Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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SB Dissanayake and the caretaker Government

Posted by harimpeiris on October 25, 2018

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island of 25th October 2018)

 

Hon.SB Dissanayake, currently member of Parliament from the National List, is easily the most active of the political movers and shakers in the SLFP group of sixteen in opposition. He has since resigning from the Government following the failed no confidence motion against the Prime Minster, been fairly active in seeking to make things happen, rather than allow events to run their course. With the term of office of the President ending in January 2020, we should be in full blown presidential election mode, this time next year. Though Parliamentary elections are only due around August 2020, the constitution does allow the President to dissolve Parliament six months before its term is up, so about a month after the presidential election, the winner of that election may dissolve Parliament and actually would be well advised to do so, whoever he or she, may be.

But the SLFP rebel group and reportedly some of the president’s advisors whose thinking is in line with the opposition grouping of the SLFP, are impatient and desire to bring about changes in the government, a lot sooner than the natural end of the Government’s term. However, the political dynamics which drives these processes, the no confidence motion, the attempted caretaker government, whisperings of seeking to defeat the November budget, all require to be examined in the light of independent Sri Lanka’s political history to make any sense of what is going on.

Sri Lanka, like many parts of the democratic world, especially in the Commonwealth countries of former British colonies, have been governed by a basic two-party system where political power is alternated between two major power blocs through period elections. Often after one term and sometimes after two. Our executive presidential system with term limits has also ensured that though a party may continue in office, the executive president and executive authority will change after two terms.

The elections of 2015 were not a major exception to this rule. The Rajapakse Administration seeking an unprecedented third term via provisions of the now defunct 18th Amendment to the Constitution essentially faced a unified and combined rainbow coalition of the then opposition parties, led by the United National Party and fielded a common candidate, who was incidentally from the incumbent president’s own party. This was a smart tactical move and the choice of candidate had a lot to do with a new fresh face, with no political baggage, who could be a unifying factor for the political elites, that all could rally around. Maithripala Sirisena had been seen for a long time in political circles, but not heard very much and certainly had no political enemies or detractors. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe believes that if he was the NDF candidate, that the election would still have been and this contention is probably correct. However, it would have been impossible, in a couple of weeks to unify a deeply divided opposition around the then Opposition Leader, who while not exactly polarizing was seen as insufficiently electorally exciting and also it would have offered no incentive for even a small breakaway from the SLFP / UPFA. The rest is history.

A major group of the SLFP did not really break away with President Sirisena, the vast majority joined him after his shock win. Political theory would generally lead to the expectation that the breakaways would gravitate back to where they came from. This was certainly the experience of the UNP as well, which had experienced their own breakaway during opposition days in the form of a rebel group under then Minister Karu Jayasuriya who broke away and supported President Rajapakse, supposedly to help prosecute the war and also pass the 18th Amendment, eliminating checks and balances in government, for good measure. However, Karu and some though not all the UNP rebels returned to the fold.

The essential political forces driving the Sri Lanka Freedom Party / UPFA back towards the Rajapakse political vehicle of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) is political. Essentially the election results of 2015, was  52% for the winner and 48% for the unsuccessful candidate and most of the political constituency amounting to 48% which backed Mahinda Rajapakse in 2015 are essentially returning to the fold. This is the political pressure which the SLFP has been feeling for a while and is the driving force, motivating those like Hon.S.B. Dissanayke to be as active as he is, in trying to make that happen. True believers in challenging the Rajapaksa’s and seeking to have a left of center political force in the current ruling alliance, such as Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera and Duminda Dissanayake are few and far between within the SLFP.

The Rajapaksa’s though have a serious problem and this is what gives the SLFP opposition group and some of the president’s advisers hope. Their problem is which Rajapakse is to be the presidential candidate or a dynastic succession issue within a modern democratic dynasty. Sri Lanka’s historic experience of dynastic succession during our pre-colonial monarchies are bloody, brutal and bitter. For Sri Lanka’s sake, the Rajapakses who are intent on staying in the political game, need to get it right. Mahinda is term barred, Gotabaya is a foreign (dual) citizen as is Basil, Namal is too young and Chamal does not want the job, unless he has greatness thrust upon him. It is in this situation that the SLFP rebels and their senior advisors and activists are exploring the possibility of a second term for President Sirisena in alliance with the Rajapaksa’s as the standard bearer of the center left forces with a Rajapakse as Prime Minster, even Mahinda who is not term barred for PM, under the broad umbrella of the UPFA, leaving 2025 open for a Rajapakse return to the apex. It is a long shot, but plausible and possible, even probable. Stranger things have happened in Sri Lanka. Time will tell.

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