Politics in Sri Lanka has always had elements of surprises and one such surprise is the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister handed to the Speaker of the House last week by the Joint Opposition (JO), is a ploy to destabilize the top heavy government that is struggling to function efficiently. In 2015 for the first time circumstances compelled these two major political parties that constantly compete with each other to form a coalition government in alliance with few fragmented political parties. In the past the UNP and SLFP have always been in competition for political power and while in power their priorities were to demolish the other before the next election; with welfare of their voters given low priority. Even if the no-confidence motion is defeated the Prime Minister and the coalition Unity Government will continue governing the country with the same mindset that has beset successive governments before them, which never ruled the whole country preventing good governance ever taking place.
Earlier, the President on winning the presidential election in January 2015, as the common candidate automatically became the SLFP leader as per his party constitution and after the general election in August 2015 with an unusual coalition of the two leading rival parties UNP and SLFP formed a new coalition government called ‘Unity Government’. It is widely accepted that the President becoming the leader of SLFP weakened the coalition and the internal fissures that developed caused a split in the SLFP party. The broke away dissent fragment with the former President self-demoted as member of parliament moved to sit in opposition naming itself ‘Joint Opposition’ (JO); while the rest stayed on to expand the voting strength of the coalition in Parliament. From then onwards, this fraction of the SLFP began to oppose quite openly the UNP branch to weaken the new government. Their strategy, was initially stomached by the President and eventually as the investigation by a Presidential Commission brought to light involvement of some in the UNP on Bond Scam became unbridgeable. With this misfortune within the UNP-SLFP coalition government and splitting of the SLFP into two rival camps has prevented the government not to capitalise on UNP and SLFP formed ‘Unity Government’, caused by the indecision on the part of the President and the Prime Minister to execute the mandate given to them.
Of the three leaders the President lacks the support of the Colombo social or economic elites, is considered by them as an outsider with limited resources compared to the Former President and the Prime Minister. Former President too initially had this disadvantage, but within a few years in power, overcame all the disadvantages by establishing very close links with Colombo’s business, industrial, and financial elites through an elaborate network of patron-client benefits and has outclassed his Colombo rival the Prime Minister. The new economic and social elites, loved the former President and his SLFP and very much disliked the Prime Minister and his UNP, before the wind of change in 2015 blew in the Unity Government; now they look at the President’s renewed campaign against corruption with a great deal of anxiety, as their attitude to corruption and governance is not guided by moral principles. This was not a surprise as they profited under the previous government and were well assisted by the state officials. In fact, when the government changed in 2015 the state officials most of them were loyal to the former President remained intact and continued to respect politicians and served them better at the expense of the people, the Bond Scam illustrates this clearly. Further, a recent incident illustrate further the relationship between the state officials and the politicians, where the Colombo Zonal Education office issued a letter to the Principals of Colombo schools to give due respect for Parliamentarians and PC members who attend to special school functions and the principals were bound to give Members of Parliament due respect when they attended such events. By ordering Principals to respect politicians, the politicized move by the Education office reflects the mindset of the State officials, especially in the wake of the controversy reported earlier of a Chief Minister, who allegedly used abusive language and forced a female Principal of a school to kneel down to him.
In fact, the JO has been leading the government by their nose as seen in the past three years and people waited in vain for the resolution of major issues such as putting an end to corruption that has become a way of life in the state, reforms needed to lift the productivity for sustainable economic growth in the country, providing an all-inclusive New Constitution and last but not least the pledge made at the general election in 2015 to scrap the Executive Presidency system introduced in 1978. The biggest failure of the Unity Government was not meeting the commitments made to UNHRC in spite of getting a two years period extension to resolve all the issues of the families affected directly by the civil-war.
Perhaps the no-confidence motion is a blessing in disguise for the Unity Government and could be considered as a booster bout following the first dose melted out to them at the LG Polls by the people last month. The government accepting that their indecision is their worst enemy; must change its mindset immediately and at least in the next eighteen months make an attempt to meet their commitments made to the people in 2015 and become the first government since independence to rule the whole country or face the usual pattern of events and get defeated at the next election in 2020.