Govt to face impeachment and no faith motions post Avurudu holidays
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
The power dynamics in Parliament has undergone a complete transformation or a sea change. Though the control of the Government has not been taken away from the ruling coalition, their power has diminished significantly. Currently, the Government has only 117 MPs at its disposal. Due to 42 SLPP MPs deciding to remain independent, the Opposition has been able to increase its seats to 108. It is too early to state whether the MPs who had become independent will vote against the Government. But, it is also no secret that when it comes to a highly decisive or crucial vote there could be sizeable number of MPs who could desert the ruling coalition in the House.
Former Minister Dullas Alahapperuma airing his views, during a discussion held with a few newspaper editors, said he fully support the idea of toppling the Government - if it does not serve the people - he did not approve derailing the country in the process.
6.9 million still valid?
When inquired from Alahapperuma about such a remark being made by him, while continuing to function as a Minister, he stated that he respects the democratic right of the masses to oust the Government via the democratic process. There could be several other Ministers who could be of the view that the Government must resign as that is also the collective view of the masses. But, a few SLPP MPs are still continuing to insist that the 6.9 million vote base is still with them. It is true that 6.9 million voters were with the President and this Government during the last Presidential and General Election period. But, that is no longer the case. That vote base has by now shrunk to a spectacularly low percentage for this Government and that could be evident at the next national election. Hence, taking the change of perception towards the Government by the people erroneously would be to the disadvantage of those in the present regime. All will need to listen to the voice of the people and Dullas may have echoed that perception to all and sundry.
Chamal forget the ‘Satakaya’
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invited the Opposition in Parliament to accept Ministerial posts in the Cabinet and work in unison to rid the country of its present mess. He made this call in the aftermath of a large group attempting to storm his private residence in Mirihana during the night of 31 March. It was also the first time in this country’s political history that irate public had attempted to storm the residence of a sitting Executive President.
In the wake of this unprecedented protest the fuming masses then strived hard to give a similar treatment to the Carlton House, situated at Tangalle, which is the bastion of the Rajapaksa clan and a fortress for former President and current PM Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Notwithstanding that the protesters proceeded to raid the private residence of the PM situated at Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo demanding that he too, should step down. A few protesters then headed to the Tissamaharama residence of the eldest of the clan Chamal Rajapaksa and demonstrated demanding his resignation as well. It is also still too early to state as to the manner in which the Rajapaksa family will respond to these concerted demands made by the masses, for them to withdraw from public office, either honorably or in disgrace.
After the end of the protests, Chamal Rajapaksa responded in his quiet and calm manner. Chamal, the eldest of the clan was seen present in the House last week without having worn his usual shawl – the kurahan satakaya. It is unclear yet whether Chamal had forgotten to wear his shawl either intentionally or by mistake.
No Cabinet posts
The call made by the masses to dissolve Parliament and for the President to step down has still not abated. The President implored those in the Opposition and those who became independent to accept Ministerial posts and work to resolve the economic mess. But, the President’s request fell on deaf ears as no MP responded positively.
Hence, the measure taken by the President to rule akin to a dictator, having cast aside the views of his own Ministers, MPs and those of the Opposition, did not yield the desired result. During the past week, the President summoned two groups of MPs from the Government, who became independent, to the Presidents House and held talks with them separately. But, both groups dismissed the President’s plea and request outright. He invited the SLFP group, led by ex-President Maithripala Sirisena and urged them to retake their Ministerial portfolios and work with the Government.
However, the former President had told the incumbent leader, in no uncertain terms, that they will not change their original decision to be independent and that they have no intention whatsoever of rejoining the current regime. During this discussion held for close to two hours, the SLFP leader and its General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera had explained at length, to the President, the step motherly treatment meted out to them during their two-year tenure with the SLPP.
Especially, Jayasekera had pointed out that the tactics adopted at the selection of the original Cabinet of the SLPP Government had paved the way for its current sorry predicament. They had also reminded the President, in no uncertain terms, the failure of the SLPP leadership to grant even a discussion to party leaders of the Government coalition and the move made by the SLPP to use its backbench MPs to sling mud at SLFP MPs during its two-year term in office. The SLFP MPs had also alleged, during this meeting, that corruption, wastage, nepotism and mismanagement of the economy had gone through the roof under the SLPP Government and failure of its leadership to nip it all in the bud had come back to haunt the SLPP in spectacular fashion.
However, the SLFP had consented to draft a set of proposals and submit it to the President aimed at overcoming the current economic downturn in the country. In the meantime, the SLPP MPs who decided to become independent Anura Yapa, Nimal Lanza and Susil Premajayanth, who was removed from his State Minister post, had also been invited for a discussion by the President. As a result, they met the President on 5 April. The main focus of this meeting was for the President to urge these MPs to work in unity with the Government despite them being independent in the House.
