COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), has unofficially decided not to claim any place in the Council of Ministers to allow the distribution of slots to those MPs from the opposition United National Front (UNF) who may cross over to give the government a majority in parliament.
Revealing this on Wednesday, two informed source said that the SLPP has informally agreed to take portfolios only if there are vacancies.
“It is a sacrifice to attain the main objective of preventing the return of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government,” one source said.
According to SLPP sources parliament will meet, as declared by President Maitrhipala Sirisena, only on November 16.
This gives Sirisena and his newly appointed Prime Minister Rajapaksa time to garner support from willing MPs from the UNF.
So far, five United National Party (UNP) MPs have joined: Wijedasa Rajapakshe, Wasantha Senanayake, Dunesh Gankanda, Ananda Aluthgamage and Vadivel Suresh.
The Muslim parties are presently with the UNP-led UNF, but they could switch at any time, even at the last moment as they did before the January 2015 Presidential election.
It is learnt from reliable sources that Basil Rajapaksa, a brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa, is already talking to various MPs including Muslim MPs. It is learnt that some of the Muslim leaders have decided to sit on the fence and take a decision after watching the situation over a period of time.
The Indian Origin Tamil parties are currently with the UNF but could change over time as they have done in the past.
Muslim and Indian Origin Tamil parties have a habit of joining the government irrespective of the party in power and irrespective of the party they had been with in the elections.
They believe that they can care for their community constituency only if they are part of the government of the day.
As regards the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a party of Sri Lankan Tamils of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, it will not join any government but will support that government which promises to meet their constitutional and political demands.
At present, they are not inclined to support Rajapaksa because he had not met their demands when he was President from 2010 to January 2015.
According to a leader of the TNA, Rajapaksa had promised to solve all Tamil problems ,when he met the TNA recently. But the TNA was not inclined to swallow the bait, partly because they have to be seen to be fighting for Tamil rights to face the coming elections to the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils.
In the North, former Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran is posing a challenge to the TNA’s supremacy.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a radical left party of the South, will also not join any government. Both the TNA and JVP would, however, support or oppose the UNP-led UNF or the Rajapaksa coalition depending on the issue.
The UNF accuses the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine of trying to buy up MPs ,allegedly with Chinese money, a charge denied by the Chinese embassy in Colombo.
But supporters of the President and the Prime Minister say that loyalties of professional politicians are essentially based on their political interest and an assessment of political advantages and disadvantages of staying with or joining another group. The offer of money and positions is not guaranteed to sway MPs one way or the other, they point out.
However, what is certain is that every MP, no matter what the group he belongs to, is looking to complete his or her term which would end at the end of 2019. Therefore, all MPs are eager to form a government rather than go for the dissolution of parliament and mid term elections.
Therefore, every effort will be made by every MP to form a stable government now.
At the moment, the UNF, with TNA and JVP, has 123 MPs, and the Sirisena-Rajapaksa group has 100. To have majority in parliament, the Sirisena-Rajapaksa group needs 113. From now to November 15, the effort of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa group will be get 113 MPs.
If parliament Speaker succeeds in his effort to convince President Sirisena to lift the prorogation of parliament and call for a vote of confidence in the Rajapaksa government on November 2, it is likely that the block led by UNF alliance will win and the Rajapaksa government will have to quit.
But according to sources in the President’s camp, Sirisena will not change his decision to prorogue parliament till November 15. He made this very clear to the foreign envoys who met him on October 29.
The President’s camp also disputes the claim that the Speaker can unilaterally call for a parliamentary session. The argument that the President should go by the advice of the Speaker is also dismissed on the grounds that prorogation is the President’s prerogative.
The renowned British Constitutional theorist Erskine May in his ‘Parliamentary Practice’ states: “The prorogation of Parliament is a prerogative act of the Crown. Just as Parliament can commence its deliberations only at the time appointed by the Queen, so it cannot continue them any longer than she pleases.”
Lankan Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s present stance is to get the President himself to call off the prorogation of the House so that it can meet on November 2 to thrash out the issue of the dismissal of Ranil Wickremesinghe through a vote.
But he has indicated that he might consider the opinion of some lawyers that he can summon the House on his own. But if he did so, he might trigger a constitutional crisis of another kind.