Winners and losers
The Joint Opposition (JO) suffered a painful pratfall on Wednesday night, when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe defeated its no-confidence motion. The UNP, however, in spite of its rhetoric and braggadocio, did not expect a comfortable win with a majority of 46. Its desperation knew no bounds.
Else, it wouldn’t have gone to the extent of securing the TNA’s support, which has come with strings attached.
PM Wickremesinghe has proved that he commands the confidence of the majority of MPs and, therefore, he has a right to remain in his current post. The JO and all those who sought his removal ought to come to terms with reality and act responsibly. It was wrong for President Maithripala Sirisena to sack the UPFA government after winning the last presidential election in 2015 and appoint Wickremesinghe the PM though the UNP had only 46 seats in Parliament at that time.
Similarly, the JO shouldn’t try to dislodge the present government on the basis of local government results.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is in seventh heaven. Defeating the no-faith motion with a comfortable majority was no mean achievement. But, the fact remains that the main constituent of the yahapalana government, the UPFA/SLFP, has not reposed its confidence in the PM. The SLFP group first asked him to quit. Subsequently, on Wednesday out of 39 SLFP MPs in the yahapalana government, 23 abstained and 16 voted for the JO’s motion of no confidence. Among those who voted against the PM were Cabinet ministers. The SLFP group should have voted in favour of the PM en bloc if they actually had confidence in him. Abstention cannot be considered an expression of faith in the PM.
The JO, in its wisdom, provided the UNP in disarray with a rallying point in the form of the no-faith motion, which, however, yielded some benefits it didn’t bargain for. The abortive attempt to oust the PM caused a rift in the Sirisena faction of the SLFP, which lost 16 of its prominent members, who voted with the JO for the no-confidence motion. They know which way the wind blows. The motion of no confidence provided them with an opportunity to pledge solidarity with the JO/SLPP, which beat the living daylights out of the SLFP at the local government polls in February.
That President Sirisena himself wanted the PM to resign though he stopped short of asking his MPs to vote for the no-faith motion is only too well known. A request to that effect, endorsed by him, was made to the PM at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. Now, the President has had to work with the PM, whom he and his party deemed unfit to hold office!
President Sirisena has lost his bargaining power in the government to a considerable extent. It may not be possible for the UNP to coalesce with the TNA to form a government without the SLFP. But, the UNP can depend on the TNA to prop it up if it ever decides to break ranks with the SLFP and form a minority government. There is also the likelihood of some of the UPFA MPs, who abstained on Wednesday defecting to the UNP, in such an eventuality.
Meanwhile, Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, taking part in Wednesday’s parliamentary debate, put up a sturdy defence of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and voted against the no-confidence motion, which alleges that the latter was involved in bond scams. It was this particular allegation that compelled President Sirisena to remove the Central Bank from the purview of the PM and place it under the Finance Ministry again. The question is how advisable it is to expect the incumbent Finance Minister, who is defending the PM to the hilt, to act independently anent the bond scam probes and audits in the Central Bank. There is also no guarantee that the UNP will stop interfering with that institution. The President’s wisdom of having placed the Central Bank under the Finance Ministry with a UNP minister at the helm stands questioned. How does Sirisena propose to remedy the situation?