17 June 2015

What if Maithri called the UNP’s bluff?

'No can do' is a trump-response that Maithri can draw anytime.
The United National Party (UNP) wants Parliament dissolved.  This is not new.  Party stalwarts Lakshman Kiriella and Kabir Hashim even bragged that they would dissolve parliament if the 19th Amendment was not passed.  That’s the UNP-friendly version of the 19th, folks, a text which would have replaced the all-powerful executive presidency with an all-powerful executive prime ministership.  What’s funny is that dissolution is not the UNP’s prerogative.  Kiriella, Hashim and others might not have known this or else they thought that Maithripala Sirisena would do the UNP’s bidding. 

The 19th was passed in the end.  It was not the helping-UNP version which was essentially a shortsighted document crafted in anticipation of a quick parliamentary election.  More time passed.  The 20th Amendment was taken up.  Today the Kiriellas and Hashims don’t say ‘we will dissolve parliament’.  Today they know they can’t and know that the President is no fool.  So they are virtually begging him to dissolve.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ajith P Perera has said that a written request to this effect would be sent to the President ‘in accordance with the resolution passed by the UNP’s Working Committee,’ the resolution of course being a call for dissolution.  

He adds that the UNP would remind the President that he would have to honor the pledge made during the Presidential Election to dissolve Parliament after hundred days.

All this is understandable.  The UNP has every right to believe that it can improve its numbers in Parliament if an election is held right now considering the crisis in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).  The UNP, especially after the President showed signs of taking firmer control of the SLFP, must know that the party stands to lose much of the ground gained courtesy of the January 8 result if the President wrests total control of his party.  

The UNP knows, also, that the hope bubble has deflated. Economic relief proved to be a gimmick.  The brag about clean-up has fallen flat due to the antics of the Minister of Finance and the Bond Fiasco.  The Foreign Minister arrogating upon himself the powers of the Defence Minister and his lame explanation of ‘bringing Eric Solheim into the Sri Lankan equation’ shows that the UNP just hasn’t learned anything from 2001-2004 disaster.  Things are not rosy and it is the UNP and not President Sirisena who is likely to be blamed.  

The letter to the President, the reference to election pledges notwithstanding, is therefore weak; it is not a polite letter of demand but is essentially a desperate plea.  With respect to the pledges, the President can easily say ‘I gave the UNP a free hand,’ which would be the truth.  He can add ‘the UNP did not deliver’.  He could add more: ‘if it is about pledges then the righteous thing to do would be to resign.’

Indeed.  Now that the UNP is ready to issue an ultimatum to the President, what would the UNP do if the President calls its bluff?  What if the President says ‘Well, you were late on the 19th, you are very late on the Right to Information Act and the Code of Conduct for MPs is not even talked of; so if it is about non-delivery and if ‘charity should begin at home’ is something you’ve heard of, shouldn’t you do the right thing, shouldn't you resign?’

Ajith Perera is correct.  This Government got a mandate to rule the country 100 days and not 200.  The Parliament can remain for another 10 months.  This Government, can resign or be sacked.  A different Government can be put in place immediately afterwards, a cabinet appointed that has the support of the majority of MPs.  

The UNP moved.  It made a risky move.  President Sirisena can call the UNP’s bluff.  Or say all this and add ‘get the 20th Amendment done’ and the UNP might find that it doesn’t have many options!