By Dharisha Bastians
In a tit-for-tat move, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led UPFA threatened to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and form its own Government, under the premiership of senior party man and current Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva yesterday, as the ruling coalition plunged deeper into crisis and disarray.
The new political moves were set in motion after UNP Cabinet ministers, who convened at the official residence of the President with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Tuesday (13 February) night, told President Maithripala Sirisena that they were willing to govern independently and show the party’s strength in Parliament.
The threat reportedly angered President Sirisena, who commanded SLFP Ministers to begin exploring options to show a majority in Parliament during discussions after the weekly Cabinet meeting, under the leadership of Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva. The President told SLFP ministers that he would give them two days to muster the numbers, highly placed sources told Daily FT.
Last evening, UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera wrote to President Sirisena, urging him to “give the SLFP-led UPFA an opportunity to form a government.” In his letter, Amaraweera said the result of the Local Government polls last weekend was a mandate against the UNP’s economic mismanagement, and its failure to govern in keeping with the principles of good governance.
“Our party can no longer agree to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continuing as the head of Government,” Amaraweera’s letter to the President said. “A new Government should be formed under the premiership of someone who can command the respect and the confidence of Parliament,” the letter added.
However, analysts said the UPFA faces an uphill task to muster the numbers and get a working majority of 113 in the House, given the current composition of Parliament. The SLFP currently has 41 members, with 55 other UPFA MPs sitting in opposition as the pro-Rajapaksa Joint Opposition (JO).
SLFP ministers strongly pushing for a new SLFP-UPFA-led Government are confident it can obtain the support of the JO, which will bring their numbers up to 96. But they would still be 17 members short of the simple majority needed to pass a motion of no confidence against Premier Wickremesinghe’s Government and trigger his dismissal, in accordance with provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
However JO MP Dinesh Gunawardena, who leads the grouping in Parliament, told Daily FT last night that their position was clear, and that the faction was seeking an early General Election. “This Parliament has lost the people’s trust. To get our support, a new Government will have to move a resolution for dissolution of Parliament,” Gunawardena insisted. The JO had already made it clear that it would lend support to a caretaker Government, once it had committed to early elections, the JO MP told Daily FT.
According to the 19A, the only way to trigger early dissolution of Parliament, before it reaches the 4.5 year mark, is by way of a resolution in the House that must be supported by a two-thirds majority.
Meanwhile, Ceylon Workers’ Congress Leader Arumugam Thondaman and members of his party met President Sirisena last evening and pledged support for any political decisions made by the President going forward, the Presidential Media Division said in a statement. Thondaman, who recently allied with the Rajapaksa-backed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to wrest control of several local councils in the Nuwara Eliya District, is the sole representative of his party in Parliament.
With neither the TNA nor the JVP willing to lend support for the formation of a new Government, the UPFA will be forced to effect crossovers from the 106 UNP MPs in Parliament. Several Muslim parties and Minister Mano Ganesan’s Democratic People’s Front are also part of the 106 member UNFGG bloc. As the political turmoil and confusion persisted, speculation was rife last night that former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa was involved in negotiations to shift some minority parties from the UNP’s 106 member bloc. Other sources denied this claim, saying the former senior minister at the helm of the SLPP was vehemently opposed to an alliance between the UPFA and the JO. No Muslim parties have shifted away from the UNP so far, Daily FT learns, but President Sirisena’s party is likely to garner the support of Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero and ex-UNP Minister of Justice, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who has been strongly critical of UNP policies lately.
Meanwhile, Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa, who also backed the SLPP which swept the local government election last week, appeared to gloat publicly at the chaos within the ruling alliance. The son of the former President tweeted that the UNP and SLFP kept saying local council polls had no bearing on the central Government. “But the Government reaction alone, and the crisis situation it is in is evidence enough that the people’s anti-Government vote has created immense pressure from within,” Namal Rajapaksa said.