Political unrest still prevails in the country, with the chorus urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. An interim government representative of all the parties with MPs in Parliament has been proposed by some parties and groups in the meantime to run the country for a short period –may be one year- to work out solutions to public grievances such as the shortage of LPG, fuel and soaring cost of living.
The 40 MPs who declared independent of the government are the key proponents of the interim arrangement to douse tension and figure out a way forward. These 40 MPs operate under three banners after deciding to sit independently in Parliament- the 11 –party alliance, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) independent group. The group has taken a rebellious posture and is keen on a new government replacing the current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet. They held talks even last Tuesday and discussed the basic frame of governance under such an administration.
In the meantime, the President also announced on Wednesday that he is willing to form such a government with a Cabinet inclusive of members of all the parties with parliamentary representation. The opposition parties- Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – have taken to the streets, mounting pressure on the government. The Galle Face protesters persist with their demand.
Be that as it may, two impediments stand in the way of the realisation of an interim government yearned by these 40 MPs. One is that the present Prime Minister is not prepared to relinquish office. The other is that the opposition parties don’t sound prepared to take up governing responsibilities at this hour.
The Prime Minister is obviously having friction with his brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and is not ready at all to relinquish office- a position he articulated in his recent remarks to the press. He can ill-afford to forgo his current post, both due to personal and political reasons. First, he is concerned, more than anything, about his son MP Namal Rajapaksa’s political future. That will be at stake the moment his father is out of power at this critical juncture. So is the political future of many others who are close and loyal to him. The Prime Minister is under pressure from them not to give way to protesters and others. As such, he is making every effort possible to cling to power now in the hope that things will stabilise and civil and political unrest dissipate in the days to come.
Nonetheless, the country is positioned in a tricky, volatile situation, and things will not run swimmingly for the government. The government or the Prime Minister for that matter claims to have secured the required number behind to thwart the attempt by the opposition to unseat it through the adoption of a no-confidence motion- a process still in its preliminary stage, with a pall of uncertainty over its passage through the House.
At times of political uncertainty, as evident in past experiences, it is difficult to gauge the loyalty of some MPs. No one can say in which way some of them sway, given the kind of inducements being on offer to lure them. Such under-the-table transactions have been part of political culture to retain the numbers in hung situations. Nobody can rule such shady deals being struck now, with some MPs bargaining for their support. The actual number behind the government is possible to be ascertained only during a parliamentary vote. The Prime Minister, as a politician with experience of over 50 years, is awake to this reality. That is why he said the government has the majority as things stand at the moment only. It means the situation may change at any time. No matter what, the Prime Minister is not ready to quit.
The proponents of the interim government are unable to press ahead with their move as a result. In addition to the Prime Minister’s position, the opposition also places another obstacle in the realisation of this target.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are not ready to accept ministerial responsibilities in such a governing model. They know the current challenges on the economic-political fronts are incredible and achievement of anything tangible on the ground for the benefit of people in the short run is a Herculean task- if not impossible.
Any failure on their part of them will have a bearing on the future prospects of their parties. In their perspective, it is better for them to adopt a handoff policy. They will not utter their positions in plain language, though. Instead, they will insist on the impossible to be done or what is unrealistic to happen. They call for elections, abolition of executive presidency etc- catchy political slogans but practically impossible to be done.
They urge the President to step down. It is highly unlikely that he will relinquish, though the ‘GoGotaHome’ campaign is sustained. It is no doubt that he is held responsible for most of the economic woes confronting the nation today. His sudden ban on chemical farming triggered a food crisis in the midst of the pandemic.
In its move for a no-confidence motion against the incumbent government, it is yet to spell out the next step. It is unclear who will take over as the next leader. The opposition is not putting forward anyone as a leader. As such, an interim government is a challenging task for its proponents.