But, at the very outset they all dismissed that request. They had proposed in one voice to appoint a new PM and a new Cabinet and to carry forward its governance. However, the President had insisted that as there is already a PM, if a new PM is to be appointed to show their majority in the House and if so he will consent to their suggestion. The President had maintained that there was no necessity to oust the incumbent Premier. The President had then stated that the prime need in the country is to overcome the economic mess and therefore he had again urged the MPs to join forces with him to accomplish those aims for the masses. But, the trio Yapa, Susil and Lanza had ignored it.
Sajith discusses plans
SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa continued to talk at length regarding the political crisis situation with his fellow MPs. He informed the SJB Parliamentary Group that they all need to be mindful of the plight faced by the people and give an ear to their voice.
By last Sunday the Government had imposed a nationwide curfew to quell the public protests and the SJB were totally opposed to it. Hence, a sizeable group of Opposition MPs led by Sajith began to stage a protest march up to Independence Square.
However, by the time the group reached Independence Square the Security Forces had already put up barricades and blocked the protest march. At that point a heated exchange of words took place between the Security Forces and the Opposition MPs, led by Sajith. The Opposition Leader said that the dictatorial Government has already become a curse to this country and its citizens and told the Security Forces that they should realise that State sponsored terrorism could be overwhelmed by the power and fortitude of the public.
He further stated that a Government which has been rejected by the masses will not be allowed to rule this country akin to a dictatorship. He vowed that the Opposition will do its utmost to unseat the present regime in the name of the people. The countrywide protests which had emerged against the Government had also spread to the Parliament Complex and its environs as well. The Government was aghast at the scale of the protests and demonstrations that were mounting against it by the minute and day.
The public were also monitoring the behaviour of the SJB MPs in this situation. The people were demanding, in one voice, for the President to step down and in this situation they were determined to see the conduct and actions of the SJB. The Opposition Leader then arrived in the House and delivered a special statement. He called for the abolition of the Executive Presidency and stated that the entire process should be undertaken by the Legislature according to the Articles of the Constitution.
The SJB Leader stated that the people, in one voice today, were urging the MPs to change the political culture and introduce a new system which is devoid of mass corruption, wastage, nepotism and mismanagement. He said the MPs must listen to the demands made by the people and not act like dictators to suit their own ends.
He added that the Executive Presidency should not be dispensed with to allow the setting up of an Executive PM. He mentioned that the Parliament democracy has to be further strengthened for the good of the country and its people having got rid of the Executive Presidency which he termed as being the root cause for the current crises and ills facing the country.
On his way to the Parliamentary Group meeting, SJB MP J.C. Alawathuwela asked General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara what action they should resort to at this time. The General Secretary stated that the stance of the SJB is for the President and the entire Government to resign. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne too agreed with the remarks made by Maddumabandara and insisted that there was no relief either for the country or its people till they see the back of the Rajapaksa clan.
MP Nalin Bandara then opined that the Government was presently attempting to derail the countrywide protests and demonstrations against it by spreading spurious charges against the SJB via its mud strewing units. Sajith then advised Ravi Jayawardene to provide the services of his lawyers to the people who are aggrieved due to the conduct of the Government.
What Ranil told SLPP backbenchers
The previous week kicked off with much anxiety and uncertainty in the local political circles. The public had got onto the streets in their numbers, being unable to put up with the steep rise in prices of essentials and due to the resultant economic woes.
Meanwhile, what prompted the intensifying of anger and hatred among the public towards the Government, was the unwise decision taken by the President to impose emergency regulations and a nationwide curfew to quell the street protests and demonstrations. Around last Sunday, speculation was rife with regard to a change of faces within the Cabinet and what was noticeable in it was that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe being fancied to become the PM for the umpteenth time. With this rumour spreading like wildfire, the phones at the leader’s Colombo 3 residence began to ring incessantly.
The leader then answered each of those calls and maintained that there was no change in his original stance. He simply asked how he could helm a Government while only maintaining a solitary MP post for his party. Meanwhile, though the President had imposed a countrywide curfew, the masses had ventured out to the roads defying it. At this moment the leader had advised his lawyers to monitor the situation with regard to measures being contemplated by the Government.
