Land of two PMs and MPs on auction, what next ?

29 October 2018 - 1071   - 1

For those who have read history and how Adolf Hitler sent his SS storm-troopers to strong arm their way into Germany’s state apparatus, here was history repeating itself in Sri Lanka.


By Arthul Perera

For those who have read history and how Adolf Hitler sent his SS storm-troopers to strong arm their way into Germany’s state apparatus, here was history repeating itself in Sri Lanka.

Supporters of the Sri Lanka Podujana (People’s) Party stormed into state media institutions on Friday night and other strategic locations the next morning after President Maithripala Sirisena surprised the nation by appointing his public enemy number one Mahinda Rajapaka as his Prime Minister ditching his PM since 2015 Ranil Wickremesinghe with nary a word to the latter.

With the switch SLPP supporters were unleashed to wrest physical control of strategic state institutions, the media being priority number one. The Wickremesinghe camp called it an unconstitutional coup. 

Fortunately, the armed forces and police have kept away from the political theatrics. “We will obey legal orders” said the Army top brass. The President is Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief.

It was a power grab in every sense. But it’s not over. PM Wickremesinghe remains in situ at Temple Trees, the official residence of the PM while PM Rajapaksa today took charge of the PM’s office not far away. The situation was funny if not dangerous. A country with two PMs is rarely heard of.

PM Wickremesinghe’s UNP has taken their case to the Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya, a UNPer himself. Speaker Jayasuriya has written to the President saying until proved otherwise he recognizes Wickremesinghe as the MP who commands the majority of the House.

That Rajapaksa does not have a majority in Parliament is obvious. The reason for President Sirisena suspending Parliament till November 16 was to give Rajapaksa time for horse trading. 

Members of Parliament have become an auction - like buying horses in the old days. By November 16 or thereabouts the highest bidder will be known. Both sides are not without cash to dole out. MPs who might feel their days are numbered and have little chance of winning the next election are most vulnerable - or susceptible or more to the point, willing accomplices.

Why both President Sirisena and PM Rajapaksa could not wait another month to defeat the scheduled budget is a question buzzing among the public. Such a defeat of the government budget automatically brings down the sitting PM and there would be no constitutional issue. The fact is that Rajapaksa doesn’t have the numbers yet to do that. He came a cropper on an earlier occasion even PM Wickremesinghe won a no confidence motion by a canter.

Till November 16 there will be a hiatus. Government departments will not know whose orders to take, and which ones will be deemed illegal. Public servants will be in a state of animated suspension. In the traditional new year period (April) there is an auspicious time called ‘Nonagathey’ meaning a period of no work. It seems that period has gone a second time in 2018.

The UNP seems reluctant to take matters to the Supreme Court. There are valid reasons for this reluctance. Taking  matters to the street is an option, but while the UNP is considerably strong in the capital of Colombo due to minority support, the rural areas are with Rajapaksa, who to them can do no wrong.

Till then there will be a powder keg situation. It nearly flared up on Sunday when World Cup winning cricketer turned Minister of Petroleum Arjuna Ranatunga was manhandled by Rajapaksa unionists resulting in one of them bring shot dead by Ranatunga’s security. The politician who shed his cricketing flannels to don the national dress had to change into police para military uniform - gloves and helmet inclusive, to slip out of the premises in disguise. He later said the rowdy crowd wanted to kill him.

Things could turn nasty in Colombo tomorrow if the UNP stick to their promise to bring in their supporters in a show of mass support for their party.

Moves to smoke out PM Wickremesinghe from Temple Trees are already afoot. The Sirisena Administration has slashed Wickremesinghe’s security detail and are planning to cut off water and power supply to the PM’s official residence.

In the meantime, PM Wickremesinghe remains holed up there with his close allies holding press conferences and religious ceremonies. The stand off continues and where and how it will give way remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the International Community is watching developments eagerly. The Chinese ambassador was the first envoy who got private audiences with both prime ministers within 24 hours of the saving of Wickremesinghe and installation of Rajapaksa raising more than a few eye brows at his productivity.

India took till Sunday to issue a guarded statement merely calling for the country’s Constitution to be adhered to. Diplomatic observers believe India would prefer Wickremesinghe in the PM’s seat (because China prefers Rajapaksa), but would not want to burn its boats with Rajapaksa either.

  Comments - 1

  • Janathawa Tuesday, 20 November 2018 07:25 PM

    First President to go home one hour after appointing the next PM.

    Reply : 0       0

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