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All eyes on 100-Day performance

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The government formed by President Maithripala Sirisena with a United National Party (UNP) dominated cabinet led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe passed the fifty-day mark yesterday, the half-way point in its self-proclaimed ‘100-day’ plan to usher in a different era for the country.

The 100-Day plan was seen as a means of restoring ‘good governance’, tackling the twin issues of law and order and bribery and corruption while at the same time enacting key constitutional reforms that would replace the executive presidential system with a system where Parliament wielded more power.

At the half way mark of the 100-Day plan, these pledges have raised more questions than answers with the public becoming impatient because the reforms are not progressing fast enough, others querying the slow pace of investigations into corruption and yet others complaining of political
harassment.

The current state of flux in the country’s power structure hasn’t helped. The President heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which, despite having a greater number of Members of Parliament, sits in the opposition. The UNP, though in government, has to rely on the SLFP to push
reforms through.

Confounding the political equation are attempts by smaller groups within the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and some sections of the SLFP clamouring for a return of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They want him to lead the UPFA campaign as its prime ministerial candidate.
Faced with such issues, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe are walking a political tight rope. Their safety net is the 100-Day plan. For instance, when a motion of no-confidence was moved against Minister John Amaratunga, the President deferred it, citing the danger to the 100-day plan.

How though has the government fared? Certainly, President Sirisena has kept those pledges about adhering to a simple lifestyle and not living in the lap of luxury at Temple Trees. His first state visit to India was typically low-key. This is in stark contrast to the flamboyant approach of his predecessor.

The government also won plaudits for the ‘mini budget’ it presented. This offered many concessions that helped the average consumer and even the SLFP supported it, no doubt under President Sirisena’s instructions. It also highlighted some of the extravagant expenses of the previous regime.
The reinstatement of the senior most judge of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice was also a welcome measure, as was the restoration of the position and privileges of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. However, the manner in which Mohan Peiris was ousted came in for some criticism.

Also criticised is Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne who made several announcements that were not within his purview, including the resignation of Mohan Peiris as Chief Justice and the cancellation of the Port City project. The new regime could do with a better public relations and media personality.

Meanwhile, the passports of several key personalities in the Rajapaksa regime have been impounded. However, there appears to be a delay in charging such persons - a point that has been made quite forcefully by the Opposition, which, in turn, is accusing the government of launching a witch-hunt.

With general elections looming, it would be in the UNP’s interest to project the previous regime as being corrupt and profligate. The excuse that is being trotted out for the delays in the prosecution of alleged offenders is that the law is taking its course and that there is no interference in this process.

   The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and other civil society leaders such as Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera have expressed concerns about the delays. They claim that some offenders have already left the country and this doesn’t help the government’s cause.

Another issue about which there seems to be no clear enunciation of government policy is the format under which the general elections would be held. The Sirisena manifesto promised a hybrid between the first-past-the-post system and the proportional representation system but this is not confirmed yet.

The SLFP is lobbying for the first-past-the-post system which it believes will be to its advantage because it retained many southern electorates at the presidential poll. The JVP and the JHU would prefer the proportional representation system to stay at least for this election for obvious reasons.
This issue is now threatening to hamper the introduction of other constitutional reforms such as the reducing of powers of the presidency and the creation of independent commissions. President Sirisena has the unenviable task of convincing both the UNP and the SLFP about a suitable compromise.

Overall, as the half way mark of the
100-day plan is reached, the new government has acquitted itself reasonably well, considering that this is a political experiment that has never been tried before. An expectant nation _and an increasingly critical opposition_will be watching how the next fifty days pass.

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