Sri Lanka: A clarifying vote

The no-trust motion against Sri Lankan PM Wickremesinghe will test the ruling alliance

April 03, 2018 12:02 am | Updated December 01, 2021 12:29 pm IST

Nearly two months after its drubbing in the local government polls, Sri Lanka’s ruling alliance continues to be under enormous uncertainty, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe now faces a no-confidence motion . Initiated by the “Joint Opposition”, a loose coalition of legislators supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it has been scheduled for a marathon 12-hour session in Parliament on April 4, to be followed by a vote. Tensions in the national unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe bubbled over soon after the poll results, in which a Rajapaksa-backed party outdid the two major parties in power, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party. Many legislators from Mr. Maithripala’s SLFP blamed the PM for the poll debacle, and demanded that he resign. While Mr. Sirisena has not publicly endorsed the demand, his dissatisfaction with Mr. Wickremesinghe is no secret. An imminent split in the ruling alliance was averted with a cabinet reshuffle but the cosmetic changes have done little to cement it. Amid the tussle, Mr. Sirisena clipped Mr. Wickremsinghe’s powers last week, taking away the central bank, the policy-making National Operations Room and several other institutions from his control.


The JO claims it has about 55 signatures in support of the motion, and it has been trying to draw more support from the Sirisena camp, in which many remain keen to work with a new Prime Minister from his UNP while some are averse to even a tactical regrouping with the Rajapaksas. The Janatha Vimukti Peramuna, with six MPs, has said it will vote against the PM. With 107 seats in the 225-member parliament, the UNP-led front is the single largest group, and is confident of defeating the motion, counting on some support from the SLFP and the minority parties. The Tamil National Alliance, which has about 15 MPs, could play a crucial role, and is likely to either abstain or back the PM, rather than join hands with Rajapaksa allies. Going by the numbers, it seems Mr. Wickremesinghe will survive, unless last-minute negotiations change the game. If he were to be ousted through the motion, it may potentially set off consequences ranging from a parliamentary reconfiguration to the Cabinet being dissolved. If he stays in power, the government will still have the difficult task of reorienting itself to the mandate Sri Lankans gave this coalition in 2015. President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe, who are facing a serious credibility crisis at the moment, will have to put the interests of their constituencies at the top of their priority list and use the remaining two years of their government’s tenure to address the concerns of the vast majority of the population. For this, they must resist the temptation of myopic political manoeuvres and focus on the reform agenda they promised to deliver. The two leaders cannot afford to forget why Sri Lankans put them in power in 2015 in the first place.


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