Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is almost certain to survive the ouster move which is backed by President Maithripala Sirisena, but their coalition government is headed for deeper turmoil after tomorrow’s parliamentary vote.
Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is making a last ditch attempt to pressure Wickremesinghe into stepping down, but the Prime Minister has made it clear he is no pushover, party officials said.
Sirisena had also warned the United National Party (UNP) that it would be political suicide for Wickremesinghe to defeat the no-confidence resolution by getting the votes of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Leaning on the main minority Tamil party would alienate the nationalist vote of the Sinhalese majority, Sirisena had argued, only to be told that he too had won the January 2015 election thanks to the minorities, including the Tamils.
It is the TNA which stands to lose the most following the no-trust move. Should Wickremesinghe survive, as all accounts suggest, the anti-Ranil SLFP factions could unite to claim the leader of the opposition status.
This means TNA leader R. Sampanthan will de dislodged as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Should Ranil be defeated, the UNP will become the main opposition, also dislodging Sampanthan.
UNP sources said the President has been asking Wickremesinghe to step down without a vote in parliament, a position rejected by the UNP, which is angered by what they say is Sirisena’s ungrateful, backstabbing manoeuvres.
The UNP wants to prove its majority in the 225-member assembly on Wednesday and thereafter move for a purge of the government, insisting that SLFP ministers who backed the no-confidence move should resign.
It would also become difficult for the government to work under a hostile president. UNP seniors have been working on a strategy to impeach the president if he continues with his obstructionist policies.
The UNP with 107 seats is the largest single group in the 225-member legislature. The Joint Opposition (JO) claims it has 55 votes in parliament. If President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) also supports the JO, they will together have 94 seats, also in theory, but not in practice. Several Sirisena-faction members of the SLFP are opposed to the no-trust move.
The Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) has six seats and have said they will support the no-trust move which means the JO would still need another 13 MPs to cross the halfway mark of 113 in the unlikely event of keeping both SLFP factions (one loyal to Rajapaksa and the other supporting Sirisena) together.
The UNP group is also split. A couple of UNP legislators are openly with the JO — former justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha and monk Athuraliye Rathana — which means the opposition still needs another 11 MPs to oust Wickremesinghe in a best case scenario.
Party sources said about 15 SLFP ministers in the coalition government are against attempts to bring down the Prime Minister, as it will also lead to the automatic dissolution of the entire cabinet. Should the no-confidence move fail, their position within the cabinet would become untenable.
Rajapaksa is more interested in pushing Ranil Wickremesinghe to scrap the executive presidency and revert to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.
Without rewriting the current constitution, Rajapaksa cannot become the executive leader of the country as the 19th amendment to the constitution has restored term limits on the presidency and has already disqualified him from running for president again. However, he harbours ambitions of returning to power as an executive prime minister.