Disputant as arbiter – Tuesday 20th November, 2018
Parliamentary proceedings lasted only six minutes or so yesterday, and the House adjourned till next Friday (23). Thankfully, the government MPs did not have enough time to work themselves up into a frenzy and go berserk. However, another Rs. 4.5 million, being the cost of one parliamentary sitting, went down the gurgler. Chaos in the House has apparently become the new normal.
Regrettably, the party leaders meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena ended inconclusively, on Sunday evening. A negotiated settlement of the dispute is likely to elude the country as the parties thereto are practising brinkmanship with no heed for the country’s democratic wellbeing and political stability.
President Sirisena, who is mainly responsible for the present crisis, is now playing the role of an arbiter. On Sunday, he was seen exhorting both sides to act responsibly as if he had been neutral all along. The present crisis would not have arisen but for his blind plunge on 26 Oct.
Sirisena, fighting a running battle with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was troubled by the prospect of the UNP pulling out of the yahapalana coalition after the budget, which was to be presented on Nov. 05, and forming a government on its own by engineering some crossovers from the UPFA. The President sought to preempt that move. He made a cat’s paw of the Joint Opposition (JO) to pull political chestnuts out of the fire. He may have expected that the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister would help muster a working majority in the House and hold Ranil Wickremesinghe at bay. Nothing is so certain as the unexpected in politics. His plan went awry and the country is where it is at present.
Time was when President Sirisena was the target of two hostile campaigns by both the UNP and the JO/SLPP. Today, he has succeeded in setting those two parties against each other. Having suffered an ignominious defeat at the last local government polls, Sirisena has also overcome challenges and threats posed by the SLPP, which has now become putty in his hands.
The JO MPs blundered by giving up their SLFP membership and joining the SLPP. They are now at the mercy of President Sirisena, who is the head of the UPFA, on whose ticket they were elected. All of them will lose their parliamentary seats if they are expelled from the UPFA. What prevents Sirisena from doing so is the fact that it is far more advantageous for him to have the SLPP as an electoral ally than to settle political scores. But thanks to that ill-conceived move, the JO MPs are now like a bunch of acrobats performing daredevil high wire stunts without a safety net. President Sirisena’s moves are highly unpredictable and he has proved that he has neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies in politics.
President Sirisena’s main condition for helping break the current gridlock in the legislature is that the UNP recognise the appointment of the new government before moving a no-faith motion against PM Rajapaksa in a proper manner and nominate anyone other than Wickremesinghe for the post of Premier. He seems to think that the UNP, full of prime ministerial hopefuls, will not be able to reach a consensus on this score!
Sirisena and Rajapaksa have, through their political adventurism, provided Wickremesinghe with a rallying point. Wickremesinghe’s position has been strengthened in the party though challenges to his leadership have not gone away. What if the UNP agreed to the President’s condition by any chance? Rajapaksa would suffer a pratfall.
The image of the SLPP has suffered considerable damage during the last three weeks or so, and the UNP has got reinvigorated. Even the UNP dissidents who were openly critical of Wickremesinghe in the past have thrown their weight behind him. The UNP has conveniently laid the blame for the many failures of the yahapalana government at President Sirisena’s feet.
President Sirisena has consolidated his position—at least for the time being—with his erstwhile yahapalana allies and new friends fighting a bitter battle for control over Parliament. He has taken moral high ground and is pontificating to the warring parties on the virtues of reconciliation.
Some politicians seem to think the masses are asses.