Tuesday, July 21, 2015

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Nominations and the aftermath: Likely scenarios

By Gamini Abeywardane

The row that was brewing up in the SLFP and the UPFA since Maithripala Sirisena came forward to contest the presidency reached new heights with the issue over former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s call to be nominated as the prime ministerial candidate.

The request was publicly turned down by President Maithripala, but the entire episode took a new turn when nomination was given to Rajapaksa due to pressure from the majority, though without the prime ministerial tag.  UPFA nominations were never an easy affair; they were finalized after much debate and infighting without the wholehearted support of its leader President Maithripala.

For weeks Maithripala maintained silence over the issue despite much public criticism over his acceding to pressures of Rajapaksa group. Finally he dropped a political bombshell changing the entire political landscape when he spoke his mind breaking his silence. He made a public statement explaining the circumstances that led to nominations being given to Rajapaksa. He also did not mince his words when he said that he did not favour the idea of Rajapaksa contesting parliamentary elections.

His message was something unprecedented. The party leader himself was saying that his party will not be able to win and further that even if they win Rajapaksa will not be made the Prime Minister. This was certainly a deadly blow to Rajapaksa and all those who are vying for a government led by him.

Maithripala’s stance is unlikely to change whatever the electoral outcome is going to be. Even If the UPFA secures a majority sufficient to form a government, it will be of no use without the support of the President who according to the constitution will be the head of the cabinet as well as the head of the government. The President can appoint as the Prime Minister, the Member of Parliament, who, in his opinion, is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament.

The President’s exercise of this constitutional power cannot be challenged in a court of law. This is how R Premadasa was appointed as Prime Minister by President J R Jayawardene, D B Wijetunga was appointed as PM by President Premadasa, Rathnasiri Wickramanayake was appointed as PM by President Kumaratunga, D M Jayaratner was appointed as PM by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as PM by President Maithripala Sirisena. None of these appointments were challenged irrespective of whether these persons commanded the confidence of parliament or not.

However one cannot discount the fact that in all those previous instances there was no formidable challenge to the President’s choice of the prime minister. In some instances there were claimants for the post on the ground of seniority etc. but none of them came forward to challenge the President’s decision.

A further complication is unavoidable in case the President goes ahead with prime ministerial appointment ignoring the popular demand. Though the very act of appointment cannot be legally challenged, there is a greater likelihood of subsequent no confidence motions under different grounds unless the person appointed as the PM manages to win the confidence of the parliament within a reasonable time.

In the event Rajapaksa is unable to form a government the real loser will be he himself as there will be hardly any point in sitting as an ordinary MP. In such a situation the issue whether he can continue to enjoy the benefits of a former President will also be likely to arise. All his backers especially non SLFPers like Udaya Gammanpila, Dinesh Gunawardana, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerrawansa will benefit immensely if they get elected to the parliament which they would not otherwise be able to achieve on their own strength.

However in a scenario where the UNP secures the majority in the parliament they will have lesser problems as they will enjoy the full backing of the President. As already declared by Ranil Wickremesinghe, if they win, there is quite a strong possibility of forming a coalition government with Maithri faction of the SLFP.

While the two main parties are vying for the control of the parliament the JVP seems to be working hard to emerge as a stronger third force with more seats. With the momentum they gained by being a major ally with the forces that got together to defeat the Rajapaksa regime at the last presidential election, they seem to be confident of gaining more representation in the parliament. With their unequivocal stance against authoritarianism and corruption, they seem to be gaining ground as a stronger force.

The events in the next few weeks will decide the outcome of the impending election. As campaign gets intensified, both sides seem to be hopeful of a clear majority in the parliament. An important yardstick in this regard will be the election manifestos yet to be unfolded, through which each party will put forward its policies and programmes that will entice people to vote for them.  


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