Sri Lanka’s no-trust vote becomes headache for all

ECONOMYNEXT – Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) has the majority required, at least in theory, to defeat a no-confidence motion against him, but a vote could backfire on the instigators too.

The Joint Opposition (JO), whose de facto leader is former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, has secured a debate on the no-trust resolution on April 4 and thereafter a vote that could decide not only Wickremesinghe’s political future but of those in the opposition.

The proposed resolution has already caused fissures within the coalition government as well as the JO which is also divided on the timing of the move to topple Wickremesinghe, according to highly placed party sources.

The UNP with 107 seats is the largest single group in the 225-member legislature. The JO claims it has 55 votes in parliament. If President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) also supports the JO, they will together have 94 seats, also in theory, but not in practice. Several Sirisena-faction members of the SLFP are opposed to the no-trust move.

The Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) has six seats and have said they will support the no-trust move which means the JO would still need another 13 MPs to cross the halfway mark of 113 in the unlikely event of keeping both SLFP factions (one loyal to Rajapaksa and the other supporting Sirisena) together.

The UNP group is also split. A  couple of UNP legislators are openly with the JO — former justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha and monk Athuraliye Rathana — which means the opposition still needs another 11 MPs to oust Wickremesinghe in a best case scenario.

At the same time, the no-confidence move has also split the Sirisena-faction of the SLFP causing a faction within a faction. Several legislators, including ministers Duminda Dissanayake, have opposed any move against the PM.

Party sources said about 15 SLFP ministers in the coalition government are against attempts to bring down the Prime Minister, as it will also lead to the automatic dissolution of the entire cabinet. Should the no-confidence move fail, their position within the cabinet would become untenable.

The JO is also divided and is presenting a half-hearted attempt given Mahinda Rajapaksa’s lukewarm reception to the motion against Wickremesinghe. Sources close to the former leader said he was unhappy with the timing of the ouster move.

Rajapaksa is more interested in pushing Ranil Wickremesinghe to scrap the executive presidency and revert the country to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.





Without rewriting the current constitution, Rajapaksa cannot become the executive leader of the country as the 19th amendment to the constitution has restored term limits on the presidency and has already disqualified him from running for president again. However, he harbours ambitions of returning to power as an executive prime minister.

While the 72-year-old Rajapaksa’s two brothers – Basil and Gotabhaya – are mentioned as potential candidates at the 2019 presidential elections, the former president appears unenthusiastic and wants to make comeback and wants to pass on the baton to legislator son Namal.

"The no-confidence motion can split the opposition and also undermine its recent electoral gains at local elections," a senior JO member said. "This is not the right time."

While the government has expressed confidence of surviving the vote and reiterating its majority in parliament, several JO leaders have also publicly expressed optimism.

In the likelihood of the Prime Minister surviving the move, several Sirisena-faction MPs who supported the ouster move will have to be removed from the government, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said.

For the UNP too, the no-trust vote is another wake up call to revamp the party leadership, Senaratne said adding that reforms were expected after April 4. (COLOMBO, March 28, 2018)


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