He also instructed the lawyers to represent the public devoid of party affiliations. On Monday the leader summoned the party officials to the head office and the topic of discussion was the country’s economic woes. They had spoken at length with regard to the people taking to the streets countrywide and the imposition of emergency regulations. They also exchanged views concerning the country’s economic downturn and the unbearable cost of living which had impacted the masses to no end. The leader mentioned that the unfolding situation could further aggravate by around May or June and opined that the scarcity of dollars will prevent imports and businessmen will be forced to shut down their factories and industries. Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene then joined the discussion and said that those in the Government are of the view that they will be able to bring down vital goods via the Indian Credit Line. The leader however wondered for how long they will be able to do that with only around one billion dollars in the coffers.
They then discussed at length the issues that had directly impacted the masses and the lack of political intervention towards the resolution of those issues. When the leader arrived in the House on Tuesday he was welcomed warmly by those in the Government and Opposition ranks.
The rookie MPs were of the concerted view that the only person capable of steering the country out of this economic mess is Wickremesinghe. To this the response from the leader was that they should tell their leadership to approach the IMF urgently and to ensure the credibility of the country is not hindered in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Most of the Government Ministers and MPs held lengthy talks with the leader regarding the ground situation in the country especially the demands made by the masses on the streets for the President to step down. Afterwards, the leader headed to Sirikotha to discuss the same with his party activists. Most of the party activists were unhappy over the failure of the party leaders to resolve the country’s burning issues within the House.
Chairman Vajira Abeywardene explained that the people are now of the view that the Parliament had also failed to resolve the issue and hence they are now determined to reject the 225 MPs at the next election. General Secretary Range Bandara then wondered as to who should be brought to helm the country if the 225 MPs are now spurned by them. He said the very person who was brought to helm the country from outside the political field had now dragged the country through its worst economic mess. He also questioned the logic behind demanding an election at this time when people are oppressed due to a myriad of problems. Wijewardene too agreed with the views expressed by Range Bandara and asked how an election could be held right now when there were shortages of fuel and rolling power cuts countrywide.
JJB on Senadhipathi
JJB MP Vijitha Herath explained in detail to Parliament how Nissanka Senadhipathi continued to misuse power despite having officially retired from the military service. According to the JJB MP Senadhipathi had attended the National Security Council (NSC) meeting that was convened in the aftermath of the Mirihana incident.
Herath claimed in the House that he has evidence to prove that the head of the Avant Garde had taken part in the deliberations of the NSC. He charged that in fact the NSC had been chaired by Senadhipathi and such has been the political clout and influence wielded by him. According to the JJB MP, Senadhipathi had maintained at the NSC meeting that he had sent 200 families to Mirihana to derail the protest there.
The MP insisted that people like the head of Avant Garde had become big shots under the present regime so much so they are currently chairing NSC meetings as well which alone shows to the extent the Government had gone to allow their goons to helm such important meetings for the country. He said that a meeting such as the NSC has to be convened by the President and allowing such discussions to be controlled by goons of this regime shows that national security has been irrevocably compromised.
Impeachment and NCM
Meanwhile, MP Herath said that an Impeachment Motion should be tabled against the President for the future welfare of the people, as he refuses to resign from his post.
Speaking in Parliament on Friday (8), he said that the Head of State must step down in order to find solutions to the current economic crisis. Furthermore, MP Herath said the JJB would also support a No-confidence Motion against the government if the political leadership acts arbitrarily without heeding the requests of the public.
He said the President is currently "not in a normal state of mind” and the Head of State was arrogantly holding on to power.
He mentioned that the President refused to accept Ali Sabry's resignation from the post of Finance Minister despite Minister Sabry informing the Parliament of his resignation in a letter addressed to the President.
MP Herath said that forcibly holding leadership would lead to serious destruction in the country. He added that this is why the public is taking to the streets to protest, demanding the President to step down.
Meanwhile, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) started to collect signatures for a No-confidence Motion (NCM) against the Government on Friday (8) and said the party would move an impeachment motion against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if the latter does not listen to demands of the public.
Addressing Parliament, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa presented nine proposals to solve current economic and political crises in the country.
Premadasa said that abolishing the Executive Presidency is much needed at the moment and constitutional democracy, with checks and balances, should be established. Also, independent commissions should be appointed again, he added.
“We will not work with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for we do not have faith in a Government led by him. He should resign and the Executive Presidency should be abolished. An interim or a caretaker Government cannot function under an Executive Presidency. Such a combination is a betrayal of the country. We are not ready to engage in such acts. We will consider engaging in discussions with a group of Government members on the future steps, if that group does not consist of a single member of Rajapaksa family. If the President and the Government do not listen to our proposals and the demands of the public, we will move an impeachment motion. You have three choices; lead, follow or get out!” he stressed.