLFP vote for his efforts…….

      Sirisena’s spine is more rubbery than even Ranil’s …….it’s always one step forward and two steps back …………he is the one who torpedoed the FCID with that moronic extraordinary attack on DIlrukshi (someone) the head of the FCID……

    • 3
      1

      continued

      In Lanka, popularity at elections, doesn’t mean a thing ………….. Mervyn Silva got the highest number of preferential votes from Kalaniya (or somewhere) ………..and let him run the country and see how his popularity transform to good leadership!

      Of all the utter rubbish politicians we have, Ranil is the best out of the worse…………at least some modern bird flutters in his brain ………….others are just 2500 BC primitive……………and no one will answer who we should replace Ranil with……….that’s the great deafening silence……..

      But I just don’t understand why Ranil wants to hang on…….things can only get worse from here………Ranil, man, why do you have to put yourself through all this? You don’t owe the country anything ………..just resign, enjoy your retirement and let Sirisena/Mahinda with SLFP/JO run the show………..with the higher interest rates of the Chinese loans kicking in ……….people will be begging you to come back……….and then you can go your usual Ahhhh! Ahhhh! between sentences……….what sweet revenge!

      It’s hard for one to believe this ………..if one is not living through it……….

      When one was just beginning to think how can things get any worse………………..

    • 5
      2

      I agree that both President Sirisena & Ranil have forgotten what brought them into power. The civil society and people sacrificed their lives in order to bring the change and save the nation falling apart. Sirisena himself said many times the death threat he faced by the previous regime. I don’t know how he faced a man to form the government who made several attempts to murder. When they come to power, the people wanted a united front to defeat fundamentalism and corruption. Of course more than half of the sinhalese people are still those fundamentalists. Some of those progressive Sinhalese people were fed up with the inaction of corruption kept away from this election. Sadly, SLFP lead by Sirisena was the great looser in the election. It is his responsibility to protect SLFP supporters falling into the hands of Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have a simple weapon, that is racism. UNP should have helped Sirisena falling into the hands of Fundamentalists. They should work together or you cannot save Srilanka from falling into the hands of racism which will lead to another cycle of violence for another 50 years.

    • 1
      0

      Do not preach Bana to us. We know how you gave cover-ups for Colombo University corruptive VC’s all ill doings. Now preaching Bana to us.

  • 3
    6

    I leave it to dayan, first class honours to comment on what another first class honours has to say

    one ex jvp , one ex eprlf go for it boys

    • 2
      2

      Nalman
      The ex eprlf guy is ex unp, ex slfp, ex virtually everything. He was groping in the dark when Tamil liberation movements were born. He tried various fronts but only eprlf let him in.

      • 1
        0

        now as the centre of power is gradually gravitating towards Basil DJ will align himself with Basil.

  • 2
    1

    It is difficult to conceive that the results of the local government elections has infused a desire in the mind of the President to restructure, when the outcome of the general elections of 2015 had not done so.
    *
    The Presidential election was a wave. It was a tsunami, of sorts. There was a clear mandate to bring about changes to the way the country was being run. But, the two chief administrators were in no hurry to bring about changes. Each was plotting to outmanoeuvre the other. There was no love in their political wedlock.
    *
    The President had to look constantly over his shoulders. The soldiers were not with him. Having slowly taken care of that impediment, he should have moved on to implement the mandate to the people. Instead, he moved on in an entirely different direction. He wanted to consolidate his Presidency. He periodically parroted that there would not be any war crimes investigations ‘against our heroes’, to shore up support for his ambitions.
    *
    The cry for war crimes investigation would have gradually died away had he had set about reconciliation between the two major communities. Instead, he started pandering to the MR minions, hoping to make his foremost adversary become a non entity.
    *
    The results of the LG election should not have come as a surprise to anyone monitoring his covert desires.
    *
    In the mean time, RW was bidding his time. The experienced politician that he is, he was certain that the President would falter sooner than later. To ensure that he was right, he kept the MR factor alive.
    *
    The national government was a facade. What we see today is not anything new in Sri Lankan politics.

