As the political crisis in Sri Lanka hit the 9th day, President Maithripala Sirisena Sunday issued a fresh gazette announcing the reconvening of parliament on 14 November. Sirisena had earlierin the week assured the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres that Parliament would be reconvened soonest. Sirisena’s prorogation of the House till 16 November after ousting Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister came under widespread local and international criticism.
Meanwhile the United National Party(UNP), sacked unceremoniously from the government, says it is carefully monitoring who from their camp is being wooed, allegedly with millions of rupees and ministerial positions, to cross over to the camp of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Rajapaksa group, alongside with the support of President MaithripalaSirisena, has so farengineered at least 9 cross overs from the UNP and allied parties, including one member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Last week, 12 Cabinet ministers and 2 deputy ministers were sworn in and the weekend saw the swearing in of 3 staunchRajapaksa loyalists as Ministers; Dinesh Gunawardena as the Minister of Magapolis and Western Development, Vasudeva Nanayakkara as Minister of National Integration, Reconciliation and Official Languages, and KeheliyaRambukwella as State Minister of Mass media and Digital Infrastructure.
Nevertheless, some of the ministries which functioned under the UNP-SLFP coalition, such as the Ministry of Megapolis continued to defy the appointments after October 26 while ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe despite being told to vacate, continues to stay on at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister.
The UNP, for its part, is practically carrying out a 24-hour vigilance on all its members, desperately trying to keep them from crossing over.
However, its attempt to circumvent a total ouster from the political realm as envisaged by Rajapaksa and Sirisena, is the decision to submit a No Confidence Motion against the new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, has informed the Speaker in writing that Parliament has no confidence in the newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa or the subsequent appointments.
The letter states that it has “No-Confidence in the purported Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa or the purported Government appointed on or after 26 October”.
The Speaker has promised to include the motion in the Order papers on the first day Parliament reconvenes, according to UNP sources.
The motion presented by the UNP points out that, “In terms of Articles 46(1) and 48 of the Constitution, the Office of Prime Minister becomes vacant only if he dies, resigns, ceases to be a Member of Parliament (by removal or otherwise), or if the Government’s Policy statement or the Budget was defeated or if the government loses a no-confidence motion against it”.
The UNP being committed to the constitution would like to defeat the one-week old SLFP-SLPP government constitutionally, UNP sources said.
Meanwhile, the hurriedly prepared populist interim financial plan of Mahinda Rajapaksa; “the vote of account” getting defeated is still possible as the UNP, although its numbers are dwindling on account of the cross over threat, still has the support of the 15-memberTamil National Alliance (TNA).
With one member of the TNA crossing over to the Rajapaksa camp the TNA remains wary of more following suit amidst speculation that 4 more TNA MPs are willing to pledge their support with Rajapaksa.
The official stand of the TNA as a party is that they will support the No Confidence Motion against Rajapaksa and set to vote against the Vote of Account presented by the new Sirisena-Rajapaksa government.
Meanwhile,in what is widely thought to be aimed at persuading a change of heart in the TNA and attracting the minority Tamils who are arch rivals of the hawkish Rajapaksa, the ex-President’s son NamalRajapaksa on Sunday said in a tweet that the demand of the Tamil community to release all Tamil prisoners held following the war, may be fulfilled.
“President (Maithripala) Sirisena and Prime Minister Rajapaksa would make a decision (on the issue) very soon,” Namal tweeted in Tamil.
He also stated in a tweet that the former government under President Rajapaksa ‘rehabilitated 12,000 former LTTE cadres & provided employment to more than 3,000’ and that ‘the new government of President Maithripala & PM Rajapaksa will work towards rehabilitating the rest & helping them find sustainable livelihoods.’
The UNP-SLFP government, which was voted in bolstered by the Tamil and Muslim minority vote, had refused to grant the political prisoner status to the Tamil Tiger rebels involved in the war that ended in 2009 and many of them continue to be held under anti-terrorism law without being formally charged.
However, TNA sources said that they have clearly indicated to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who the leader of the party, R. Sampanthan met after Rajapaksa’s appointment as PM, that they will support a government that will usher in a new constitution that will give autonomy to the Tamils under a united country and which will consider all demands of the Tamil people.
However, on Friday, the party took a concrete decision to oppose the Rajapaksa’a appointment calling it ‘unconstitutional.’
“We do not want to be baited in. We have explained our stand,” a TNA member said but did not comment on reports that several TNA members are in the process of being lured over to the Sirisena-Rajapaksa camp.
“We condemn TNA MPS. Viyalendran leaving the party to be part of this unconstitutional conspiracy,” the TNA source said.
Leaders of the TNA’s constituent parties had met on Friday night and reached a consensus that the President did not have the authority to remove a Prime Minister who was in office and, therefore that the Gazette notifications announcing the removal of Prime Minister and the appointment of another Prime Minister were unconstitutional and illegal.
The Support of the TNA would be vital for Rajapaksa to prove his majority in the 225 House.
Based on the latest numbers, taking into account those who have crossed over Rajapaksa has 100 MPs on his side while sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has 103 MPs. The Muslim parties; the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) with 6 members and the Sri Lanka Makkal Congress with its 5 members are among those who are currently resolute about standing with the sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party (UNP).
Meanwhile, sources close to the newly appointed PM Mahinda Rajapaksa point out that if the current constitutional crisis results in a parliamentary election (if the Vote of Account is defeated) it would be very much aligned with the wish of Rajapaksa who has been calling for fresh elections to be held.