The formation of a National Government has been one of the most talked about subjects in the last couple of weeks. While there has been no official statement from the United National Party (UNP) as to the reason for its efforts to form a National Government, from the public statements of some UNPers as well [...]


Move to form National Govt. a reflection of the country’s decadent political culture


The formation of a National Government has been one of the most talked about subjects in the last couple of weeks. While there has been no official statement from the United National Party (UNP) as to the reason for its efforts to form a National Government, from the public statements of some UNPers as well as political observers, it seems the main purpose of such an exercise is to persuade some SLFPers to join the Government.

It seems that, these SLFPers will not extend their support unless and until they are accommodated in the Cabinet. To do so, the number of available Cabinet slots has to be increased, which can only be done if a National Government is formed in accordance with the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The provisions of the 19th Amendment provide for a maximum of 30 Ministerial positions and a maximum of 40 non-Cabinet and Deputy Ministers. If a National Government within the meaning of the 19th Amendment is formed, Parliament has the power to permit the expansion of the Cabinet to a number beyond 30, and the non-Cabinet and Deputy Ministers to a number beyond 40.

In usual political parlance, a National Government is formed when a country is faced with a crisis situation like a war and all available National Resources have to be harnessed, so that the crisis can be addressed in the most effective manner. However, the 19th Amendment has given a new meaning to the phrase “National Government”. This was done in the aftermath of the January 8, 2015, change, when the unprecedented situation of the two main parties having to work together to implement an accelerated program of work may have prompted such a provision.

But, even at that time, whether there was a need to appoint 30 Ministers was a moot point. Even for the two leaders in Government, the more Ministers they appointed the more time and energy they had to expend to manage their Ministers.

Ironically, when this provision in the 19th Amendment came into effect, some of the beneficiaries were those who worked against President Maitripala Sirisena and his policies at the January 8, 2015, Presidential Elections.

After becoming Ministers, many of them worked to undermine or derail the Yahapalana government’s programme of work, using these same Ministerial portfolios.

Today, with only about 8 or 9 months to go before the Presidential Election process commences, there does not seem to be the same need to have an expanded Cabinet, from a programme implementation perspective.

The question has also arisen from many, whether we need a large Cabinet to run the country. Parliamentarian S.B. Dissanayake, in a statement reported in the Daily Mirror on Friday (8), has pointed out that, China with a population of 1.3 billion people, has only 31 Ministers, the United States has 15 Ministers, and India with a population of 1.2 billion people has only 24 Cabinet Ministers.

He also compared the numbers in Sri Lanka’s Governments immediately after Independence. He pointed out that the Cabinet of D.S. Senanayake had only 18 Ministers, Dudley Senanayake had 19 Ministers, Sir John Kotelawela had 17 Ministers, S.W. R.D. Bandaranaike had 18 Ministers and Sirimavo Bandaranaike had 16 Ministers.

Currently, a substantial part of governance has been devolved to the Provincial Councils, which themselves have a total of 45 Ministers, considerably reducing the share of the responsibility of governance in the Central Government.

The other reason that is being speculated upon, as the reason for forming a so called National Government is to muster sufficient numbers in Parliament to support the Budget and other Legislation to be presented. Those who are likely to cross over and support the Government will do so only if they are appointed as Ministers.

Even though this demand of the would-be crossovers is unethical, opportunistic and unprincipled, it is unlikely to be critical. The very fact that such support is available, only in return for Ministerial positions, indicates it is unprincipled and not policy based and therefore, not reliable.

Besides, unless the UNP section of the Government does something drastically unacceptable, the TNA and JVP are not likely to vote against such Legislation. In the worst case scenario, they are likely to abstain.

In such a situation, any Legislation presented by the UNP section of the Government is likely to be passed.

During the 51-day Constitutional crisis which the country faced in the last three months of 2018, these potential crossovers did not take a stand, unlike SLFPers such as Vijithamuni de Soyza, A.H.M. Fowzie and Piyasena Gamage, who were prepared to stand up and be counted when the country was faced with the unprecedented political impasse.

Those who have offered to cross over today, in return for Ministerial portfolios, preferred to remain with the new Government appointed by President Maitripala Sirisena on October 26,2018, and continue to enjoy their Ministerial positions. In such a circumstance, offering Cabinet portfolios to them will in no way add to the quality of Governance, but instead, reward those who backed the Constitutional coup.

When examined in this light, the politicians who promise to support a Government, only if they are offered Cabinet portfolios, rather than because they agreed with the policies of such a Government, is a reflection of the decadent political culture in the country.

Even at Parliamentary Elections, the current trend is for those aspiring to contest to obtain nomination from a political party through whom they can win the election, rather than with one whose policies they agree with. After the Elections, if the political party of his/her choice does not form the Government, the successful candidate will have no scruples in crossing over to the Government side, and even extract a Ministerial portfolio.

This would be a clear violation of the mandate given by the voter, who would have elected him only as a candidate of the political party from which he stood for election. But this does not bother opportunistic politicians, who number quite a few today.

In the Daily Mirror report referred to above, S.B. Dissanayake blamed former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva for the current crisis in the country’s political field, for giving a ruling that MPs who cross over do not lose their Parliamentary seats.

This accusation against the former Chief Justice has been repeated many times, but the remedy is very much in the hands of Parliament. If a simple enactment is adopted, which can restate the Law clearly that, for the avoidance of doubt, any person who leaves the political party from which he was elected to Parliament shall forthwith cease to be a Member of Parliament.

In other words, to use a phrase popularized by Amnesty International, “it is better to light a candle rather than curse the darkness”. (

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