Sri Lanka’s political honeymoon on the wane – Update
COLOMBO (EconomyNext) Just five weeks after coming to power, the Maithri-Ranil (MR) government is showing sings of fissures that add to the uncertainty over how the two will face upcoming parliamentary elections.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s decree the day before Valentine’s day showed his honeymoon with Ranil Wickremesinghe may have come to an abrupt halt.
The President in an extra ordinary gazette notification on Friday the 13th clipped the wings of State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, a cousin of the prime minister, effectively making him the head master of a defence school.
Wijewardene is now responsible for the National cadet Corps, defence services school, Staff College and Raviru Seva Authority.
It was clear from the first day in office that Wijewardene had a formidable challenge with defence secretary B. M. U. D. Basnayake issuing statements that contradicted the stand of the Wickremesinghe government.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne was to admit during the weekly press briefing that Basnayake had been summoned by the president and been given a dressing down and his behaviour also led to a gag order on all public servants.
The latest shake-up in the military is also a source of contention between the government and the presidency.
There is no known opposition from the government to appoint a new army chief without granting an extension to Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake.
Gen. Ratnayake who is expected to retire next week had been accused by Mangala Samaraweera, (when he was UNP chief spokesman) of "shamelessly campaigning" for Mahinda Rajapakse.
However, the issue is not whether Gen. Ratnayake should be kept or eased out, but the lack of discussion on a host of other appointments, both in the military as well as other areas.
Major General Jagath Rambukpotha is known as an independent officer in a highly politicised military under Gotabhaya Rajapakse who caused rifts by favouring men from his Gajaba regiment.
General Sarath Fonseka who backed the President in his election campaign succeeded in securing the re-instatement of about a dozen officers who had been sacked from the service because of their suspected loyalty to the former commander.
Not only has Fonseka got them their back pay and ranks, but also placed them in some of the most strategic and vital positions within the army structure prompting the Lankanewsweb.com to report it as: "Gen. Fonseka seizes control of the Army!"
Was the cabinet of ministers aware of the sweeping changes? Many think not.
The "Common Opposition" candidate project, though successful in toppling Mahinda Rajapakse, may be coming apart with Maithripala Sirisena taking the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Neither the President nor Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s United National Party has clarified how they would contest forthcoming elections.
The Prime Minister has talked about a national unity government for two years after the next election, but the SLFP’s Susil Premajayantha has made it clear that their objective is to win the next election and form a government on its own.
Rumblings in regime
Apart from the political uncertainty, the government is also battling a cold war with the police department.
First it was the police scripting an answer minister John Amaratunga gave parliament.
The police, through Amaratunga, sought to justify the killing of three people during a peaceful protest demanding clean drinking water at Rathupaswela during the Rajapakse era.
Amaratunga not only put his foot in the mouth, but was also reprimanded by Wickremesinghe who told the house that he was not satisfied with the minister’s reply.
Wickremesinghe has promised a parliamentary select committee or a presidential commission to probe the incident, a key election issue that may have helped Sirisena to win the Gampaha district at January elections.
The police Inspector general N. K. Illangakoon should have known that he was making his minister the laughing stock of parliament and also the target of a no-confidence resolution.
The no-trust vote was not based on his Rathupaswela reply, but the fact that 114 MPs signed the petition suggested that the SLFP led by President Sirisena was asserting its parliamentary majority.
Illangakoon himself is reported to have resisted police transfers sought by the new government which is, at least publicly, committed to good governance.
President Sirisena himself remarked that he was also worried about the delay in investigations into allegations of corruption as well as other wrong doing under the Rajapakse regime.
A police department highly politicised in recent years cannot be expected to fall in line with a new administration. Lacklustre investigations suggests either the police are inefficient, the government lacks control, or both.
The government has pledged to dissolve parliament on April 23 which means an election by June / July. With five months to go for the polls and little progress on promised prosecutions, the government may be taking the voters for granted.