01 June 2015

No-sense No-confidence motions

Technically speaking there is no necessity to table a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.  The last time he faced an election his party was routed.  At present he enjoys the support of a handful of MPs.  His Prime Ministerial post is essentially a gift, a reward for services rendered.  In no way does the post reflect the popular will of the people.  On January 8, 2015 they voted for a man called Maithripala Sirisena.  Ranil Wickremesinghe’s name was not on the ballot paper.  

On the other hand it can be argued that Wickremesinghe does have the ‘confidence’ of Parliament to be the Prime Minister. The newly elected President was also installed as the Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) after all.  Moreover, that party was happy to define itself in the Opposition by a) not objecting to Wickremesinghe’s appointment, and b) getting party man Nimal Siripala Silva to be the Leader of the Opposition.  As people’s representatives, then, Wickremesinghe can claim that he enjoys a ‘people’s mandate’.  

All technicalities, though.  The validity of contested claims will have to be tested at an election.  Until such time the issue of confidence or lack thereof has to be considered part of parliamentary theatrics and here we must point out, sadly, that theater and not governance is what that not so august body has been known for.  For a long time.  

There’s nothing illegal about tabling a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.  Whether or not the authors of and signatories to the motion have the moral authority aside, the Prime Minister’s acts of omission and commission over the past few months does raise serious issues of ability and will.  He messed up days after taking over when he appointed the controversial Arjuna Mahendran as Central Bank Governor. When the bonds hit the fan, what spun around didn't smell good.  Defending foul-smelling droppings and the act of such dropping didn’t cover Wickremesinghe in glory.  

It was bound to happen, one could argue, once the SLFP MPs recovered from the electoral setback of their then leader.  Now it’s the old game of US vs Them.  Nothing about the people. Nothing about legitimacy.  Good old parliamentary politics of wanting what one has not and keeping what one has.  

What is worrisome about this no-confidence motion is the possibility that it’s just a charade that is designed to or could scuttle the 20th Amendment, i.e. the one on electoral reform.  For all the lip service paid to electoral reforms, it is clear that the sitting MPs want the next election (at least) to be held under the prevailing system (whose flaws the 20th is to correct).  A big enough fight in Parliament might make it impossible to get the 20th passed.  Both parties and their key backers will blame each other.  

The people would have been cheated.  

Maithripala Sirisena was elected to reform.  Ironically, given the stated wish to give up excessive executive powers, the President still has enough power to get the 20th passed.  He could of course blame quibbling parliamentarians and wash his hands off the ‘ugly business’.  But having the power and looking the other way will give him one thing.  A legacy.  The legacy of a monumental confidence trickster.