It has been reported that the Joint Opposition (JO) and the youngest political party the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramua (SLPP) whose de-facto leader is the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa [MR] has handed over a No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the Prime Minister from the UNP/ UNFGG on Wednesday March 21, 2018 signed by 54 members of the JO /SLPP as well as 3 Junior Ministers of the SLFP/UPFA. It was surprising that the former President who was the prime “mover and shaker” of the NCM had not signed.
The reasons given by the JO/SLPP members are very flimsy and does not hold ground. There are some schools of thought the former President will not even participate at the debate on the NCM now fixed by the Speaker for April 4, 2018. Since the handing over of the NCM by the JO/SLPP there has been a lot of articles published in the local and foreign print media and the worst is the partisan attitude taken by the electronic media as well as web sites some of which are unreliable and speculates on the “Numbers game”.I thought of writing this article to highlight the inconsistency of the media as well as speculation on the outcome of the NCM.
SEATS OBTAINED BY PARTIES – January 15, 2015
GENERAL ELECTION – AUGUST 17, 2015
The above election was held 10 months before the scheduled date and the results were as follows:
United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) -106 Seats
United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UNFPA) – 95 Seats
Tamil National Alliance
(TNA) -16 Seats
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
(JVP) – 6 Seats
Lanka Muslim Congress
(LMC) -1 Seat
(EPDP) -1 Seat
TOTAL -225 Seats
The UPFA lost 49 seats as compared to 2010 elections whereas the UFGG gained 46 seats from 60 in 2010.
Accordingly it is evident that UNP which is the major party of the UFGG was at an advantage by convincing the President to support them as it gained 46 seats and the UPFA/SLFP led by MR lost 49 seats. However the number of polling divisions won by the UPFA was more than the UFGG. The President did not address any political rally of both sides but made statements that even if MR wins the election, he will not be able to be the PM by forming a UPFA/SLFP government.
It must now be stated that the President according the media is soliciting the support of MR to remove his own PM. Another undemocratic move by the President made was to appoint members of the UPFA/SLFP as ministers who lost the general election in 2015 and this move was not accepted by the majority of the people.
The election was under the PR system and this trend was reversed under the mixed ward system (past the post) and the PR where the SLPP swept the polls almost capturing over 70 per cent of the Urban and Municipal Councils as well as the Pradeshiya Sabas.
CAMPAIGN FOR AND AGAINST NCM
From the day the no-confidence motion was announced, the majority of the local electronic and print media started a vicious campaign against the PM. The daily newspapers as well as the TV stations both in Sinhala and English were very active in accusing the PM of incompetence and deliberately protecting the former Central Bank [CB] Governor on the biggest scam ever namely the bond scam. Some senior ministers of the UNP are also accused of aiding and abetting this major fraud. A former Finance Minister had to resign as he is supposed to have been given a luxury apartment free of charge by the perpetrators of the recent Bond Scam. There were counter allegations about the another CB Governor during the previous regime who had been involved in worst financial frauds such as Greek Bonds and hedging on crude oil purchases.
The game of accusing the present and previous regime goes on and a number of MPs who have signed the NCM are also accused of fraud and misappropriation of government funds that have affected the poor masses according the local media.
We also have pundits who at the drop of a hat call press conferences to explain the faults of the PM especially the callous way the economy is handled .Some of these pundits are not even have passed high school and are not graduates. The major accusation of the critics of the PM is that he lost various elections 30 times since 1994.
The Sri Lankans are used to listening to these vociferous MPs and believe whatever they say is gospel truth!
I must stress that a particular English Channel devotes over half its time to prime time news bulletin attacking the PM and some feel that it is due to the displeasure of the Channel on personal grounds. The irony of it is that a Sinhala TV channel who is supposed to have got a contract to carry out an election campaign of the UNP has now turned tables on the PM and follows the English Channel is accusing the PM and virtually getting him to throw the towel.
There is also a number of government MPs from the UPFA as well as the SLFP aspiring for the PMs Chair as the former President is supposed to have assured the President that he will be able to continue under a PM from his party or another from the UNP for the next two years. A vociferous member of the JO has even told the Speaker that he will be “winning a sweep ticket” on the 4 April when the JO/SLPP is successful in ousting the present PM. I was surprised to what depth these unscrupulous politicians can go to capture political power in Sri Lanka!
A number of SLFP/UPFA ministers and MPs are keeping the common man in suspense and say that they will decide on voting for /against the NCM after it is tabled in Parliament on April 4. The members of the UNP are confident that the NCM will be defeated but again the people are kept on the loop by the media saying that a number of UNP MPs will vote to oust the PM. An unreliable web site puts the number as high as 24 and also gives the names of 6 members who will vote for the NCM.
NUMBERS GAME TO REMOVE PM
Many political commentators who interview constitutional experts give various interpretations on the removal of the PM. One group says that what are needed are only 113 MPs to vote for the NCM out of 225 in Parliament. However, all MPs should be present at the time of voting and there is provision for some MPs to abstain.
With the UNFGG commanding 106 votes (provided everyone will vote including the JHU and MC and the nominated MPs) the JO/SLPP with the present SLFP/UPFA has to muster an additional 18 MPs from the JVP and the TC. In the event both the TC and JVP vote for the NCM, it will go up to 95 + 18 which will come up to the magic number and the Jackpot 113!
It is very unlikely the TC will vote for the NCM and if they abstain from voting my understating is that the number 113 cannot be reached unless 17 members of the UNFGG will vote for the NCM.
BUYING MPs FROM UNP, JO, SLPP, UPFA, SLFP
Some web sites are reporting that the stakes of buying MPs have gone up to Rs. 5 -10 million. Since most of our MPs will not turn a blind eye to such financial gain it is most probable that these stories are true. On the other hand it keeps the people on their toes and guessing as what would happen on April 4.
LEGAL PROVISION TO REMOVE PM UNDER 19A
Some legal experts who are conversant in interpreting the constitution and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution categorically state that the PM cannot be removed by the President or by bringing a NCM in Parliament against him. Some of these experts say that the PM can be removed by a simple majority. I am of the view that the PM should resign if the NCM is passed with a simple majority. Again the people are kept in suspense by the media and the JO and SLPP MPs who are enjoying immunity of Parliament as well as the perks keep on slandering the PM and other ministers of the present government in and outside the Parliament.
Legally there is another argument that if the NCM is passed the entire government will have to resign and this is where the rub is as the former President is eagerly waiting to be the PM and make his brother the next Presidential candidate and the great family rule will be back in business!
I strongly feel that the NCM whichever way it goes, is a major distraction to the people who are suffering from lack of water for drinking and cultivation, sky-rocketing food prices and issues of having effective medical attention in government hospitals, proper schools with trained teachers furniture, uniforms etc. The ordinary people also suffer from environmental pollution and inhales toxic gases due to heavy traffic congestion. Instead of bringing a NCM to blame the PM, I feel that the opposition should be more constructive in helping the present government which will last for only another 18 months to help to alleviate the masses from abject poverty.
My conclusion is that the majority of politicians both from the opposition and the government are only serving themselves and do not accept the fact that they are the servants of the masses. In fact Sri Lankan politics is dirty to the core and no educated individual honest and truthful will embark into this mire due to the disrespect he/she will get due to the behaviour of the majority of politicians who are mostly corrupt and deceitful.
I hope we will have more respectful and honest politicians whom the ordinary people will look up to solve their day to day burning problems practising gentlemanly politics even in the next decade!!!
The writer is a retired United Nations ESCAP Officer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org