The Sunday Leader

To bell the cat, or toll the bell?

By N Sathiya Moorthy


Now that the much-maligned local government polls are behind the nations Sri Lankans can sit back, take a deeper breath than already and wait for the next round of political drama to unfold with faltering regularity and greater melodrama than during the three-plus years of the incumbent government. That way, the nation could not have seen anything more farcical than this one, be it the government or be it the LG polls, not that there was anything wrong with the elections per se, barring the inordinate and unexplained delays, for which the Government invented new reasons and justifications (?) until they too ended up running out of fresh ideas and convincing concepts.

It is possible that the Government’s energies, rather the energies of the ‘Big Two’ partners in President Maithiripala Sirisena’s SLFP and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, came to be expended on more productive and even more critical problems of everyday cohabitation that they ended up leaving out the LG polls to its own fate. If in the process, they also threw the baby with the bath-water, the action may be inadvertent but the consequences can have a lasting impact on the present and future generation of Sri Lankan youth, in this era of social media and the early setting in of youthful frustrations than in the era of JVP-LTTE militancy.

It cannot be life as usual, anymore, either for the two leaders, their parties, and thus the nation as a whole. The Maithiri-Ranil duo had known that any election campaign would bring out the inherent suspicions, bordering at times on hatred out, more than their occupational hazard in having to keep former President Mahinda Rajapaksa out of the reckoning, for all time to come. If it did not happen earlier in the parliamentary polls of 2015, there were reasons. Those that voted for the SLFP voted for the Rajapaksas, not Maithiri or the party. Colombo’s elite who too had known it all along looked the other way as the post-presidential poll honeymoon with the voter was still holding – wherever the latter had voted against Mahinda R in January 2015.

It is no more the case, anymore. The official SLFP and the UNP are daggers drawn at each other than even against Mahinda-centric JO and the Basil R-led SLPP, which in turn is officially headed by G L Peiris. It would be enough – or, would have been enough – for the latter two to sit tight and enjoy the fun, and the rest would have happened without their help, instigation or initiative.  But it is not fun anymore for the nation and the voters in particular. This pain has to end, and end early.

Now is the time…

It does not mean that the two parties and leaders have to dissolve their unholy union, centred on the single point of obtaining Mahinda’s exit as President. It went without saying that once that had been obtained, the union should have ended. For, no one other than a few had-been’s actually believed, or pretended to believe, or better still, wanted to believe, that it was ‘yahapalayana’ government after all, and was there out to usher in better governance, here and now – with firm-footed legislative and executive measures to ensure that no one in Mahinda’s place would ever hope or even try to upset the ‘apple-cart’.

Much water has flowed down the Keleniya Ganga, and all the other rivers of Sri Lanka, and also flowed into the seas that surround the nation since the presidential polls of 2015. Worse still, through the LG poll campaign, the UNP and the SLFP threw more mud at each other than at any other, starting with the Rajapaksas. Ministers and other senior leaders from the two parties, with adequate hints and cat-calls from their respective leaders have openly spoken that the alliance cannot continue after the LG polls, after all.

The voter is confused and worried. With a so-called ‘stable government’ in place, the economy is in a shambles, law and order is near-non-existent (though there are no more any of those ‘disappearances’ and fears of mid-night knocks on the doors). But then, just as the voters forgot their fears for LTTE terrorism not long after Mahinda’s post-war re-election in 2010, to be able to vote him out, today, they have also forgotten the mid-night knocks, and do not fear its return, either.

It is not only about the bad-blood between alliance partners. If they want to quit, now is the time, to quit more honourably. But even if they want to re-work the alliance, again now is the time. After all, there is also the added need for them to re-new the coalition government arrangement, officially, and also inform Parliament Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya and the rest about the continuance, or otherwise, of the ‘Government for National Unity’ that they forged.

Unprecedented, but…

It is anybody’s guess, how many Sri Lankans, especially party leaders, remember the 19-A arrangement, which provided for a higher number of ministers than otherwise sanctioned under the very same constitutional amendment. The SLFP-UNP coalition arrangement lapsed weeks ago, and one has not been formally signed in, in replacement. This could well mean that many ministers in this Government too should have left long ago.

The constitutional question arises: Which of the ministers should have gone, and who could have been retained? Between the two, who decides, if it came to that – the President or the Prime Minister? Much as 19-A might be claimed to have modified the powers of the Executive President, ordinarily and otherwise, too, all ministers, including the Prime Minister continue in office only at the ‘pleasure of the President’. True, there is no specific court case where the issue has been settled, but there may be no need to re-state the obvious.

Yet, there is still the possibility of an agitated citizen moving the Supreme Court. Or, any Member of Parliament could move the Speaker for a ruling. Already, Speaker Jayasuriya has clarified to the JVP that he had not been informed of any fresh agreement, extending the GNU arrangement. At the height of the post-poll mismatch just now, that is a question that Sirisena and Wickremesinghe may have to address. After all, the two have been alternating between an end to the coalition here and now, and an enduring coalition till the presidential and parliamentary polls, 2020, and even for another full term, until 2025.

Eternal loser?

The nation cannot afford instability of the kind. Neither its population, nor its external allies be it on ‘war-crimes probe’ (where the West is an under-writer) or with/ on China, or a host of other factors, centred on Sri Lanka. The question just now is who will bell he cat – to end or re-visit the coalition, or to ring the death-toll for this government, wherever the nation may go from there. Will be it Sirisena, or Wickremesinghe, together or separately, or the Rajapaksas, or the man/men on the street(s) – and literally, so?

Whichever way one looks at, fresh and early elections, at least to Parliament, may be in order. Should Wickremesinghel resign to facilitate the process, there is no guarantee that Sirisena, or Rajapaksa, or both together, would not try to patch up another coalition by encouraging defections, and make the former look an ‘eternal loser still’, especially in the eyes of his cadres and urban middle class supporters of his UNP.

The nation cannot afford yet another government of defectors. Thus, let Sirisena and Wickremesinghe draw their respective lines, come up with something more credible and creditable than their long-forgotten 100-day manifesto from the previous elections that Rajapaksa successfully lost than they gained – and obtain a positive mandate for another five years, and rule without threats from inside or outside the coalition, or hiccups, all of them from inside. Or, together, let them part ways and open the door for early polls, and let the people decide.

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email:

5 Comments for “To bell the cat, or toll the bell?”

  1. citizen

    anti MR -Sunday leader biasness against MR can end now? be fair to all

    • tomsam

      Yes pakse clan can continue where they left; to restart the genocide of Eelam Tamils.

  2. president has very good lesion from the mr Rajapaska family, government supported crime and corruption for mr Rajapaska family you told mr Gota run away from the country it word for president it most disgraced to you and srilankan and judicial

  3. Eng.M.V.R.Perera

    Ranil can form a government of his own with 20 cabinet ministers and throw out the presidents policy of of not burning coal which has caused over a trillion Rs. and also throw out his addiction to solar power which has caused over several million of US $ to our country as there are about 80 Mw of solar panels fixed in our country which is the biggest fraud in our country’s history

  4. children fight like mr Ranil and mr srisena,promised to book all politician crime and corruption, but it was biggest fraud to srilankan prime minister and president ,last chance bring criminal to and fraud to justice, l please lession the advisers,

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