One of the main reasons for the Yahapalana Government struggling to govern in the second half of its term in office is that, there are no Rules of Engagement (RoE) that govern the relationship between the President and the UNP. Having been at loggerheads over the years, the differences between the SLFP and the UNP [...]


Contrasting styles of the President and the PM


One of the main reasons for the Yahapalana Government struggling to govern in the second half of its term in office is that, there are no Rules of Engagement (RoE) that govern the relationship between the President and the UNP.

Having been at loggerheads over the years, the differences between the SLFP and the UNP had filtered down to their respective supporters, and it is only to be expected that it would not be easy to rebuild relations overnight.

One reason for the absence of RoE was that the Yahapalana Alliance was a hastily put together grouping to face the Presidential Elections of January 2015 and consequently, there was no time to attend to this matter

However, the Yahapalana constituents should have, at least, done this soon after the January 8, 2015. This would have minimised the clashes among themselves and made the task of government that much easier.

Major issues have arisen at the leadership level of Government due to policy differences. Shifting loyalties on the part of the President, who has been attempting to build a political base for himself after taking over the leadership of the SLFP, has further aggravated such differences

Another factor that contributed to the schisms within Government was that the President was being influenced openly and not so openly, to move away from the Yahapalana ideals, by those who had joined the Government post January 8, 2015, after working to defeat him and his programme at the Presidential Elections. One clear instance was S.B. Dissanayake’s repeated statements that the President would have to abide by the decision of the SLFP Central Committee, on the question of the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

When these policy contradictions were emerging, the President and Prime Minister (PM) should have moved quickly to set up mechanisms to address these differences in policy and aim at presenting a common position to the public, on various policy issues.

The failure to do so caused irreparable damage to the goodwill that existed between the two parties at the time of the Presidential Elections. While the UNP and the PM always acknowledged the leadership of the President in Government, the newcomers to the President’s side worked to a different agenda, with repeated public pronouncements critical of the PM and the UNP.

The Western Province Chief Minister Isuru Deshapriya, who backed Mahinda Rajapakse at the January 2015 Presidential Elections, even objected to the UNP using Maithripala Sirisena’s picture for Government events.

President Maithripala Sirisena himself did not help the cause, when he too, started publicly criticizing the UNP, without sorting out differences, if any, within the Government or Cabinet. His cries reached a crescendo at the Local Government Elections, when the thrust of the President’s election campaign was directed at the UNP, and his repeated threats of using his sword against them.

Ammunition for such a campaign was readily forthcoming by the actions of Arjuna Mahendran vis a vis the Central Bank Bond scandal, which was used to devastating effect against the UNP, by both the President and the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp.

President Maitripala Sirisena continued his unrelenting attacks on the UNP, which culminated in his act of replacing Ranil Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM, in violation of Constitutional provisions. This act of the President was, fortunately, reversed by a public outcry led by civil society, forcing him to restore Ranil Wickremesinghe as PM. The proceedings following the taking of oaths by Ranil Wickremesinghe once again, was unprecedented and shocked the nation. Keeping the PM and his Ministers (a captive audience) in front of him, the President publicly berated Ranil Wickremesinghe. This course of action is totally alien to Sri Lankan culture, one of whose distinctive characteristics is to treat one’s guest with warmth and respect and exercise the highest standards of hospitability.

To add insult to injury, the humiliation of the PM was done in the full glare of publicity, with the media in attendance.

In fact, the President’s action was at variance with the concept of a ‘Seelachara Samajayak’ (civilized society) which was one of the slogans of Yahapalanaya of the Government in January 2015.

After the public outcry following his actions of October 26, 2018, one would have expected the President to use the occasion of administering the oaths to Ranil Wickremesinghe to make attempts to rebuild relations with the UNP, which was his partner in Government.

Even after this, the PM or the UNP, despite the President’s actions, have not taken him on and have desisted from hitting back. The PM has succeeded in restraining his MPs from attacking the President and kept them in check.

Meanwhile, the President has continued to escalate the situation by public criticisms of the PM and the UNP, causing increasing anger among the backbenchers. His most recent reference to the Colombo Mahattaya and Nuwara Mahatthaya in relation to his observations with regard to the Central Expressway, have not helped to improve the situation.

The anger of the UNP backbenchers finally erupted during the debate on the vote on the President’s Office in Parliament last week, when they made scathing criticisms of the President during their interventions in Parliament.

Fortunately, the decisive stand by the PM and Minister Lakshman Kiriella prevented a division being taken, and the vote in respect of the President’s office vote running the risk of being defeated, which would have been embarrassing to the President.

Another area in which the Government was saved from an awkward situation last week was due to the intervention by former Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. The President had decided to send a delegation of his representatives to the current Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions in Geneva.

This would have meant that Sri Lanka would have two separate official delegations in Geneva, which would have made Sri Lanka a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. The former Minister, who himself has represented the country several times in Geneva, was able to persuade the President to agree to send one official delegation from Sri Lanka headed by Foreign Minister Tilak Marapone, to the HRC.

This is an excellent example of how the two segments of Government should work together in a spirit of give and take, and take decisions in the best interests of the country, rather than for the political advantage of one party or the other. (

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