When President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented the United Peoples Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA) 10th consecutive Budget to Parliament on October 24, a month ahead of the usual Budget period, it was obvious it was intended to win favour with voters at an early Presidential poll. What was not so obvious were the rumblings within the President’s own Party, which would spill over just days before the Budget was set for final approval.
The discontentment within the Ruling Party first came to light when two members of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), one of the UPFA’s constituent Parties, decided to stay away during the vote at the end of the Second Reading of the Budget. It did not seem more than a hiccup at the time, with the Budget being passed by a majority of 100 votes, 157 voting for and 57 against.
However, with the Third Reading of the Budget set for tomorrow, the recent high profile defections from the main constituent party of the UPFA, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by its General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, the vote may prove to be a close call for the Rajapaksa administration.
When Minister Sirisena was asked by journalists on Friday, how they intend to vote in Parliament on Monday, Mr Sirisena remained noncommittal. “We will decide that on Monday,” he told a journalist, after announcing that he was the joint Opposition’s common candidate to contest against the incumbent President at the January 8 Presidential poll.
However, going by his earlier assertion that many more were waiting on the wings to change allegiance, to join what is now a breakaway faction of the SLFP, the vote could prove decisive for the present administration.
Some of the disgruntlement among other Ministers within the Government also came to the fore during the course of the Budget debate. Minster of Land and Land Development Janaka Bandara Tennakoon did not try to hide his frustration with what was happening within his Party when he spoke on Friday. “The fault is that drug dealers, ethanol and alcohol dealers have now come into this August assembly. That is when this deterioration began. It is very unfortunate that we have to live through a time when such a political landscape is unfolding,” the Minister said.
Earlier in the week, there was no show by MP Champika Ranawaka when the votes of the Ministry of Technology and Research were taken for debate, since, by then, he had resigned from his ministerial post. On the same day, there was also no show by Minister of Public Management Reforms, Naveen Dissanayake, when the votes of his Ministry were under discussion in Parliament.
With the crucial vote on the final reading of Appropriation Bill 2015 set for Monday evening, more of the unfolding drama in the political arena is likely to be played out, this time around within the Chamber of the House.