Featured image courtesy VCG Photo

Hard on the heels of the local government elections, the Joint Opposition (JO) emboldened by the unexpectedly robust performance of their nascent political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), popularly known as the “Pohottuwa” has sought to leverage that result into destabilising the ruling coalition at the center. The chosen battle ground has been Parliament and the modus operandi is a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister. Now Parliament reflects the electoral verdict of August 2015 and especially the subsequent divergent views within the former ruling UPFA, with half its group making up the JO in opposition, while half are in the governing coalition. Accordingly, in Parliament, the JO has only about 55 members and hence has seemingly a tough challenge to get the required numbers for a simple majority of 113. The key parliamentary blocs to watch in the numbers game, would be of course the SLFP group in government, of which three members have already signed the no confidence motion, the sixteen-member TNA group and the six member JVP group. While some vocal members of the SLFP in Government, particularly Minister SB Dissanayake is on record stating that the SLFP has no reason to oppose the no confidence motion, whether the entire SLFP group in government would en-bloc oppose their coalition partner is doubtful given the consequences of such a course of action.

The TNA which generally distances itself from political intrigues and palace coups in the South needs only to abstain, for the no confidence motion to fail. The dark horse or unknown variable in the entire exercise is of course the UNP parliamentary group itself, with a few muted rumblings within its ranks, given voice from the rather unexpected quarter of Kurunegala District MP, Ranga Bandara, who claims that up to two dozen UNP MPs will desert their leader. Given that all attempts to get even one UNP MP to sign the motion was unsuccessful, this claim is likely more wishful than real. However, a Parliamentary numbers game is quite often like the glorious uncertainties of a T20 cricket match, though the outcome has much more serious consequences. However, we shall all know the result on April 4.

Driving the current political dynamics is the politics of the 2020 election cycle, yet more than one and a half years away. While an undivided focus on the next election is obvious and understandable for an opposition, as the losers in an election, it is an unsuitable focus for a government. The Government is far better off focusing and seeking to deliver on what the people voted them into office for, namely to implement their mandate. In numerous conversations this columnist has had with many stakeholders, activists, supporters and sympathisers of the good governance administration and the rainbow coalition, a common thread of thought has been that the LG election results were a reflection on the fact that the Government is seen as having not delivered sufficiently on the pledges it has made and the promises it gave in 2015. The three pillars on which this government was elected, namely economic, democratic and reconciliation reforms have all moved forward, but as the electorate so eloquently stated, progress has been quite inadequate.

The Government should consider some pragmatic measures to bring about a rebound in their popularity ratings.  The real solution to the government’s lacklustre performance in the polls would be a recommitment to its key principles and to move forward with a fresh impetus and below are some suggestions.

  1. A new one hundred (100) day program, implemented effectively including the key unfinished business, before the forthcoming provincial council elections may be in order.
  2. Economic growth has been anaemic, with growth levels below the war time average. With an eye on the impending election cycle and accommodating the time lag of policy measures on the real economy, the government should fairly quickly move into significant populist and welfare measures including fertiliser and other agricultural subsidies as well as state sector recruitment. The fiscal slippage can be minimised, though not eliminated through increased revenue from measures in the new Inland Revenue Act and deferment and phased out implementation of capital projects.
  3. The corruption and rights abuse allegations against the previous Rajapakse Administration was a key aspect of the 2015 elections. It has certainly been a mystery to the 6.2 million Sri Lankans who voted for President Sirisena, why no progress has been made on the Thajudeen murder, the Avant Garde case, the MIG deal, the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder among many other crimes, corruption and abuses committed during the Rajapakse years. The robustness of the investigation of the bond issue, which to the credit of the government, has with justice issues like charity, begun at home, has not been matched by investigations and indictments on the numerous allegations against the previous regime. Field Marshall Fonseka has been and is still making a strong claim to be given the law and order portfolio to pursue with more vigour, the misdeeds of the past. While a military background is not directly police or law and order related, he is the most immune from the political calculations and external influences which can otherwise be brought to bear on the situation. In our national pastime of cricket, when a bowler is not taking wickets, the captain makes a bowling change. Similarly, during the past three years, regarding corruption and abuse of power, except for the former Presidential secretary convicted on the misuse of TRC funds, no other convictions were secured and few indictments made.  Minister Sagala Ratnayake took the gentleman’s high road and stepped aside. It is perhaps time to give the war winning army commander, a new challenge to launch a two-year war on corruption, past and present.

Playing the same notes on a musical instrument, only produces the same old music as in the past. It is time for something different to achieve the unfinished tasks of the good governance promises of 2015.