Gambling with People’s Mandate

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MP Pensions are clearly  more important than accusations against Minister John Amaratunga of encouraging an attack against the Chairman of the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha (File Photo) MP Pensions are clearly more important than accusations against Minister John Amaratunga of encouraging an attack against the Chairman of the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha (File Photo)

No confidence motion, which was presented against Public Order Minister John Amaratunga with the signatures of 114 MPs in the House, certainly came as a shock to the UNP-led Maithrpala Sirisena government. It was a clear indication that the United People’s Freedom Alliance, which is the main opposition coalition at the moment, still wields the majority power in Parliament. By presenting a no-confidence motion with the endorsement of 114 MPs, the opposition showed that it could still ‘topple’ the government although the government managed to get its interim budget passed with a majority of 163 votes – a majority that set a new record in the country’s political history.

It was no coincidence that the handing over of the no-confidence motion and the second reading vote of the interim budget of the new government fell on the same day. The opposition, which had already decided to vote in favour of the budget, knew that the budget would receive almost unanimous endorsement from the House, giving a strong political edge to the United National Party. The opposition needed a simultaneous exercise to show its strength in Parliament, while supporting the interim budget which introduced a string of subsidies and price reductions to the general public of the country. That was where the no-confidence motion against Minister John Amaratunga came into play.

Pensions at risk
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, being the astute politician he is, came up with a masterstroke to hamper the no-confidence motion presented by the opposition. Speaking to the Working Committee of the party on Sunday, the Prime Minister said the Parliament would be dissolved in the face of the no-confidence motion’s defeat. The Prime Minister made this remark with the knowledge that he was in possession of a great trump card that could turn the tables on the opposition.

At the Working Committee meeting of the United National Party, which was held a day after the second reading vote of the budget, the Prime Minister said he would dissolve Parliament if the ruling party failed to defeat the no confidence motion presented against Amaratunga. Wickremesinghe was aware of the fact that 69 MPs would lose their pensions if the President dissolved Parliament. The majority of Parliamentarians who would lose their pensions, needless to say, were from the United People’s Freedom Alliance as it has the bigger share in the house.

Soon after the Prime Minister made the announcement about the dissolution of Parliament, the top rung leadership of the UPFA came under heavy pressure from its MPs to hold the no-confidence  motion back. It was crystal clear that the MPs were more concerned about their pensions than the issue they had with Public Order Minister John Amaratunga who was accused of encouraging an attack against the Chairman of the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha. Following this development, the seniors of the UPFA said the no-confidence motion against Amaratunga would not be taken up immediately.

In an interview with a state run newspaper on Friday, Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva played a different tune on the matter.

Nimal Siripala’s spin
“Tabling a no confidence motion has its own dimensions. We have to highlight the police inaction and violence that had been perpetrated against our supporters. Therefore, Parliament would be the best forum to do that. It is with this intention that we have brought this no confidence motion against Public Security, Christian Religious Affairs and Disaster Management Minister John Amaratunga. I think as a result of the no confidence motion that we have brought, there are some positive aspects. The Prime Minister and the President had appointed some special committees to go into various post election violence issues and settle them and to bring the culprits before court and give affected and victimized people relief. Therefore, that was the purpose of the no confidence motion.

The no confidence motion has not yet been included in the Order Paper. But, once it is included in the order paper, depending on the government business etc., and on how many days would be available, it can be debated. That is a matter for the party leaders to take into consideration and initiate a debate. But as an opposition, we have fulfilled our duty by bringing the motion and now it is in the hands of the House,” the Opposition Leader said.
According to Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva, it was the Parliamentary group of the UPFA who presented the no-confidence motion against the Minister of Public Order, without consulting President Maithripala Sirisena. Had they said they decided to postpone the no-confidence motion in support of the 100 day program of the government, the entire process would not have reflected badly on the opposition. With the way the opposition reacted to the dissolution claim of the Prime Minister, it was quite evident that they put their personal interests before the collective interests of the party. It gave rise to a serious question about the credibility of the
country’s opposition.

More power-less good governance
On the other hand, the ruling party too acted in a despicable manner when it came to the controversy involving Public Order Minister. No independent inquiry was carried out into the Minister's involvement in the assault on the PS Chairman of Wattala and no action was taken to arrest those who were responsible for the attack. It was, needless to say, a mere continuation of the practices adopted by the previous government when it came to issues involving its politicians. Instead of taking action against its own party member, the government talked about dissolving Parliament in an attempt to circumvent the no-confidence motion. This speaks volumes of the government’s commitment to the basic tenets of ‘good governance’ which was the theme of its
election campaign.

It does not require Einstein Wisdom to understand that both the government and the opposition are not reluctant to play ‘games’ with the mandate of the people for their perks, privileges and benefits. It also suggests that the new government does not show a “true” willingness to change the core of the political culture of Sri Lanka which is characterized with opportunism, duplicity and hypocrisy.

Electoral reforms
Another area that they hardly focus on is the proposed amendment to the electoral system of the country. Although the proposed amendments to the electoral system made inroads into the 100 day program of the government, it is clear that the amendment has now been put on the backburner. According to official spokespersons of the government, the forthcoming general election will be held under the present system although the proposed amendments will be passed by Parliament within the 100 days.

However, MPs of both camps have now proposed to prolong the 100 day program to ensure amendments to the electoral system of the country. Several key politicians of the government and the opposition have proposed to postpone the Parliamentary election, especially to ensure the  proposed change in the electoral system in the country.

Colombo District UPFA Parliamentarian Thilanga Sumathipala has already proposed to postpone elections to ensure  essential

reforms, especially of the  electoral system. State Minister of Higher Education Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, responding to Sumathipala’s statement, also said that it was a good move to postpone elections if there is no pressure from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
“Otherwise, everyone will prioritize electoral consideration, not work or reforms,” Wijesinha said on Saturday on his Twiitter account.

There is pressure building up from both camps that the General Election should be held under the new electoral system which has already been proposed to the country’s legislature. They are of the view that the 100 day program of the government will be meaningless if the forthcoming election is also held under the present  electoral system.

Despite pressure exerted by MPs, it is learnt that the government has already conceded that the next General Election is likely to be held under the existing electoral system if Parliament is dissolved immediately after April 23 at the end of the 100 Day Program of President Maithreepala Sirisena.

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