THE expected jumbo Cabinet is already attracting more brickbats than bouquets with the first day of Parliament already promising to create a trying time for the newly-birthed National Government.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) headed by the dynamic Anura Kumara Dissanayake has already decided to ask for a debate on the large Cabinet and the justification for it. Even though the JVP holds only six seats in Parliament it will play a much larger role in a depleted Opposition that is still trying to find its feet as the National Government takes shape.
The duo of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will have to work hard to sell this sprawling Cabinet to the masses, an effort made harder because voters did not explicitly vote for it. Many rather feel the United National Party (UNP) would be better off forming a Government with a simple majority and are disgruntled by the expense and complications of a giant Cabinet.
Even as small parties fight for their pound of flesh, the main constituent Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is in the fray on both fronts to boost chances for candidates that are partial to President Sirisena. But this has to be balanced with efforts to wean loyalists away from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has voiced his intention to sit in the Opposition. The National List and carrot Cabinet portfolios will have to be judiciously handed out to prevent a split within the SLFP.
National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Leader Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera went on record this week criticising the proposed National Government and faulting Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for not forming a Government with a simple majority. With a jumbo Cabinet in the offing, the civic movement leader who helped pave the way for Sirisena’s presidency has questioned the expense and wastage such an enterprise would naturally incur.
Only three Ministers were hastily sworn in on Monday ahead of a key visit by a high-powered US State delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski. The three reappointed filled the justice, resettlement and foreign affairs slots that were central to continuing dialogue with the US but other important portfolios such as finance are reported to be in the middle of a heavy tussle between the SLFP and the UNP.
The National Government was mooted as a fix-all to spur reconciliation, which will likely require Constitutional amendments that would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament. But indications are that the President and the Prime Minister aiming for the stars will be undermined by political greed and party loyalties. Losing sight of the big picture so early on does not bode well for the future and could well undermine public faith in the Cabinet even before it is born.
‘Coming colour no good’ is a favourite Sri Lankanism, which in this instance indicates a short honeymoon period for this Government that has already been under fire since January. The only way a Cabinet of this size can be justified is if they do the work right from day one.