Sri Lanka’s political risks set to rise in New Year
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President has urged unity to overcome global economic challenges in 2017 and made tackling poverty his new year priority, but rivals within his own party have vowed to topple his government in the New Year.
President Maithripala Sirisena said the people of Sri Lanka yearned to overcome poverty as they enter the third year under his rule.
"We enter the New Year at a time when politically, economically and socially the world is becoming a more complex place," the president said. "However, we have a collective responsibility to eradicate poverty in the New Year."
Even as President Sirisena set out his economic priorities, a section of his own party is planning to bring down his unity government which is headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who leads the dissidents within Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have vowed to make 2017 a make-or-break year to bring down Wickremesinghe and form an SLFP-led administration.
Rajapaksa told Colombo-based foreign correspondents last week that he was hopeful that he would be able to engineer a collapse of the current "national unity government." However, he did not spell out how he was going to accomplish it.
As the constitution bars him from another term in office as president, Rajapaksa said he would be able to lead the country without becoming the head of state.
Rajapaksa appears to command a majority of SLFP members of parliament, but even if the Sirisena-faction joins him, they are still short of a handful of MPs to ensure an absolute majority in the 225-member national legislature.
Under the 19th amendment to the constitution, the President cannot sack parliament until it completes four and a half out of its five-year term, but the prime minister will have to stand down if 113 MPs vote against him.
In theory, a united SLFP can expect minor Muslim and Tamil parties to support it to form a new government along with six MPs who contested on the UNP ticket at the August 2015 elections.
The unity of the fractured SLFP is the biggest threat to Wickremesinghe’s government and its failure to deliver on tackling corruption and prosecute alleged swindlers of the previous regime weighs heavily against it.
Civil society activist Professor Sarath Wijesuriya said he could not be satisfied with the progress made by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration in the past two years.
"The government should awake from its slumber of the past two years," he said, adding that the government was protecting corrupt individuals of the previous regime.
On the brighter side, the government was able to enact the 19th amendment to the constitution which reduced the powers of the executive president, made parliament stronger and established independent commissions to depoliticise key institutions.
(COLOMBO, Dec 31, 2016)