COLOMBO: The fledgling Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe government appears to be yielding ground to a resurgent former President Mahinda Rajapaksa because of internal disunity, contradictory policies and indecisive political leadership.
The first concrete sign of deep trouble appeared on Tuesday when the government’s bid to get parliament’s nod for raising the threshold of Treasury Bills by LKR 400 billion to meet vital government expenditure was defeated by 21 votes.
The defeat clearly indicated that the government cannot take for granted the support of the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) for the 19 th. Constitutional Amendment. This amendment is meant to dilute the powers of the President and increase the powers of the Prime Minister and parliament. It was a major plank of Sirisena’s Presidential election campaign and is the brainchild of the United National Party (UNP) his electoral ally.
The SLFP’s position is anomalous. It is with the government to the extent that its chairman, Sirisena, is the President of Sri Lanka and 29 of its MPs are ministers. But it is in the Opposition because the UNP is its traditional political rival. The SLFP wants Sirisena to ditch the UNP form an SLFP-led government as the SLFP is the single largest party in parliament.
But Sirisena is dithering, torn between his electoral ally UNP and his own party, the SLFP.
Frustrated, many SLFP MPs and supporters are now flocking to public meetings organized by Rajapaksa’s acolytes, and demanding that he lead the party.
The SLFP has made it clear that it will not vote for the 19 th.Amendment if the directly elected President is not recognized as the Head of the Government and if electoral reforms are not introduced simultaneously. It has asked Sirisena not to yield to the UNP’s demand for a mid-term poll in June.
Meanwhile, many multi-million dollar development projects initiated by Rajapaksa have ground to a halt, partly due to a policy paralysis and partly due to investigations into corrupt deals. Ministers constantly contradict each other. Hopes of employment generation have dimmed. The promised lowering of prices has not happened. And Rajapaksa shines in contrast as a decisive leader, whose regime, though corrupt, delivered.