Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena was elected President of Sri Lanka on January 8th 2015. The general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) had broken away from his party and contested the Presidential elections as the common opposition candidate. Maithripala Sirisena defeated his former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.The victory was hailed as a silent revolution. United National Party(UNP)leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed Prime minister of a Government that promised to usher in good governance(Yahapalanaya/Nallaatchi)
After eight months of the good governance regime, Parliamentary elections were held on August 17th 2015.The UNP led United National Front for Good Governance(UNFGG) won 106 seats in a hung Parliament. The SLFP led United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA) got 95 seats.Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed Prime Minister again.
The UNFGG victory was described as a continuation of the Jan 8th revolution which brought about good governance.However the anticipated appointment of cabinet ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers did not take place. News reports explained the delay as being due to protracted inter –party negotiations between the UNP and SLFP. The discerning public read between the lines and realised that intense squabbling for portfolios was going on.
Three cabinet ministers were appointed on the eve of US assistant secretary of state Ms. Nisha Biswals visit to Sri Lanka. The fortunate trio were Mangala Samaraweera (Foreign Affairs), Wijedasa Rajapakshe (Justice) and DM Swaminathan (Resettlement), All three were from the UNP but were “acceptable” to President Maithripal Sirisena. There has been no visible forward movement after that. UNP chairman Malik Samarawickrema told the press that agreement had been reached and a new Govt would be sworn in on September 2nd. SLFP General secretry Duminda Dissanayake contradicted it saying a decision may be finalised on or after September 4th.
Sordid Exercise of Political Haggling
What is going on now in the corridors of power in Colombo is a sordid exercise of political haggling for a share of the spoils between the UNP and SLFP. The SLFP is backed to the hilt by its leader Maithripala Sirisena who claimed he was neutral before the election and then issued a public statement in the form of a letter which was detrimental to the UPFA at the polls. Sirisena is also leader of the UPFA. While this scramble for ministerial office goes on at one level, a climate of uncertainty prevails in the country. Instead of experiencing good governance as pledged the nation at large has been denied basic governance even after two weeks.
What has gone wrong?who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? The simple answer is Maithripala Sirisena.
The politician from Polonnaruwa obtained a democratic mandate to govern a country. Instead of doing that Maithripala is now trying to establish control over the party from which he split last year. Though the SLFP/UPFA was opposed to the “Rajarata renegade” in the presidential and parliamentary elections Sirisena is now attempting to recapture lost ground by promoting SLFP interests at the expense of the UNP. In the process, SLFP Leader Maithripala is making a mockery of President Sirisena’s good governance.
Sirisena acted autocratically and unethically in sacking the SLFP and UPFA general secretaries on the eve of the parliamentary poll and appointing two of his acolytes in their stead as acting general secretaries. He removed 13 of perceived Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters from the party executive committee and substituted his loyalists in their places. Having gained control of the UPFA through dubious means Sirisena appointed several defeated SLFP candidates of questionable reputation as national list MP’s.
Message Was Crude But Clear
The message was crude but clear. All cronies of Mahinda Rajapaksa were acceptable if they hitched their wagon to the Maithripala Sirisena star. Whatever their sins of omission or commission as part of the evil Rajapaksa regime they would be given absolution and absorbed into the ranks of good governance if they switched loyalties. Moreover they would be rewarded with ministerial office.
There were however some impediments. The 19th Constitutional Amendment limited the size of the cabinet. This was then praised as proof of good governance under President Sirisena as opposed to Mahinda Rajapaksa who had a gigantic cabinet to accommodate crossers over from other parties. Now the restriction of the number of ministers as envisaged by the 19th amendment is preventing the enticement of SLFP parliamentarians to Maithripala’s camp. So there has to be some revision in the laws by way of amendment so that more ministers can be appointed under the new “National” Govt.
