Ranil wins no-confidence vote in Parliament

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

A majority of Sri Lankan legislators backed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday, comfortably defeating a no-confidence motion in Parliament against him and his government.

Following a marathon 11-hour debate, 122 MPs in the 225-member House voted against the motion. Seventy six MPs, including ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, voted in its favour, while 26 of them were absent.

A clear majority

Hours before the vote, a group of nearly 15 government MPs, including some Ministers from President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), declared their support for the motion. However, MPs from Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and almost all legislators from minority parties, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), backed him and defeated the motion with a clear majority.

Addressing the media in Parliament soon after the vote, Mr. Wickremsinghe said that defeating the motion was not to protect an individual but to protect “people’s victory”. He said he would soon meet Mr. Sirisena to convey that the mandate they got from voters in the 2015 presidential election should continue.

Signs of Mr. Wickremesinghe scraping a win emerged on Tuesday but parliamentarians were wary of last-minute negotiations given that the UNP and the SLFP, allies in the government, have been unable to reconcile their differences for months.

This friction became more pronounced after their defeat in local government polls in February, for which the partners blamed each other. A new party backed by Mr. Rajapaksa made impressive gains.

An emboldened Rajapaksa camp, comprising some 50 MPs calling themselves ‘Joint Opposition’ (JO), soon mooted the no-confidence motion that many in Mr. Sirisena’s faction readily endorsed. This, coupled with an internal revolt in the UNP by those seeking drastic leadership reforms, put the government and the PM, in particular, in a spot. However, with UNP legislators eventually deciding to rally around their leader, and the willingness of minority parties to back him, Mr. Wickremesinghe won the trust vote, ending fears among many in Sri Lanka and outside about the government’s stability.

TNA supports PM

Intervening in the debate earlier, Leader of Opposition and veteran Tamil politician R. Sampanthan said the motion was part of the JO’s plan to topple the government. “They want to first defeat the PM, and the next target will be the President. They want (the) government brought down. We can’t allow ourselves to be used for their political objectives,” he said, suggesting that the TNA would support him, as it subsequently did.

Countering accusations that the TNA was siding with the ruling UNP, Mr. Sampanthan recounted Tamils’ support to the SLFP in the past, including in 1994 when they supported President Chandrika Kumaratunge against the UNP.

The debate also saw parliamentarians point to the inadequacies of the government. TNA’s Jaffna MP M.A. Sumanthiran raised pending post-war concerns of Tamils, such as land rights, the release of political prisoners and militarisation.

A call for the PM to expedite constitutional reform came from Finance Minister and senior UNP figure Mangala Samaraweera, who urged Mr. Wickremesinghe to “table the draft constitution as early as possible”.

In a charged address, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne vowed swift legal action on several high-profile murders and disappearance cases — like those of senior journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge; rugby star Wasim Thajudeen; and political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda — allegedly involving the former first family.

It remains to be seen if the government initiates action against its Ministers and MPs who voted against the government on Wednesday.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 12:23:11 am |