UNP-SLFP coalition could be the best form of Government for Sri Lanka

Thursday, 17 November 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


If we too adopt a model where the authority is divided between a UNP prime minister and a SLPF deputy prime minister and the policies of each side are conjoined, and the resources are equitably shared, we will have a more democratic and fair Government, because it represents a much broader spectrum of public opinion than Government by one party

My hypothesis is that a coalition form of government is the best for a country. If the current coalition is structured well, it will be the best for us. But there is the big IF. If it is structured well. At present it is not! But, there are many reasons to believe that it can be put together in a way that will provide a good coalition government. 

Many segments 

untitled-1in a country

There are many different segments that make up any country. They could relate to religion, race, language, social classes, or economic interest groups, like farmers, fishermen, etc. Within these there may well be many shades.

People support the political party that they believe will best meet the needs of their segment of society. In course of time these develop into entrenched positions and every political party will have its power base. This support like grass will have roots that cannot be shifted easily (and hence I suppose grass roots power base!).

The problem with democracy

The rivalry on the ground, some stone throwing at opponents and fisticuffs during elections, creates “we” and “they” groups in the village. Jobs for those who supported the winning party adds jealousy which fuels the differences. All this means support for a party has a tendency to be a long term commitment. The politician will do almost anything to remain in power, and is well aware that they must create a support base that is entrenched with deep roots.

The inevitable consequences of democracy, and multiple political groups is, when one party wins, the 40% of the population who voted them in will be looked after, so as to consolidate the power base. The balance 60% will get step-motherly treatment and often have to do with crumbs that fall off the plate.

The logic of a coalition

If several political parties that represent different segments of society work together, it will lead to decisions that meet the needs of all sectors of the country. It is more democratic than a single party government, as it will represent a broader spectrum of aspirations and opinions, on what is best for the country. It will also reduce the dangers of dominance of any one party.

Forming a good coalition

To form a good coalition government, some important conditions must be satisfied. The main parties must set out their policies, and then they must agree to conjoin the two set of policies. Conjoin is, to put it very simply “doing some of your policies and some of our policies”. This enables each political group to meet the needs and aspirations of their support base side. There will be debate and discussion. More heated the better. This is an essential cathartic process to purge the emotions as a prelude, to calmly rationally agreeing, on what of ours, and what of yours, will form the common joint programme.

The weakness

The weakness of the current UNP-SLFP coalition is that this has not happened. The UNP is charging ahead setting out their vision for the future. The DNA of the UNP has been and is support for the large private sector and the proposed policies reflect it. They have stated their vision. The SLFP have not set out their vision, which they are taking into the coalition, for debate and agreement, on what parts will be in a common programme.

The SLFP must preserve 

its identity

The SLFP from its very inception represented a different constituency. They represent the people’s private sector. Small business, the farmers, the fishermen, the artisans and the rural folk in their many roles and occupations. If they publish their manifesto, which they will take into, and sustain in a coalition, they will retain their identity. They can then defend the position that the best way of looking after the interests of their supporters and power base was to work in a coalition that accepts the policies of the SLFP.

That discussion of SLFP demands and publicly accepting the policies of the SLFP has not quite happened. The outward symbols of equal partners in a coalition is also missing.

Sharing is what 

matters most

In a successful coalition there will be a sharing of all that is important. Both positions and resources. The larger party should nominate the Prime Minister. The other party must have the role of deputy Prime Minister. The portfolios relevant to the social and economic policies of the UNP must go to them and the portfolios relevant to SLPF policies should go to them.

Even more important is the sharing of financial resources. The demand for resources for items like defence, police, administration, etc. is common to both and must be shared. Similarly some major projects of national importance can after discussion be treated as jointly-funded projects. The balance funds available for development must be shared between the coalition partners on an equal basis. Then both can focus on what they believe is important

Are the UNP and SLFP compatible to be in 

bed together?

I will argue that they are and could work together in a coalition.

From the inception the heartland of the SLFP was the rural areas, agriculture, and small scale industries.

In S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s 10-year plan in 1959 when he was Chairman of the National Planning Council, there are two clear messages: “The major part of the population is engaged in agriculture…based on these sectors, there have also risen a number of ancillary activities and occupations in both the rural area and the towns. These avenues are Ceylon’s traditional sources of employment.”

But he had no antipathy to industry. “What other avenues of employment could be developed for the country’s growing workforce? The answer lies mainly in the fields of industrialisation.”

Even going back to 1959 it was possible for the SLFP rural-based vision and the UNP’s urban industrial vision to live together.

Sirima Bandaranaike

In her 1971 plan covering the period 72 to77, we saw her declaration of the governing social philosophy.

“Legislation will be shortly introduced in Parliament to limit the ownership of land in order to relieve acute landlessness and increase national productivity. At the same time expenditure on consumption of high income groups will be limited through stringent taxation and compulsory savings. Such savings will be utilised for national development both by the public and private sectors.”

Again the main concern is rural and land and agriculture, but no antipathy to industry, and the private sector.

Importantly she said: “The private sector will be given every encouragement to contribute to national development subject to social controls necessary to prevent profiteering, foreign exchange abuses and concentration of economic power.”

“Private foreign investment can make an important contribution to the economic development of the country. The development of the tourist industry is an area of activity which is receiving increased attention and support.” 

During Mrs. Bandaranaike’s regime there was again no conflict with the basic UNP policies of industry, foreign investment, private sector, and tourism.

The short dark age

There was the period when the lunatic left of the Trotskyites ran amok, with their economic strategies to bury the private sector. They destroyed the economy. She realised her folly in holding hands with them and kicked them out into the furthest recesses of obscurity (from which they never recovered). But by then the economy was in ruins and it left the SLFP in the wilderness for many years.


When the leadership of the SLFP moved to CBK, the traditional SLFP vision did not change. The strong commitment to the people’s private sector remained undiminished. But she was supportive of the big private sector. She had good relations with the large private sector, was accessible to them and with her charisma left them convinced that there will be no appropriation or draconian taxes. 

She saw that the wellbeing of the people was closely linked to the performance of the various ministries. Be it health or education, or agriculture or irrigation, or whatever else, they all impacted on the wellbeing of the people. She was good at getting her finger on the pulse that mattered. 

An innovative development was the National Council of Economic Development to ensure that every ministry had the advice and guidance of the best experience in the country. The State sector was to be preserved with very selective privatisation with a government majority. SEMA was created to manage the State enterprises.

MR’s SLFP could have had a successful coalition with the UNP

With MR, the SLFP still depended on the people’s private sector to get them across the line at elections, and remained committed to it. But he moved a touch more towards the strategies of the big private sector-driven governments with big infrastructure projects and a more macro approach in economic thinking.

The SLFP and the UNP have compatible policies

This quick romp through the past was to illustrate that the SLFP never had any hostility to the core UNP strategy of industry, foreign investment and big private companies and their investment to drive the economy. The UNP although never excessively committed to the people’s private sector had no problem with it and in recent statements there is a positive favourable shift to increasing its support to this sector. 


I read recently that Cicero writing in 50 BC articulated the thesis that no individual or combination of individuals should be allowed to become too powerful and that authority in a state must always be divided.

If we too adopt a model where the authority is divided between a UNP prime minister and a SLPF deputy prime minister and the policies of each side are conjoined, and the resources are equitably shared, we will have a more democratic and fairer government, because it represents a much broader spectrum of public opinion than government by one party.

Both the UNP and SLFP will be able to pursue the policies that meet the needs of their constituency. The political leaders could look forward to a long tenure doing good for the country. A strong coalition will not be defeated at the polls.