By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Colombo, April 29 (Daily News): The Sri Lankan President in his letter to party leaders of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) alliance, pointed out the imperative need for united efforts to face the current economic crisis. He also referred to the proposal for an Interim Government made by religious leaders, several political parties including those who work as an independent group in Parliament as well as the protesting youths.
If the proposal to set up an Interim All-Party Government is to take effect, the Cabinet of Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to resign. However, there is no consensual approach visible in this vexed question as the Premier has not shown any inclination to resign so far. On the contrary, he told the SLPP Parliamentarians and Local Government representatives that he has no desire to resign and the President has not asked him to do so.
NCM against Government
There seems to be differences of opinion within the ruling SLPP on this crucial issue. The Opposition is also divided on issues of Interim Government, the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the holding of General Elections.
The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) have called for the Government to quit, but they have failed to come to a consensus on the proposed No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the Government. The SJB and JVP rejected the President’s invitation for talks on the current economic crises and the political stalemate.
At the same time, the SJB and the JVP have major differences on the proposal made by the 11 party group that included the group of 39 Parliamentarians of the ruling coalition who left the Government to sit as an Independent Group in Parliament. The group demanded the formation of an Interim Government comprising all political parties to tackle the economic crisis.
Many political analysts say the inability to come to a consensus by the SLPP and opposition’s SJP, JVP, TNA and SLFP is the major hurdle to break the impasse. They point out that a consensual approach by political parties is essential for implementing President Rajapaksa’s proposal to form the Interim Government as stated in his letter to the Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras. Earlier the Chief Monks of the four Buddhist Chapters had urged the President to dissolve the Cabinet to set up an Interim Government.
This demand was first made by demonstrators gathered at the Galle Face Green in front of the Presidential Secretariat since April 9 amidst countrywide shortages of essential commodities, fuel and food items, medicines and the electric supply.
The Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras of Malwathu, Asgiri, Amarapura and Ramanna Chapters have urged the President, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all MPs to take effective steps to put the country in order and also warned that they will be forced to issue a ‘Sangha Convention’ or Edict if they fail to do so.
To form an Interim Government, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to resign voluntarily or President Rajapaksa will have to remove his older brother and the recently appointed Cabinet of Ministers.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has dismissed the proposal for an Interim Government. He had said it is futile to form an Interim Government with individuals pursuing different political ideals and even if such a Government is to be formed it should happen only under his Premiership.
The Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras had submitted six proposals to the President, including forming an Advisory Council which would run the country’s Interim Government leading to a Parliamentary Election around six months later.
These formulas came up as the street protest opposite the Presidential Secretariat entered its twentieth day demanding the resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In addition to the trade union strike that crippled the country on Thursday, the main opposition SJB too continues with its protest march from Kandy and it is expected to reach Colombo on May 1 to commemorate the International Workers Day.
Opposition parties and protesters
The Government had reached out to the Opposition parties and the protesters for talks, but all efforts were rebuffed as the agitators said they wanted the Government to resign first.
The JVP is also protesting against the Government on a different platform as the party has serious differences with other Opposition groups including SJB and the group of over 39 Parliamentarians from the ruling coalition that have declared independence.
One of the Ministers who resigned in protest, MP Udaya Gammanpila, Chief of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) said, “The main proposal is to have an All-Party Committee (APC) to make key decisions and the appointment of a new Prime Minister and a limited Cabinet of Ministers. We want this before a new election. We have to reverse the shortages and stabilize the economy.”
Not only the ruling SLPP, but also the Opposition displayed major differences and an inability to come to a consensual proposition. The SJB Leader insisted on abolition of the Executive Presidency, which SJB stalwarts Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Patali Champika Ranawaka opposed.
Another SLPP minister who joined the independent group, MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, accused the SJB of collaborating with the Basil Rajapaksa faction of the ruling SLPP. He has said the SJB is dragging its feet on the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) because it has cut a secret deal with the SLPP. The SJB is yet to decide on the salient points of the NCM. However it will not be able to secure the support of the SLPP rebel group for the motion unless it reveals what it proposes to do after dislodging the present Government.
SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa who visited the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy before kicking off the protest march from Kandy to Colombo said his party would not take power without a mandate from the people. “NCMs and Impeachment Motions are one thing. Forming a stable Government is another. Today at Galle Face and other places they are calling for the President and the Prime Minister to go home. We are ready to take power not by internal deal-making but with a clear people’s mandate,” he said.
The JVP too announced it will not be part of an Interim Government proposed by a group of dissident SLPPers. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that the National People’s Power (NPP), which has three Parliamentary Seats, supports the call by protestors for the President to go home.
“We propose that the President and the Prime Minister step down after which an Inter-Parliamentary administration can be set up for a limited period till a General Election can be held,” he said.
The Opposition is toying with two NCMs against the Government. The SJB proposal is to abolish the Executive Presidency in addition to empowering Parliament by the proposed 21st Amendment. However, such a fundamental change in the Constitution will require a two thirds majority in Parliament and a National Referendum, both of which will not be possible at this juncture.
SJB’s Sarath Fonseka, former Army Commander, expressed his strong opposition to abolishing the Executive Presidency. In an interview he said, “I do not believe that abolishing the Executive Presidency can help this country or do any good to this country. Retaining the Presidency is not a disadvantage either. A President should have a national policy when ruling a country. To achieve this an honest person should be in the chair.”
Meanwhile, TNA Parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran has prepared a NCM against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which will be submitted to Parliament when the House convenes on May 4.
This move came after the SJB’s attempt to get the support of required 113 MPs to its NCM which also includes the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
The people are disgruntled with the petty squabbling of political parties and before their image is tarnished beyond repair, they must get their act together and think first about the country and the people rather than giving priority to their parties and personal privileges.