Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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National Unity Government decides to serve full term

Posted by harimpeiris on July 27, 2016

National Unity Government decides to serve full term

By Harim Peiris MBA 

 ( published in the Daily News )

Both the Government and the Joint Opposition (JO) have ramped up its political activities recently with the joint opposition, basically a faction of the UPFA, planning a “pada yathra” or a long march down from Kandy to Colombo, scheduled to begin towards the end of July. The march is in the context of an ongoing attempt by former President Rajapaksa’s sibling Basil organizing essential a new party, gathering together local government level activists and politicians, with an eye on the impending local government elections, due any time after the task of delimitation is over and arrangements are in place to conduct the election on a mixed system of first past the post and proportional representation. To what extent the former president is supportive of all this hectic activity of the opposition is not entirely known, however he did decline to serve in the essentially still born shadow cabinet of the joint opposition. With regards the seemingly now defunct shadow cabinet it was not very clear, where out of parliament JO stalwarts such as Professor GL Peiris, fitted in.

 

However, the response of the National Unity Government, through its apex leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickramasinghe was swift. With more than a year left to go in the initial two-year MOU signed between the two main political formations in the country, the UNP and the SLFP, the Government announced that it would extend that period to serve out its entire five-year term of office. This public statement of intent, makes clear some very obvious political objectives which has seemingly surpassed the much narrower and self-centered interests of those who were seeking to divide the Unity Government and promote an alternative single party government, specifically an SLFP or UPFA only government with Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister.

 

President Sirisena has seemingly decided at a very fundamental level, that implementation of his mandate for the manifesto of the National Democratic Front, is his own social compact with the people. This social compact or the implementation of his mandate is best and perhaps only served by with the partnership of the political allies of the National Democratic Front which secured his mandate in January last year. The support of the SLFP too towards this mandate, needs to stem from respect and support for the concurrent implementation of the twin mandates of presidential and parliamentary elections of last year.

 

For Premier Wickramasinghe and the UNP which essentially won the last general election, the Unity Government provides it with a two third majority in parliament enabling the state reform essential for moving Sri Lanka up to the next level of development and also ensuring that the hard won end of the ethnic conflict is durable and sustainable. For the UNP and its leadership, especially active and well versed in state craft in other countries through its active participation in the international conservative alliance, the International Democratic Union (IDU), the experience of the two major parties in a country forming a grand national alliance is not unusual. In Germany, Belgium, Israel and other countries in which the electoral system often does not produce a winner with an outright majority, the first and second largest parties in Parliament forming a government is not unusual. After serving out a term of office, the parties again go before the people, seeking a fresh mandate. Prime Minster Wickramasinghe is a believer in sharing some executive powers with political allies and especially between the two major parties to have broad based support for the government. An essential required for constitutional and state reform.

 

Joint Opposition hype over local elections

 

The Rajapaksa strategists and propagandists are all hyped up over the impending local government elections, but it fails to recognize many political realities in the process.

 

  1. Firstly, the Rajapaksa’s and their allies thought they could win two previous elections in January and August last year and clearly failed to do so. This at the height of their entrenched power, with all resources of the state at their disposal to abuse at the election and also with their star, Mahinda Rajapaksa as the candidate, first for president and then for prime minister and did not win. They are unlikely to be third time lucky.
  2. A local election is a very difficult one for any opposition to win, given that it is not an election which changes governments and that essentially a second string of candidate’s contest, as opposed to their better known MPs.
  • The Eastern Provincial Council, elections to which will also be due next year, provides an interesting example of the grandest of all coalitions, governing the province in an alliance of the SLMC, TNA, UNP and SLFP in that order. This example of inter party cooperation in local governance is certainly a model to be explored in the rest of the country as well, without the very adversarial and vitriolic politics, more widely prevalent elsewhere right now and obviously being anticipated by the minor parties of the Joint Opposition in the context of the local elections.

President Maithripala Sirisena in getting the support of minorities towards him, in the presidential elections last year, holds out the hope that the SLFP can once again become a broad based, multi ethnic and multi religious party that it was in the past with stalwarts like Alfred Duraiappa and Bathurdeen Mohamad. The barely disguised racism and strident majoritarian ethno-nationalist rhetoric of the JO, risks reducing the once grand SLFP to a mirror image of the regional and largely mono ethnic TNA, where the SLFP would be purely Sinhala and having an appeal only in the Sinhala south. A successful concurrent implementation of the twin mandates of January and August last year would reverse that trend and bring about the reforms required within the country.

 

(The writer is Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are personal)

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