Friday, 6 March 2015 00:00
By Jayashika Padmasiri
The tension between the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Government seems to be increasing rapidly as Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe engage in a cold war while standing under the ‘National Government umbrella’.
The debate rages between implementing constitutional amendments with electoral reforms or implementing constitutional amendments alone and has been going on for some time now, resulting in the postponing of completion of certain crucial 100-day promises made in the run-up to the presidential poll. All the while the people are waiting and watching this political tug-of-war, wondering who will ultimately win the day.
The battle came into the spotlight with the SLFP presenting a comprehensive document consisting of 10 points for it to support the Government at the subcommittee meeting which was held last week at Temple Trees. Will the SLFP have its way? Or will PM Wickremesinghe have his way? We are yet to find out.
Dissolution of Parliament
In the meantime, last week Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe told the media that he would seek the dissolution of Parliament if the SLFP failed to support the Government in implementing its proposals.
“Nimal Siripala de Silva is only seeking the postponement of the general elections to protect the criminals and the foul individuals in the previous SLFP regime. We are also hearing about moves to bring former Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the current President Sirisena on one platform by the SLFP. President Chandrika was very critical of President Mahinda so I honestly don’t know how they could do it,” Wickremesinghe said.
Currently the SLFP has a majority in Parliament with 126 seats while the UNP plays the role of a ‘minority government’ with 41 Parliamentary seats from a total of 225 seats. In this backdrop, without the assistance of the SLFP, the Government is unable to obtain a two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional amendments it promised to implement during presidential election campaigning.
Nevertheless, contrary to the PM’s statements with regard to the dissolution of Parliament, the SLFP firmly believes that it has the upper hand and will be the deciding factor regarding the Parliamentary dissolution.
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Youth Front Leader and Parliamentarian Shantha Bandara told the Daily FT that the decision to dissolve Parliament was in its power and did not lie with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or the United National Party (UNP).
“This decision will be taken by the SLFP and not by the UNP or the Premier. If the SLFP wants to, it can bring in a no confidence-motion against the present PM. However, now the SLFP Leader is the current President and he will decide when to dissolve Parliament after discussing the matter with SLFP members. At the same time, the 10 points we have presented as necessary conditions for us to support a national government are very relevant. Those conditions reflect the needs of the people and problems that have been faced by the country for a very long time, therefore those changes must be implemented,” Bandara said.
SLFP ‘reforms package’
The main proposals in the SLFP ‘reforms package’ which was presented last week at Temple Trees includes the executive presidency and electoral reforms to be take-up as a single exercise, prevention of crossovers, removing certain powers of the executive presidency while retaining certain substantive powers and responsibilities conferred on the presidency in the national interest, mode of election of the president, establishment of independent commissions, improvement of the 17th Amendment and removal of presidential powers and immunity.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva also told the media this week that the SLFP was ready to give the Government 200 days instead of 100 days to pass the two constitutional amendments: pruning the powers of the executive presidency and changing the electoral system.
“I believe that the SLFP and the UNP must come to a consensus on these highly-sensitive and important constitutional reforms. However, time is running out for the introduction of constitutional reforms and therefore the Government must introduce them without any further delay. I cannot see any preparation, plan or commitment on the part of the UNP to introduce these constitutional reforms. However, pruning of executive powers and electoral reforms must be presented in Parliament together as a single piece of legislation, so we are extending our support to the Government and now the ball is in the Government’s court,” he emphasised to the media.
While the two main parties keep passing the ball back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the stance of other political parties, the latter too have had their say regarding this unfolding political drama.
Addressing a media briefing recently, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramauna (JVP) criticised the behaviour of the SLFP and accusing it of deliberately trying to sabotage the Government’s 100-day program.
JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said: “It is pointless to change the electoral system without changing the political culture of this country. During the presidential election, the main slogan was to abolish the executive presidency, not to change the electoral system. Now the SLFP is opposing the abolishment of the executive presidency, saying it will not support this move unless it comes with electoral reforms for Parliamentary selection. Therefore, we request the Government to implement the Constitutional amendments and dissolve Parliament on 23 April, as promised. However, if they cannot pass the Constitutional amendments, then the Government should establish a Parliament after April where they can obtain the majority and make these necessary changes in the country instead of going for a national government where criminals can become ministers.”
Giving the Govt. more time
Meanwhile, one of the main forces behind bringing President Maithripala Sirisena into power, the National Movement for a Just Society Chairman Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera also recently issued a warning to the Government concerning the Constitutional amendments saying that ‘roti should be cooked while the griddle is hot’.
He made this statement at a seminar recently while calling on the Government to either abolish the executive presidency or to trim its excessive powers within the 100-day program.
However, Sobitha Thera told the Daily FT that though they were expecting action from the Government in fulfilling the promises made in the 100-day program, which includes the Constitutional amendments, they are willing to give the Government more time.
“There are 50 more days left for the Government to act and according to the information we are receiving, they are ready to bring about these changes within the next two weeks, so we are willing to give the Government more time,” the Thera said.
Reacting to the statement made by Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva regarding the Opposition being willing to give 200 days for the Government to fulfil its promises instead of the 100 days, Sobitha Thera said that the crucial thing in this situation was to get the work done and that the number of days was irrelevant.
In relation to the demands of the SLFP to implement Constitutional amendments along with electoral reforms and the UNP’s position on implementing Constitutional amendments alone, Sobitha Thera said that those were matters that the two parties would have to discuss amongst themselves and arrive at a decision soon.
As the political power-play continues and accusations are hurled back and forth, the people are eagerly waiting to see what will happen next in this cold war between the SLFP and the UNP. A lot has been said while much more remains unsaid, undone and incomplete in our country and it remains to be seen whether these promises will be fulfilled or remain mere electoral gimmicks.