Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2017
    M T W T F S S

The real SLFP – UNP MOU are the election results of 2015

Posted by harimpeiris on July 20, 2017

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News of 20th July 2017)


In recent weeks, there has been quite a lot of political discussion on the topic of the political alliance of the two main political parties in the country, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), which has joined hands to form the national unity government we have today. Some members of the government have voiced their frustrations over the alliance and are threatening to leave, while the senior political leadership is seeking to preserve the rainbow coalition which formed the Yahapalanaya Government in 2015. The current focus of the debate seems to the MOU between the SLFP and the UNP, which is currently only till December 2017, while the term of the government itself stretches on till 2020.

1. The Presidential election results of January 2015

Any members of the Government who focus too strongly on an MOU between two political parties as the sole criteria for a national government are forgetting the cardinal rule of constitutional governance. Firstly, the Sri Lankan constitution clearly states that the people of Sri Lanka are sovereign and we exercise our sovereignty very directly through periodic elections. In the presidential elections of January 2015, the people clearly and convincingly elected Maithripala Sirisena as President of the Republic and with it thereby, as Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The people elected a common candidate, a unity figure, the head of a rainbow coalition and gave a mandate for the common program of the common candidate. During the presidential election campaign, then common candidate Sirisena, gave a very solemn and public undertaking, to appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as Prime Minister. In fact, when D.M. Jayaratne refused to resign following the presidential election result, it was president elect Sirisena who was the most insistent that Ranil Wickramasinghe be sworn in as Prime Minister, right after his own swearing in, which historic events occurred almost poetically on Independence Square one late evening in January 2015.

2. The General Election and the concurrent mandate

During the general election campaign of August 2015, President Sirisena gave another Solomon undertaking that he would not appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, even if the UPFA won, which it did not, the UNP prevailing at the general elections. The fact that the National Democratic Front rainbow alliance which won the election for Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015 contested the general election through its or as distinctive constituent parties, does not in any way negate the mandate received by President Sirisena in January 2015.


When we examine the mandate received by the UNP in August 2015, it is equally clear, that the UNP committed to a continuation of the unity government and the program of the rainbow coalition, with a fleshed out and detailed economic reform policy, which is seen as their unique selling point. The joint opposition section of the SLFP has tended to argue that they never received a mandate to work as part of the unity government, but they ignore two important facts. Firstly, it is their party leader, President Sirisena, who is leading the unity government and doing so through a direct mandate of the people. When the SLFP accepted Maithripala Sirisena as SLPF party leader, post the presidential election and after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapakse, their reason for doing so, was that Maithripala Sirisena was indeed president, the SLFP constitution mandating that any member, in the event of being elected president became leader of the party. In doing so, the SLFP, also accepted the responsibility of supporting President Sirisena in that endeavor and role. Secondly, that any mandate at the general election does not negate the mandate of the presidential, which they chose to support for the duration of that mandate. The UNP as the party which received a mandate at the general election has decided that the two parties should work together for the duration of their respective terms of office. There is a concurrent operation of twin mandates and the two mandates are aligned together and mandated by the sovereign people of Sri Lanka. That is the real basis for the national unity government. No party politics or partisan interests could or should trump the popular mandate of the people.

3. Surely it is about delivering on the current mandate

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe is currently on public record stating that the alliance of the two major parties is a must for the country’s progress and development. It is fairly clear, that the next generation of economic reforms, addressing the effects and causes of the war and strengthening and solidifying democratic freedoms and institutions requires a degree of consensus between the two main political parties in the country. Frankly it is surprising that so far before a national election, either presidential or parliamentary, that political parties seem highly focused on the national elections of 2020. Some sections of the opposition seem focused on the local government elections and that’s fine. It is natural for opposition parties to be wanting to regularly campaign and keep things on the boil. However, the people of Sri Lanka are much more likely to be focused on what the government elected and mandated in 2015 are doing to better their lives and improve their future. The easy gains of 2015 /16 are now behind and the hard work of the mid-term needs to be attended to. Economic, democratic and reconciliation reforms should be the agenda of the government and not the opposition agenda of a premature focus on the elections of 2020.


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