Beginning of the end?
As we predicted last week, Sri Lanka heads into a new year with more political chaos lined up ahead. It is just a matter of time before the executive and legislature lock horns once more over governance issues, and the prospects of a deadlock is certainly on the cards.
Early signs of such a scenario are beginning to appear over the appointment of ministers and the allocation of subjects.
It is becoming clear that an early election maybe the best way out of the current impasse with the United National Front (UNF) slowly but surely realising that the sooner they go for it, the better the prospects of reaping the dividends of the President’s actions for which he stands accountable.
That the President has no intention of peaceful cohabitation with the governing party is clear by the fact that he unilaterally struck off the names of eight ministers nominated by the UNF while allocating for himself several ministries and also bringing the Police Department and the Government Printer under his purview.
However, according to Article 51 of 19th Amendment of the Constitution, the President may only hold the portfolio of Defence, Mahaweli Development, and Environment, sparking claims that this was yet another unconstitutional move on his part.
With the President digging in and calling the shots in government, he now has the added benefit of having the main Opposition in his pocket too and by the looks of it, will not hesitate to combine the two to attack the UNF Government at every opportunity.
The Speaker has meanwhile recognised Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of the Opposition based on the assurance provided by none other than the Leader of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Maithripala Sirisena that he remains a member of that party and not of the newly-created Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
There is also the matter of the so-called withdrawal of the UPFA from the National Government which therefore limits the number of cabinet ministers that can be appointed to 30. One cannot help but ask the question: “If the UPFA has withdrawn then why is the head of that party holding the portfolio of several ministries?”
What is cause for concern is that the Leader of the UPFA is also the President of the country while another member of that party is the Leader of the Opposition. In other words, the UPFA is running both the Government and the Opposition.
Given these circumstances, it is highly inappropriate for the President to be holding ministerial office and also have the Police, which is investigating numerous cases against his own party members, under him. In this backdrop, the outcome of the pending investigations is now a foregone conclusion.
The UNF which to date has not publicly questioned this contradiction will have to pay a heavy price when polls are called later this year. The party’s pusillanimity, when it comes to taking on the executive, will certainly have far reaching electoral repercussions, something that the party hierarchy may well be aware of but are keeping quiet for reasons best known to them.
It is due to this that Sirisena continues to ride the high horse and call the shots even when he has been greatly restrained from doing so under the 19th Amendment.
The UNF needs to do some serious soul searching and get its act together if it has any intention of continuing to govern beyond the next election. It must at some point hold to account those responsible for the disruption of government for 51 days, which according to conservative estimates, caused an economic loss of Rs. 300 billion.
Since the disruption has already been ruled illegal by the country’s apex court, there is nothing preventing the party from not pursuing this course of action.
The UNF Leader seems happy to play ball with Sirisena so that his cronies remain in Cabinet while those deserving of such office are left out. The President meanwhile has further extended his tentacles by appointing his close advisors as provincial governors, probably with an eye on the provincial council elections which are also due this year.
The bottom line is that if the UNF does not challenge Sirisena, he will have his way, all the way. Sirisena’s new-found ally Mahinda Rajapaksa is a past master in the game and his advice must surely be readily available for the favour of endorsing his UPFA membership, which would otherwise have led to the loss of his seat in Parliament.
The bottom line is that if the UNF allows Sirisena to take the high ground when he has so much to answer for, he will continue to stir the pot, resulting in more chaos. On the other hand, if the UNF decides to put him in his place in accordance with the 19th Amendment, this too will result in a chaotic scenario.
Therefore, the year ahead will be decisive for both the main parties, and they will need to play their cards close to their chests in order to turn the tables on each other. Either way, 2019 will be the beginning of the end for one party. The next 360 days will show us which one.