In a comical turn of events – not entirely unanticipated – the Sri Lanka freedom Party (SLFP) faction under the purported leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena did a complete political volte -face by deciding to abstain from voting in the no confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on April 4th 2018.
An announcement to this effect was made by senior cabinet minister A.H.M. Fowzie even as the no confidence motion debate got underway as scheduled when Parliament commenced sittings at 9.30 am on Wednesday April 4th.
It is learnt that the SLFP decision came about as a result of President Sirisena getting cold feet at the last minute through the belated realization that his treacherous move of joining forces with the Rajapaksa -led SLFP faction and joint opposition members to remove Ranil Wickremesinghe from the post of prime minister was doomed to fail as neither Mahinda nor Maithripala were able to cobble together the required number of MP’s to get the no confidence motion passed.
The no confidence motion was submitted to the speaker with 51 Joint opposition MP’s and 4 SLFP MP’s in the Coalition Govt signing it. Thereafter Some leading lights of the SLFP within the government openly revolted against their prime minister with the covert backing of Sirisena. Chief among these were ministers Sushil Premajayantha, Nimal siripala de Silva, SB Dissanayake,Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Deputy speaker Thilanga Sumathipala.
The SLFP faction commenced a campaign to garner enough votes to get the no confidence motion passed against the prime minister while President Sirisena maintained an overt silence while tacitly encouraging the move to topple Ranil as PM. Sirisena also humiliated the prime minister publicly by stripping away many departments under his ministry and transferring them elsewhere without informing Wickremesinghe.
Sirisena refused to curb his SLFP faction from proceeding against Ranil even thoiugh UNP ministers in government requested Maithripala to get his party to desist from supporting the motion
After the local govt poll in Feb in which the SLFP faction led by Sirisena was trounced by the newly formed Sri lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) Maithripala tried to make Wickremesinghe the scape goat and tried to remove him. He was unable to do so as the 19th Constitutional amendment provisions had restricted Presidential powers. Thereafter dissident elements in the UNP along with the Sirisena Led SLFP faction aligned with the Mahinda led joint opposition to moot a no confidence motion against the prime minister.
Tremendous pressure was mounted on Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down as Premier even before the no confidence motion was taken up for debate and voting. Some UNP MP’s were also drawn into the conspiracy to vote against Ranil. An intimidatory campaign was also conducted to pressurise the Tamil and Muslim parties from not supporting Ranil during voting
Ranil Wickremesinghe however stood firm and refused to resign under pressure. The UNP Parliamentarians as a party stood by the Prime minister and UNP leader loyally and declared that they would vote against the motion. The Tamil and Muslim parties within the Government also extended support to Ranil. The Leading oposition party the tamil national alliance also endorsed Ranil despite Sirisena trying to prevent it
Thus it became clear on the eve of the debate that the no confidence motion against Ranil would not succeed.
Furthermore the SLFP faction led by Sirisena split three ways over the NCM. While one group wanted to vote for the motion another group said it will vote against it. A third group within the SLFP said it would abstain.
Thus it became clear that instead of dislodging Ranil as premier, Sirisena had only weakened his hold on his SLFP faction while strengthening Wickremesinghe’s support within the UNP and other Tamil and Muslim parties.
It was also apparent that the SLFP faction withinn the Govt would have to forego their ministerial posts and quit the govt after the no confidence motion failed. More importantly an angry UNP furious over Sirisena betraying Wickremesinghe who helped him win the presidency in 2015 was likely to initiate a process of impeachment the president himself
Against this backdrop Maithripala who boasted earlier about using his sword lost all political courage and abandoned his not so subtle campaign of removing Wickremesinghe through a no confidence motion
After a meeting held in the morning of April 4th at the President’s residence, it was announced by Sirisena loyalist State Minister Fowzie that the SLFP faction within Govt would abstain and not vote for the No Confidence motion.
Despite this official announcement it remains to be seen whether any SLFP Parliamentarian in the govt would have the guts to go against Sirisena and defy him. However SLFP ministers Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Dilan Perera contradicting Fowzie has said that the SLFP will vote for the No confidence motion.
Some political o bservers feel that given Presient sirisenas notorious reputation for double talk and contradictory action,the SLFP leader may very well have told Fowzie to announce one thing and the other ministers to say the opposite while he himself will keep silent without the courage or integrity to state his position openly.
According to political analysts the SLFP is likely to be fragmented in three with about15 to 20 MP’s defying Sirisena’s decision and voting for the No confidence motion. They will be then resign en masse from Govt and will be forced to cross over to the opposition. About 10 to 15 MP’s will vote against the NCM and may thereafter join the UNP?UNF. A third group will abide by Sirisenas decision and abstain from voting and will thereafter continue to remain as SLFP members in the coalition Govt.
Meanwhile the no confidence motion is very certain of being defeated with only the joint opposition, JVP and some SLFP MP’s voting for it if a vote is taken up later in the day. There is a distinct possibility that it may not be put to the vote after the debate ends.