Of the 95 UPFA Parliamentarians 15 are from parties other than the SLFP. As of now the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp has about 20 to 25 firm supporters from the SLFP as well as other UPFA constituents. Maithripala Sirisena has 15 to 20 “loyalists” both old and new. The Mahinda camp says 60 UPFA MP;s will remain in the opposition. The Maithripala camp says they have 70 MP’s with them. This demonstrates clearly that around 50 to 60 SLFP/UPFA MP’s could be classified as “Variables” and are up for grabs. The horse deals are on at a hectic pace.
“Carrots and Sticks”Method
Maithripala Sirisena by virtue of being President of the country as well as leader of the party is at an advantage here. He can adopt the time tested “carrots and sticks” method to woo more MP’s into his folds. Ministerial and deputy ministerial posts in the yet to be formed “Yahapalanaya” Govt are the carrots. Investigations and prosecution into alleged offences committed as part of the “Yamapalanaya”Govt are the sticks. The irony in all this is the fact that the same method was employed by Mahinda Rajapaksa to swell the size of his regime. Now Maithripala Sirisena who pledged to do away with the evils of his predecessor is doing the same.
Furthermore Maithripala is being most unreasonable to say the least in exerting pressure on the UNP to yield more ground in allocation of portfolios. It was the UNP that helped elect Sirisenas as President . The SLFP was strongly opposed to him. Yet Sirisena now wants ministerial portfolios to be allocated on a 55 –UNP – 45 – SLFP ratio. The UNP is ready for a two/thirds UNP – One/third SLFP. The actual number of Sirisena followers are much less than the 45 % he demands. But what Maithripala is doing is to use the 106:95 – UNFGG.UFA ratio to get more seats. It appears that a final Settlement” could be reached on the basis 65 /35 or 70/30. Whatever the outcome Sirisenas demands are clearly unethical.
Moreover Maithripala Sirisena is also embarking upon a dangerous course of action to broaden his power base and allocate more posts to his pole vaulting follower MP’s. He proposes to appoint District Ministers reporting to himself as Executive President. The district ministers would head the district development and planning coordinating committees. Earlier senior ministers from a district used to chair such committee meetings. By appointing district ministers Sirisena can give portfolios to more than 20 MP’s.
Parallel System of Governance
The plan to appoint district ministers was a brain child of President JR Jayewardena. This was in the pre-13th amendment period when the district development council (DDC)scheme was in vogue. They were replaced by the elected Provincial Councils and appointed Provincial Governors. This plan if implemented by Sirisena could set up a parallel system of governance. This could erode the concept of devolution and enhance the powers of the executive president in practice.
All these political manoeuvring by Maithripala Sirisena deserves downright condemnation as it goes against the grain of mandates received by both the UNFGG and UPFA at the Parliamentary election as well as the mandate entrusted to Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential elections. Those who voted for Sirisena at the Presidential elections wanted him to cleanse the country and bring about good governance and not in whitewashing disreputable politicians and giving them perks and posts. The people who voted for the UNFGG on the one hand and the UPFA on the other entrusted those fronts and alliances with separate and diametrically opposite mandates. What is being undertaken now in the name of a “National govt is a flagrant travesty and blatant violation of both mandates.
It has been the practice of politicians in Sri Lanka to jettison the voters who elected them and misuse and abuse their power after being ensconced in office. But what is happening now is a despicable spectacle. What the politicians engaging in this dirty exercise of going against their mandates is the grounswell of resentment that is building up. Grassroots supporters of both the UNFGG and UPA resent what is happening. In a strange way the diehard supporters of both the blues and greens are becoming united in their revulsion against the current phenomenon.
Party Chief and Country President Hats
There was a time not so long ago when Maithripala Sirisena earned the respect and goodwill of the nation. Now that larger than life image is diminishing into a pathetic caricature. People wear different hats at different times but they do not wear all of them at the same time.Only clowns do. In this instance Maithripala Sirisena is trying to wear the party chief and Country president hats simultaneously.
Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena justifies his current conduct by the “realpolitik” imperative of the need to win over the SLFP from Mahendra Percy Rajapaksa’s control.However by resorting to unreasonable and unethical methods to facilitate this process, the SLFP party leader Maithripala is making a mockery of President Sirisena’s principles of good governance.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org