Three days after the drama of the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Maithripala Sirisena who almost wanted his PM’s head on a platter called resignation is now singing a very different tune.
No longer is he (reluctantly and for want of an option) herding his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) members towards a magnet – the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the hope of political survival.
Sirisena, rather chameleon like as he has proved to be in the past three years, has now changed course in planning a political survival till the 2020 Presidential and parliamentary elections.
Having till the 11th hour being hostile to Wickremesinghe, Sirisena is now riding on the wave of the Premiers victory, days after relieving him of key institutions he was responsible for just before the latter was to face former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Joint Opposition sponsored NCM.
On March 29 President Maithripala Sirisena, issuing an Extraordinary Gazette notification removed the Central Bank from the purview of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs (which Wickremesinghe was in charge of ) and returned it to the Ministry of Finance, along with the Security and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka which was transferred to the Ministry of Finance.
The fact that President Sirisena chose to remove from Wickremesinghe’s custody, the key institutions he was responsible for at a time when the latter was to face an opposition sponsored NCM, was seen as a telling point that Sirisena and his SLFP is giving tactical support to the NCM.
However now it is obvious that Sirisena wants the PM to have political amnesia and embrace the nearly crumbled unity alliance (including the SLFP Ministers and MPs who voted with the JO for the NCM).
After a breakfast meeting with editors Friday Sirisena was quoted in the local media Saturday as declaring that coalitions were ‘the only way forward’ for Sri Lanka as no single party would be able to secure an absolute majority.
“Hot on the heels of the defeat of the No-Confidence Motion against the Premier, President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday invited all Members of Parliament to extend their support to strengthen the Government to usher rapid development in the interest of the country and people,” the Daily FT newspaper in Colombo reported.
“As the President, it is my responsibility to strengthen the Government in the best interest of the country and the people and not weaken it. I am well aware of the future challenges. Whoever (MPs) is keen to support this cause I extend an open invitation to join the Government and help in the development of the country,” Sirisena was further quoted as saying.
Reportedly, the setting up of a joint committee by the SLFP and UNP has been discussed between the President and the PM in talks held so far, to strategize priority areas to keep the national unity government in motion and action.
A major cabinet reshuffle is expected just weeks after the last one.
The perennial challenge is how Sirisena’s SLFP which is a centre left party, can begin to see eye to eye with the liberal right wing United National Party (UNP) which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heads, when, ever since the political marriage between the two parties on January 2015 these ideological differences have affected policy making and stalled development projects that has been undertaken on behalf of the country.
Several decisions made by the Prime Minister had been reversed by the President including the one on the leasing of the Hambantota port to China (the President had objected to the first agreement forcing the government to sign a revised agreement), giving the contract to build the Colombo port eastern terminal to two India companies.
Meanwhile President Maithripala Sirisena has warned that the UNP MPs’ move to adopt no confidence motion against select SLFPers (who voted with the JO against the PM) could push the coalition partner towards the Joint Opposition members. Thereby the Prime Minister has informed the UNP group to withdraw the No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the rebel SLFPers stating that no formal party decision had been taken to submit a NCM against them. However, giving a dramatic twist to the saga, the SLFPers who wanted the NCM against the Premier to be passed in parliament and voted for this cause, have now appealed for the President to remove them from their ministerial positions.
The SLFP members have made this request in a letter sent to President Sirisena who is also head of the SLFP.
President Sirisena meanwhile has pointed out that if the UNP brings No-Confidence Motions against SLFP Parliamentarians, it would lead to the SLFP uniting with the Joint Opposition to garner the needed 113 MPs to form a Government under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Sirisena has further admitted that he would be compelled to allow such a move.
Whether such an event actually takes place or not, the overall end result of the NCM against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the defeat not of the Joint Opposition which moved it, but President Sirisena whose indecision and lack of consistency have reduced his SLFP to a pathetic state, in which its members are threatening to flee to the party of his arch rival Mahinda Rajapaksa.
For Rajapaksa who failed last week to get the NCM against the PM passed in parliament, this defeat may be interpreted by his party as a stepping stone to keeping the SLFP divided until 2020 when the next Presidential and Parliamentary elections are due.