COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – President Maithripala Sirisena going back on his own promise to dissolve parliament in April is widely seen as a blow to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but the delay may actually help his cause.
Frustrated by opposition attempts to scuttle the minority government’s legislative program, the ruling UNP has now openly declared that it wants a snap election which President Sirisena appears reluctant to grant.
Sirisena, who broke away from the SLFP, has tried to take back control of a party which did all it could to defeat him, but failed. Trying to be the leader of 5.8 million people who voted against him appears daunting.
"By offering cabinet portfolios, Sirisena tried to take charge of the party but that does not appear to be working," a source close to Sirisena said. "However, he thinks he can eventually take charge. He needs time."
Instead of consolidating his power within the SLFP, he is losing his grip on a daily basis with many joining the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the party.
Many analysts and columnists have suggested that the delay in elections is disastrous for the UNP. However, unwittingly, the delay is also widening the schism in the SLFP.
"The indications now are the SLFP will split 70:30 between Rajapaksa and Sirisena," a source close to Sirisena said. "The Rajapaksa loyalists will have to contest the election as a separate entity."
Moves are already underway for Rajapaksa supporters to contest under the "chair" symbol of the People’s Alliance (not the UPFA) whose secretary is former prime minister D. M. Jayaratne.
The UNP’s deputy minister Eran Wickramaratne has issued public statements calling for an early election, but Sirisena appears to have ignored the calls.
Analysts see that a strong UNP government is not in Sirisena’s best interest.
Even though he came to power thanks largely to the UNP, the relationship is not what it was in January this year when they shed differences and made common cause to get rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty.
There are also other important wheels within wheels. Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne and Energy minister Champika Ranawaka, key Sirisena stalwarts, may find it difficult to face another election on their own.
The duo need more time to sort out their respective electoral arrangements to secure a seat in the next parliament.
While the UNP faces growing criticism over its failure to expedite corruption probes and arrest key suspects, the SLFP is also splitting to a point that neither faction can emerge the largest single group in parliament.
Sirisena has already promised US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month that there will be a new government by September, but for that to be a reality, he must have elections by July.
A vote is not possible in August because of the GCE A/L exams. All this suggests that Sirisena will have to dissolve parliament sooner than later and the first half of June would be the most appropriate.
Any moves by Sirisena to delay elections will only damage his already dented credibility. On the brighter side, he could argue that by taking control of the SLFP he managed to secure their support for political reforms.
Wickremesinghe may not have been able to remain in power had Sirisena not used the threat of withholding party nominations for SLFP members at the next general election when parliamentary approval for the 19th amendment was in doubt .
Despite pressure from a large section of the SLFP, Sirisena has rejected the idea that Rajapaksa could be the next prime minister. Having said that he would have been killed by the Rajapaksa had he lost the January 8 election, Sirisena does not want any Rajapaksa in his administration.
Rajapaksa scion Namal is trying hard to stay out of the black list by studiously avoiding political rallies organised to drum up support for his father. He fears he also may not get SLFP nominations at the next election.
While a delay in elections might seem to go against the UNP, which risks becoming unpopular by the day thanks to the bond scandal and nepotism charges, the right-wing party could also benefit from the widening rift in the opposition.