Saturday, November 25, 2017

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Amidst no faith motions more prospects of early LG polls

By Gamini Abeywardane

The week began with the much waited climax in the Treasury Bond saga with none other than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe giving evidence before the Bond Commission on Monday. It was an unprecedented development where the country’s prime Minister had to fall in line with a presidential commission of inquiry appointed by the very administration in which he himself is an important component. To that extent, it displayed the true nature of the democratic environment prevailing in the country, in contrast to what Sri Lankans witnessed in the last several decades.
The commission being only a fact finding exercise, as usual, it will end with a formal report with certain recommendations. There is a long way before anyone can be found guilty of any wrongs and legally punished. Even if any legal process is to be carried on in that direction, it has to be an entirely a different exercise and a time consuming one.

Some of the SLFP Ministers who were among those pressurizing President Sirisena to appoint the Commission of Inquiry into the controversial bond issue apparently were elated that they managed to get even the Prime Minister before the commission and expose some of those from the UNP camp who were responsible for the alleged fraud. Both the Joint Opposition and the JVP apparently tried to claim the credit for getting a Commission of Inquiry appointed to look into the matter.

There have been sensible debate as well as mere political mudslinging and empty noise over the issue. Although final result of this exercise is not predictable much damage has been caused to those who are accused of involvement in this scandal, the worst affected being former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake who has been already sent to political wilderness.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who came to be testified before the commission on his own volition apparently made some political capital out of it with nothing having gone against him at the commission. He made use of the opportunity to explain the macro picture surrounding the bond issue such as the urgent need for money at the time, why auction system was introduced for bond issues and some aspects of the government’s economic programme.

Ministers Malik Samarawickrama and Kabir Hashim who were called before the commission earlier also came out of it without much damage for themselves. The most devastating effect of the appointment of this commission was on Minister Ravi Karunanayake and some of the reformist young backbenchers of the UNP made use of the opportunity to force him out of the political mainstream at least for the time being.
The backbencher group led by Deputy Minister Ajith Perera throughout tried to display a different stance over this issue, publicly saying that it was an unfortunate incident in which the UNP should not have got involved and those who are responsible should be punished. They tried their best to maintain their image as a cleaner group within the party and use the scandal to expedite the reform process they were clamouring for.

However, the opposite happened when it partially boomeranged on them. A good many of that group together with some UNP members of the COPE, the parliamentary committee which earlier looked into the scandal, also got implicated over some sensitive telephone conversations with Arjun Aloysius around the time COPE inquiry was going on.
Now, the public sittings of the Bond Commission are over and its final report is due to be handed over to the President shortly. There was a huge media show surrounding the whole exercise while the only tangible outcome for the moment was the removal of Ravi Karunanayake from the cabinet of ministers.

For the joint Opposition led by Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa the bond scandal was a blessing in disguise. Although many are now trying to claim the credit for getting the bond commission appointed a greater amount of it should go to them because they were the group which vigorously campaigned for a high level probe into the matter which was later picked by others as well.
This unfortunately happened at a time when the whole country was waiting for some progress over the probe into allegations of massive crimes and corruption against the bigwigs of the former government and the new scandal gave them a fantastic opportunity to cover up themselves from the public eye at least for the moment.

Local elections

As the dust settled over the bond commission local government election issue has begun to occupy the media space with the possibility of elections getting further postponed in the face of the stay order issued  by the Court of Appeal preventing the implementation of the gazette notification pertaining to Local Government bodies until December 4.
The popular belief was that the filing of fundamental rights cases by voters in several districts was a sinister move by interested parties to postpone elections indefinitely. Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha for quite some time has been in the middle of this controversy with accusations leveled against him for using various legal loopholes to postpone the elections.

Meanwhile, the reluctance of the SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena to face any elections at this time due to the internal split in the party has been attributed to these attempts to postpone local government elections. Amidst these political moves public opinion has been building against the idea of postponing elections with rights groups voicing their opinion against it.
UNP which earlier appeared to be colluding with attempts to postpone elections now seems to have changed their stance, perhaps after realizing that the ground situation is in their favour. Another reason for the change of attitude would have been the displeasure in the UNP camp amidst growing tension that has been building between the coalition partners following revelations at the bond commission.

In this background now both Joint Opposition and the JVP have already handed over two separate Motions of No Confidence against the Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha alleging that he has deliberately complicated matters to ensure postponement of local polls and thereby undermined the people’s right to vote.
Meanwhile, the backbenchers of the UNP also have stated that Minister Mustapha has acted in such a way that democratic rights of the voters have been violated and that they would support any No Confidence Motion against him in Parliament. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also has asked the legal committee of the UNP to examine the possibility of having LG polls before February 4 next year.

The Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is expected to have a meeting of all political parties in the Parliament to take a decision in this regard. Observers say that in the event all of them insist on going ahead with the elections, a motion can be passed by the Parliament to that effect with a two third majority to go ahead with elections as planned.
Meanwhile, there seem to be a lot of pressure being built up asking minister Mustapha to resign from his ministerial position before any No Confidence Motion is presented in Parliament and if that happens he will be the third minister to resign on similar issues in the recent times with Ravi Karunanayake and Wijedasa Rajapaksa being the other two.

With lessor or no prospects of the two warring factions of the SLFP getting together, if the elections are held the general belief is that the ground situation will be much favorable to the UNP. It is true that the ruling joint government has not gained any popularity in the recent times, while the Joint Opposition not being in control of any established political party will also be not in a position to make much of an electoral impact. Therefore, politically speaking it will be a strange situation where the voters will be compelled to elect the best out of the bad lot.
If the elections are held it will be an opportunity for each party to know its real strength which in reality could be different from disproportionate noise they have been making on the political stage. It will also provide an opportunity for the people to show their response to all political and other developments that have been taking place since the last general election in 2015.

However, whatever happens in a local government election, it is unlikely to bring about a major change in the government and the SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena and the UNP led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremeseinghe will have no alternative other than going ahead with their joint administration until the next major national election.




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