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Address the aberration

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Maithripala Sirisena could not have dreamed of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa without the support of the United National Party (UNP). This is why he had to forge a pact (or have one forged for him) with the leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP would help him and if he won (which he did) the UNP would offer parliamentary support to see that the reform package pledged in Maithripala’s manifesto is successfully implemented.

Maithripala counted on securing the support of the SLFP in the event he won. He got that support and indeed took control of the party. With UNP support he would have the numbers to amend the constitution as promised. It was to happen in the first 100 days of his presidency. The 19th Amendment was passed with a lot of difficulty. The UNP wanted a Helping-UNP Amendment. The SLFP tried to play ‘Opposition’ as per the sad tradition of objecting to everything the Government proposed. The JVP was clueless; they didn’t see the error of the UNP version and ranted and raved over all objections, pernicious as well as logical.

Three other important items in the reform agenda are now effectively ‘On Hold’. Sure, there’s talk about electoral reform but it’s all countered by talk of imminent elections even without reform (as per the 20th Amendment). The most worrisome part of the story is the Prime Minister’s assertion that there won’t be any more bills taken up in Parliament. That effectively rules out the Right to Information Act. We can also forget the ‘Code of Conduct for MPs’.

Wickremesinghe has said that such things will be addressed by the Government that the people will elect next. That’s assuming a lot. He cannot speak for an as yet unelected Government nor impose his fancies on that Government’s prerogatives. What’s left to be seen cannot be used as excuse for not doing what’s possible here and now. Well, not only ‘possible’ but necessary for the continued legitimacy of this Government and the Maithripala Sirisena presidency.

It has to be understood that amendment requires a two-thirds majority and that it is unlikely that anyone will secure the numbers at the next election or, failing which, can obtain the support of other parties they would probably fight with bitterly in the campaign. It is not easy even now with people seeking to cut deals left and right even as they are not averse to cutting the throats of would-be deal-partners. Still, this is as good an opportunity as any and saying ‘maybe next time’ is a poor show on all counts.

With this statement, however, Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated that he’s backed out of the pact with Maithripala Sirisena. Whether or not it displeases Maithripala we don’t know, but just as there was a pact between these two gentlemen there was a pact between the President and the people of this country. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s role has been scripted into that agreement. If he balks, he must walk.

A prime minister from a party that is a minority in parliament is by definition and aberration. That aberration can be suffered but only to the extent that he abides by ‘contractual obligations’ as per his pre-election pact with the candidate. He has effectively torn that agreement to pieces. Now he is an insufferable aberration.

If Maithripala Sirisena is interested in keeping the spirit of representative democracy alive, then he has certain options. He can dissolve parliament and let the voters produce parliamentary and governance clarity. This, without electoral reform, however, would mean that he cheated the people and that his manifesto was a monumental lie.

He has the power to see the reforms through notwithstanding Wickremesinghe’s bullish and anti-democratic maneuvers. If Wickremesinghe does not play ball, however, the President has to show him the door.

It’s simple. Maithripala Sirisena could not have dreamed of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa without the support of the United National Party (UNP). Ranil Wickremesinghe would never have defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa on January 8, 2015 had he (Ranil) contested, regardless of who he aligned himself with. The ball is with the President.

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