  • 9
    1

    I hold RW primarily responsible for the farcical situation the government is in today. He carried a higher level of responsbility, authority and a far higher level of drummed-up competency in navigating the ship. He disregarded his responsibility, misused his political authority and put the lie to the perception that he is competent as a manager of either people or the economy. I like the guy. But I think he should open himself to the possibility that someone else might do the job better. Especially given that it would be close to impossible to be doing any worse.

    • 4
      1

      No it was Mr Sirisena who stood the way of investigations against Rajapakshes.

      Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe can share her thoughts as to why she was sacked by President not looking at the issues in depth.

      I think it is high time. all these should come to surface.

      Both thought their own parties and the build of up parties above anything else.

  • 9
    2

    Not much was expected of Sirisena. His function was to provide a candidate who could challenge the mighty Rajapakse presidency. Ranil would have got hammered for a six by Rajapakse had he contested.

    Sirisena risked his life to restore democracy in this country and save it from family rule.

    It was up to Ranil to bring good governance, wipe out corruption and strengthen our institutions and generally set a good example to the younger generation.

    What did Ranil and the UNP do ? In three short years he destroyed everything including the vote base of the UNP.

    As usual he brought in a few irrelevant and unacceptable people Mahendran, Malik, RaviK , Charitha, Paski , Maropane, Sagala, and forced them down the throat of the nation which hates them.

    Mahendran, Malik , RaviK and Maropone are known crooks.

    Paski was OK 30 years ago, now simply a fossil.

    Sagala is out of his depth. Charitha brought his own brother to Srilankan airline as CEO -Sagala’s brother is chairman Lake House and now Chairman Tourism Board!( he must be an expert on everything !remember what UNP said about family rule ?) Ranils old aunt is our High Commissioner in UK

    As usual in 3 years Ranil has lost the game again.

    But sirisena now has to save the country and himself. He cannot trust this devious rascal who calls himself a gentleman and a Pundit .

  • 4
    2

    You mean your Balls falling apart, stay on to them tight.

    MARA/GORA will need them when the punak eaters bring them back to power to Murder, Rape, Plunder and White Van/Wash Mother Lanka.

    Already you have lost your upstairs, don’t lose the downstairs too.

  • 1
    1

    Sorry about my comment.

    When I saw J, I thought it was Dayan J. I generally do not read his crap. This, I will do.

    Thousand apologies.

    • 4
      0

      so you comment on the person who write and not on the substance? LOL hallmark of all these UNP idiots in CT

  • 2
    0

    Ah…. they will go together like “cut and paste.”
    The country should get ready for 2019/2020 elections without waiting for the last moment and then act like headless chickens.

  • 2
    1

    Things are NOT falling apart.
    We have had coalition of a power block and minions – kept satisfied with scraps.
    For the first time we have a coalition of near equals. MS & RW are learning how to share responsibilities. There is semblance of checks and balances.
    SLPP exploited the language/religion-divide at the recent LG elections. The shine of this imitation gold must be taken off.
    The time has come for MW/RW to honour the 08 January 2015 mandate to bridle corruption. Start with bond issue.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0
    0

    some civil soceity members, Puravesi Balaya, CPA are running like headless chicken. they are scared Reconciliation would be screwed up, their pay masters’ wishes may not work. Ranil the bond Scam thief is still their but emoptionally numb though. PResident whoud stay stright. SOME asay ARJUN ALOESIUS IS Ranil’s PRINCE. He has a daughter too some where in Sri lanka/

  • 0
    0

    There is no possibility of revival of so-called UNP+SLFP coalition govt. of two political parties back by the TNA and JVP. These both TNA and JVP are anti-establishment outlets.
    They seek national chaos and created dismantle unitary foundation of Republic of Sri lanka.
    But even that ex-JVP elites of anarchist want to look for the insecure govt. in Island ?

    Now power struggle remain between two parties are acute, the very reason is lost local council elections 2018 February 11th? both UNP and SLFP in island wide.

    The New mandate of 10 February has given that current regime led by UNP-RW, MS-SLFP + CBK has to leave govt. promptly and by dissolved Parliament to be resolve to political instability of system governance reached to point of collapse!
    Let democratic society to that majority verdicts of people has to respects by current regime in power!
    That is way of democracy norms in all over the world. Which is apply Sri lanka too.

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