The local government elections scheduled for February 10 has been welcomed for more reasons than one. Firstly it will bring to an end the vacuum in political leadership at what is increasingly being seen as the third tier of government. It has also led to the introduction of a new electoral system replacing the much [...]


SLFP-UNP rivalry poses threat to Yahapalana Govt.


The local government elections scheduled for February 10 has been welcomed for more reasons than one. Firstly it will bring to an end the vacuum in political leadership at what is increasingly being seen as the third tier of government. It has also led to the introduction of a new electoral system replacing the much maligned manape system. The experience of the working of the new electoral system will help in no small measure in determining the shape of the electoral reforms to be introduced at parliamentary level elections.

So far the reforms being implemented at the local government level have resulted in several positive features coming into play. A drop in election violence, reduction in election-related expenditure by candidates and confining of the campaign by candidates to defined wards within a local body are a few of the benefits to candidates and voters alike. Yet, as pointed out in this column on previous occasions, there are several shortcomings which will have to be looked at after February 10.

What is of serious concern, however, is the impact that the local government election campaign is having on the declared objectives of the Yahapalana Government. The criticism of each other by the two major ruling parties on the election platforms will put a strain on the relationship between the SLFP and the UNP and their journey towards the achievement of the Yahapalana goals.

At the best of times, coalition politics is difficult to manage given the difference in the policies of like-minded political parties. In the case of the National Unity Government the two major constituent parties have a decades-old history of intense political rivalry that poses a challenge to the smooth running of Government.

When one adds to this the situation brought about by what is increasingly becoming an election campaign that is escalating into a no-holds-barred political battle, it is clear that the continuation of the Yahapalana Government has been placed in great jeopardy.

That such a situation would be created by the SLFP and the UNP contesting separately was not difficult to predict.

The likelihood of a threat to the continued existence of this Government in such an eventuality was described in this column on November 26, 2017 as follows:

“The second challenge facing the Yahapalana Government is how the two main constituent parties are going to face the local council elections. Already the cracks are beginning to show in the Government with parliamentarians in the UNP and SLFP criticising each other on public platforms. A highly contested election campaign in which the UNP and the SLFP are pitted will result in the criticism of each other reaching higher levels and can render the continued existence of the National Unity Government more difficult after the elections.”

“None of the constituents of the National Unity Government has the moral right to jeopardise the future of this Government by contesting the local council elections separately. The President and the Prime Minister need to iron out the misunderstandings between the parties and move forward.

“The National Interest demands that the SLFP faction of the Government and the UNP contest the local council elections as one front like the January 8, 2015 election.” (Sunday Times- November 26, 2017 ).

It would not be far wrong to say that this is neither an SLFP nor UNP Government. It is a Government that was the result of a process initiated and inspired by a civil society effort led by the late Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and the National Movement for Social Justice which he founded .

The Government headed by President Maitripala Sirisena has already brought about some of the changes pledged by the Yahapalana Government. Yet there is a great deal of unfinished business to complete.

President Maithripala Sirisena together with the UNP and other civil society organisations promised the people that the Executive Presidency would be abolished, a new constitution would be enacted, the problems of the minorities would be resolved , those guilty of corruption would be punished, new anti-corruption measures would be adopted and democracy would be strengthened. These are but a few of the tasks that the Government has yet to complete.

Neither President Sirisena nor Prime Minister Wickremesinghe nor their parties have the right to change the direction the people of this country chose for themselves on January 8, 2015. It is worth repeating that the Yahapalana Government has a great deal of unfinished business to complete.

It is necessary that the President and Prime Minister work on damage control measures to save the Government from falling apart. Internal mechanisms to discuss and resolve differences between the parties have to be put in place and discussion of such differences on public platforms has to be prevented.

The two parties have also to come to terms with the fact that they have to share the bouquets and brickbats thrown at the Government. One party cannot lay claim to the achievements of the Government while blaming the other party for any shortcomings. The Government needs to talk in one voice on all matters if progress is to be achieved with regard to the pledges it made to the people at the January 8, 2015 Presidential election.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the Government has been its prevarication on important matters of governance. An accelerated plan of action has to be implemented to ensure that time does not run out on the Government with regard to implementing the Yahapalana pledges. Once a decision on any matter is made the Government must be prepared to publicly defend such decision while ensuring its speedy implementation.

It would be a national tragedy if the mistakes of the present Government pave the way for the return of the forces that were defeated at the last Presidential election. The National Unity Government need not wait until 2020 to fulfill the Yahapalana objectives. If they could complete it by 2019 or even 2018 the people will not mind them going their separate ways after they can truly say to themselves “mission accomplished”.


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