by C.A. Chandraprema
Sri Lankan politics is full of surprises and on Friday came the biggest surprise of our lifetimes – Mahinda Rajapaksa was suddenly sworn in as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe was sent a letter informing him that he has been sacked.
Later, the newly sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe summoned a press conference and defiantly claimed that he was still the PM and that this matter will have to be settled in Parliament where he claimed he has the majority.
The letter sacking Mr. Wickremesinghe had simply announced that he was being removed on the basis of Article 42(4) of the Constitution. What Article 42 (4) of the Constitution says is that “The President shall appoint as Prime Minister the Member of Parliament, who, in the President’s opinion, is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament”.
The reason why this came as a surprise on Friday was because nobody ever thought they would see the day that President Mainthipala Sirisena would sack Ranil Wickremesinghe and appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM. However, discussions to bring about this result had in fact been going on for months after the local government election of February this year. The initiative to have RW removed through a vote of no confidence was the first step in this process.
That attempt had the support of the President but it fell by the wayside because the defections from the UNP did not take place as expected. The group of fifteen SLFP Parliamentarians who had to resign from their portfolios and sit in the opposition following this botched attempt at removing Ranil did not give up. They maintained constant contact with President Sirisena and continued with their efforts to bring the two estranged factions of the SLFP together again.
The high point in this was Basil Rajapaksa’s secret meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena after he returned from an extended visit to the USA. Basil Rajapaksa was Maithripala Sirisena’s bete noir in the SLFP and the mere fact that there was a meeting between the two was the first indication that something very serious was afoot. The events that took place after Mahinda Rajapaksa was suddenly sworn in as Prime Minister, would have convinced President Sirisena that he had made the right decision.
The groundswell of resentment against the yahapalana government was even greater than that expected by even the most ardent Rajapaksa supporter. On Friday night when some Ministers and MPs of the newly ousted government went to the Rupavahini Corporation to give a live broadcast to protest against their ouster, they were prevented from doing so by the workers in the media institution and chased away amidst loudly uttered curses, jeers and obscenities.
Thereafter, Ministers of the government held a press conference at Temple trees and when it was relayed live on facebook, all the comments made were hearty curses against the yahapalana government and expressions of jubilation at their ouster. Despite the suddenness of the this whole turn of events, people had managed to find firecrackers to light on the streets and the mood on the streets on Friday night was reminiscent of the scenes that we saw in the immediate aftermath of the death of Prabhakaran.
These scenes would have convinced President Maithripala Sirisena that he had made this decision not a day too soon and if he had not taken this decision he too would have fallen victim to the public mood that was building up.
The yahapalana government had run its course as far as the public was concerned. It was existing only on the legal fact that they had been elected to power for a given period and were plodding through that period. One assumes that this step of appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister would not have taken place without canvassing the various minority parties in the Parliament for support – a matter at which Basil Rajapaksa was quite adept.
Even if the UNP manages to show a majority in parliament with the support of the TNA, the events of last Friday has completely eroded their standing among the public. Arguably, the sudden ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe from the premiership was as damaging to the UNP as the result of the local government elections earlier this year. Even if the UNP manages to cobble together a majority with the help of the TNA, they will be fatally handicapped for the rest of their tenuous tenure in power. The best thing that the UNP can do at this stage is to give their assent to go for fresh Parliamentary elections.