Proof of unity

Friday, 21 August 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI LANKA’S parliamentary election has ended in an anti-climax. After a feisty match between the ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa-faced United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the United National Party UNP), the people will now have a National Government with a combination of both the two main parties.   

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)’s decision to join the National Government to be formed by the United National Party (UNP) did not come as a surprise. The SLFP Central Committee, which met on Thursday with SLFP head and President Maithripala Sirisena, had agreed to be part of the National Government.

Nimal Siripala de Silva said that the SLFP will be in the National Government for two years and will work with other political parties in the Government to address key issues. The committee appointed under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to work on a policy framework under which the SLFP will work in the National Government will also decide on the Cabinet and assist in formulating the number of portfolios. 

In theory the idea of a National Government sounds good. For too long Sri Lanka has been thrown between two parties and struggled without a national policy framework to tackle key issues including economic development and reconciliation. The trial run of the National Government is particularly useful to tackle the latter, as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins its sessions in a few weeks it gives the government a chance to present the country as progressive. 

But what cannot be ignored is the policy divide between the SLFP and UNP. As parties that have long kept themselves apart and strongly antagonistic towards each other it will be a challenge to find themselves as bedfellows. Finding common voice on key issues will be very difficult and managing this unwieldy coalition will be a challenge for both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 Srisena and Wickremesinghe have already disagreed over the handling of the controversial bond issue and prognosis for cohabitation is dicey.  On the economic front the UNP has gravitated to a middle ground focusing on capitalism with a human face while the SLFP has traditionally looked at import substitution and a closed market policy. Finding the common ground between these two extremes will be key to national policy and Sri Lanka’s economic future.  

The presence of Rajapaksa in the ranks will also cause division as his charismatic stance on issues, particularly pertaining to anti-corruption and reconciliation, will have significant space. The former president has already made it clear that he will speak for his voters on national security and this could develop into a thorn in the side of the new Government. 

Proponents of good governance are also wary of whether corruption investigations against Rajapaksa loyalists will be conveniently dropped by the wayside. Other concerns swirl around appointment of candidates rejected by voters through the national list, possibly to boost Sirisena loyalists. Both would be a betrayal of voters that boosted the good governance platform built since January. If such candidates are also given ministerial portfolios they would set a disappointing precedent. 

Despite having all this on their minds voters are largely happy with the idea of a National Government but as they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating.