Sri Lanka govt. ready for polls, but not defeated in a finance bill: Ministers

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s minority administration was ready to go to polls at any time, though the defeat of a motion to increase short term borrowings Tuesday did not require parliament to be dissolved, ministers said.

Sri Lanka’s parliament denied a request by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to raise a ceiling on the sale of short term domestic debt in a surprise move late Tuesday, with the motion being defeated with 52 against and 31 in favour in the 225-member legislature.

Opposition legislator Dinesh Gunewardene told reporters that the government was now effectively dissolved due to the defeat.

Karunanayake said it did not amount to a defeat of a finance bill, which in Sri Lanka leads to the fall of an administration, and in any case the government could still sell longer term debt as much as if wanted to meet cashflow needs and pay salaries. No new spending authority was asked by the motion to sell more Treasury bills.

He described the defeat as an underhand (kooter) move by opposition members loyal to ousted ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, rather than a show of strength by the defeated strongman  that had shaken the administration or at least embarrassed it.

"We are not concerned," Karunanayake said. "We are ready to dissolve parliament and go to polls at any time.

"But this was not a finance bill that was defeated. It was a regulation issued under an ordinance for which the leader of the opposition had already agreed not to call for a vote."

He said a group of opposition members had called for a vote, after many opposition and government members had left the chamber, and the defeat of the motion was simply a trick.

Karunanayake said the Prime Minister and he himself, was also not in the main chamber but was elsewhere in talks with a committee on economic affairs, when the call for a vote was made suddenly.

The administration could go for a second vote or even continue to pay salaries and other expenses through cash raised from domestic or international bond sales, he said.

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Minister Lakshman Kiriella said Tuesday’s event showed there was a split in the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Karunanayake said the event showed that the Rajapasksa faction of the SLFP could only command 52 votes and the rest of the nearly 175 votes were with the administration, which would be sufficient to pass an amendment to the constitution, a key election promise.

Political analysts view Tuesday’s events as a reflection of the tenuous hold the administration of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe has over the parliament.

Wickremasinghe was called upon to form a government by Sirisena, who won an election backed by the United National Party with his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party still holding the majority of the seats.

"Sri Lanka’s parliament does not reflect the mandate given at the Presidential election in January," a senior political analyst said.

"The parliament reflects the voting patterns in 2010, as a result you see this mismatch. An election is needed to resolve this one way or another."

The UNP is keen to go to polls as soon as possible, he said as it did not stand to gain from any delay.

Update II

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