The August 17 election was called by President Maithripala Sirisena when it became obvious that the minority government imposed on the country as a result of an electoral pact between the President and the main opposition group UNP was no longer tenable.
The convoluted electoral arrangement between the President and Ranil Wickremasinhe had created a weird and dysfunctional political creature. At the time of dissolution, the majority of MPs in Parliament belonged to the President’s coalition, UPFA (not the UNP). Under normal circumstances, given the fact that the President was the Chairman of the UPFA, one would have expected the President to lead the UPFA at the election. Former President Rajapaksa’s decision to push the envelope by contesting the election under the UPFA banner forced President Sirisena to take a public stand on the issue. It is suffice to say that the President lost his sense of equanimity and became openly hostile to the candidacy of his predecessor.
President Sirisena was keen to get the ball rolling in a more definitive manner. Instead of settling for a simple majority to get through the day, Sirisena has forced his alliance to throw their support for a UNP led national government. We are starting to see the cost of this cohabitation
The election ended in a stalemate with the UNP ending up with 106 MP’s but short of a majority by 7. UPFA came in a close second with 95 seats.
Since the UNP was a mere 7 MPs shy of a majority, the easiest way forward (at least in the short term) would have been to get a commitment from 7 MPs from the other side of the aisle. The 19th amendment to the constitution prohibits the dissolution of the parliament till it has served a minimum of 4 ½ years. That is a fair amount of time to work the political angels. While technically the head of the UPFA, Sirisena had quite clearly indicated his preference to see the return of Ranil Wickramasinghe as Prime Minister prior to the vote on August 17. Even if the overwhelming majority of the UPFA MPs were hostile to Sirisena, surely the President who is the Chairman of both the SLFP and the UPFA could count on the support of 7 out of the 95 to throw their lot with the UNP; the party of choice of their Chairman?
Well, it didn’t quite go that way. President Sirisena was keen to get the ball rolling in a more definitive manner. Instead of settling for a simple majority to get through the day, Sirisena has forced his alliance to throw their support for a UNP led national government. We are starting to see the cost of this cohabitation.
Sirisena who promised to do away with the cesspit of corrupt and undemocratic practices of the Rajapaksa regime has jumped headlong into that same cesspit. The man who got elected selling a deal made in heaven seems poised to take the country on a path of self-destruction and evil doing.
The cabinet is currently at 48, but the count is still on. That number does not include the State Ministers and Deputy Ministers. At this rate, we may have to rename the Parliament and call it the Assembly of Ministers and Deputies. Ranil Wickramasinghe is on course to becoming the Prime Minister of world’s first Dinosaur Cabinet.
The blame for this obnoxious state of affairs rests squarely at the feet of President Sirisena. Sirisena may have won the Presidential election in January, but has failed miserably at building a base to carry out his proclamations of good governance. Sirisena for all practical purposes is a man without a political party or more importantly, a loyal political base. Sirisena’s candidacy was manipulated into place by his political Dutch Aunt Chandrika Kumaratunga. That was more than 7 months ago. A man of Sirisena’s experience should have realized the precariousness of his position when he took office. Sirisena must have known that he had to mend the political fences he had destroyed at the earliest.
Regrettably, that is not the path chosen by Sirisena. Instead of reaching out to his doubters, President Sirisena has chosen a path of subterfuge that was ill-thought out and ill executed. Even worse, Sirisena seems to have handed the hatchet job to Kumaratunga; a woman consumed by her hatred of all things Rajapaksa and a person of dubious integrity and loyalties. Sirisena has given into the venal demands of political charlatans to prop up his Prime Minister and is getting dragged closer to the UNP vortex and his effectiveness is inextricably tied to a UNP led government.
Sirisena presidency has been marked by indecisions, poor decisions and the lack of personal courage. Sirisena has become a vassal of venality. Fortunately for Sirisena his Presidency is still in its infancy and he can reverse the downward spiral of his government if he finds the political and personal courage to take actions that are unpleasant, but are in the best interests of the country.