Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will face a crucial no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday, but legislators from his United National Party (UNP) have thrown their weight behind the Premier, vowing to defeat the motion.
With 107 seats, the UNP is the single-largest group in the 225-member Parliament but with some dissidents within, who are expected to vote against their leader, and frantic negotiations on Tuesday among legislators on both sides, Mr. Wickremesinghe will likely need the support of minority parties in order to scrape a win.
The Parliament will convene at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday for a debate on the motion that was initiated by the ‘Joint Opposition’, a group of parliamentarians backing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is expected to span 12 hours and will end in a vote.
How will TNA vote?
All eyes are on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has 16 MPs and therefore, a critical say. On Tuesday, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, who is the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, along with his senior colleague Mavai Senathirajah, met President Maithripala Sirisena. The parliamentary group also met with Mr. Wickremesinghe in the evening, after the MPs held internal discussions twice during the day.
Following the high-level meetings, Mr. Sampanthan told The Hindu: “We are interested in stability being preserved, and we are interested in ensuring the implementation of the mandate that the President and the PM got in 2015 and we will work towards the achievement of those objectives.” As of Tuesday evening, it was unclear if all TNA MPs will vote the same way, but most have reportedly expressed discomfort siding with a motion initiated by Mr. Rajapaksa’s allies, seen as adversaries to Tamil interests.
Meanwhile, parliamentarians from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on Tuesday tried pressuring the PM to resign ahead of the no-confidence motion. “Our request was duly conveyed to him, but his party refused,” SLFP Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa told The Hindu. Amid reports about Mr. Sirisena wanting Mr. Wickremesinghe to step down, which multiple political sources confirmed to The Hindu, Mr. Yapa ruled out the President’s involvement, saying: “We kept him out of this. He is a democratic leader and let us convey our position.”
Following the SLFP’s last but futile attempt at getting the PM to quit, the UNP declared that it was confident of defeating the motion on Wednesday. Harsha de Silva, a Deputy Minister from the UNP, told the media that the “party stands united in its efforts to defeat the motion”. Announcing that the UNP will take up “unprecedented major reforms” soon, he challenged SLFP Ministers to pack their bags and leave, should the motion be defeated.
Calls for resignation
The SLFP’s demand for the PM’s resignation came soon after the February local government elections in which the SLFP and UNP were squarely defeated by a new party backed by Mr. Rajapaksa. While the SLFP blamed the PM’s policy and apparent link to suspects in major bond scam at the Central Bank for its poll debacle — the SLFP contested separately and came third — some within the UNP also demanded a change in party leadership, accusing Mr. Wickremesinghe of favouritism.
The ensuing friction between the two ruling parties, and within the UNP, were temporarily quelled with a Cabinet reshuffle but has resurfaced again, ahead of Wednesday’s no confidence vote that will significantly impact the government’s remaining two years in power.