Le SLFP a rejoint l’UNP, la JHU et les partis musulmans pour former un cabinet d’union nationale à Sri Lanka, ce qui rend plus difficile un retour au pouvoir de l’ancien président Rajapakse à l’issue des élections législatives qui doivent avoir lieu dans quelques mois. Ce cabinet élargi présente au Parlement le 19ème amendement à la Constitution, qui met en place des nouvelles institutions consacrant l’abandon du régime présidentiel. En dépit des difficultés de l’exercice et des tensions inhérentes à tout processus de ce type, cet essai de réforme politique radicale représente une “grande première” qui pourrait servir d’exemple.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous des extraits d’un article de Rasika Jayakody paru dans le Daily News, qui analyse ce processus.
Maithri-Ranil-Chandrika Trinity Checkmates Mahinda by Forming National Govt Comprising UNP and SLFP
When he defected from the Rajapaksa administration to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency in November, last year, he only had the support of eight Parliamentarians of the UPFA who accompanied him in a face of a government that seemed invincible. The large majority of UPFA Parliamentarians criticized Sirisena’s move calling him a traitor who betrayed the party and its voters. In response, Sirisena said that he was still the legitimate General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and he never left his party where he started his political career over four decades ago.
However, in his run up to the presidency, 28 MPs, who represented the UPFA, joined hands with him, putting a damper on the election campaign of the former President who was running for his third term in office. Addressing his election meetings, Sirisena confidently said that he would regain his position in the SLFP following his “victory” at the presidential election.
A few days after his election victory, a sizable proportion of Central Committee members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party aligned themselves with the newly elected President, accepting him as the “by-default” Chairman of the SLFP. They said Sirisena had the backing of the majority of the SLFP Central Committee members and appointed a new board of officials with the new President as the head of the party.
Fearing a possible split in the party, the SLFP seniors, decided to urge the former President to relinquish his positions, making way for President Sirisena to become the official Chairman of the SLFP. At a meeting held at the Speaker’s official residence, former President Rajapaksa told the new President that he was ready to transfer the powers of the SLFP. Soon after this transfer of power, President Sirisena was formally appointed as the Chairman of the party by the Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
However, there were some seniors of the SLFP who still wanted “Mahinda” to lead the Parliamentary election campaign of the party as the Prime Ministerial Candidate. Some of them even attended the rally held at Nugegoda extending their support to what they termed as the former President’s Prime Ministerial candidature. Realizing the possible consequences of this trend, President Sirsena got his party secretary to issue a special statement on behalf of the Central Committee, prohibiting the members of the party from attending events organized by other political parties and organizations.
As a result of this measure, no senior SLFP Parliamentarian attended the rally which was held in Kandy to promote the former President who was on a feverish mission to return to active politics probably as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPFA coalition. With little or no support from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the pro-MR rally in Kandy ended as a disappointment.
Taking a step further, Sirisena drew the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party MPs by allowing them to join the government before the Parliamentary election. With this move, 26 MPs of the SLFP accepted ministerial portfolios from the government extending their support to the national led unity government, led by Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika. This new national government project, initiated by the UNP and the SLFP, came into play at an important juncture where the government’s 100 day programme is concerned.
During the special Cabinet meeting held on March 15 at the Presidential Secretariat, the Cabinet of ministers widely discussed the differences of opinion on dissolution of Parliament and the proposed constitutional amendments. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Jathika Hela Urumaya wanted to “water down” the 19th Amendment as they wanted to preserve certain powers of the Executive. When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe distributed a draft of the 19th Amendment among Cabinet ministers on March 12, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka hit out at the amendments saying it had ignored the recommendations of the SLFP and the JHU.
Therefore the Cabinet meeting ended with a lot of negative sentiments with regard to the constitutional amendment. At the same time, the United National Party was in a hurry to complete the 100 day programme and go for a Parliamentary election on April 23 while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party wanted to buy more time. As part of their plan to get the Parliamentary elections postponed, the SLFP asserted that the 19th Amendment should also accompany electoral reforms. This was backed by the Jathika Hela Urumaya and Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, Convener of the Movement for a Just Society. The SLFP also expressed willingness to form a national government with the UNP, if the ruling party wanted more time to introduce electoral reforms and the 19th Amendment simultaneously.
The United National Party vehemently rejected the idea of forming a national government with the SLFP before the election. The UNP seniors said they were only willing to form a national government after the forthcoming Parliamentary election. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made his position clear saying that the present government only had “oxygen” to exist until April 23. A lot of conflicting views were expressed by the UNP and the SLFP in this regard and it appeared as if the country was running into a political crisis of some sort.
It was against this backdrop that President Sirisena, fresh from his visit to London, convened the Cabinet meeting on March 15.
At this meeting, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to entrust President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with the task of holding discussions and arriving at a final decision on issues such as dissolution of Parliament on April 23, introduction of constructional amendment and finalizing electoral reforms. The Cabinet also listed down certain areas where everyone could agree upon when it came to the abolition of executive powers held by the President.
This included reduction of the Presidential term from six years to five years, provision for a citizen to challenge the President under fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, terms pertaining to Presidential pardon, two-term restriction on re-election of a President, provisions on appointment of Cabinet ministers and ministry secretaries, definition of the head of state and the head of government, and prevention of arbitrary dissolution of Parliament by the President.
The Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika realized that it was important to get the SLFP to play an active role in the introduction of the constitutional amendments. On one hand, they needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to get the amendments passed in the country’s legislature. On the other hand, the President too needed a strategy to further consolidate his power in the SLFP as some members of the party were greeting his decisions with a modicum of suspicion. He needed a “trump card” to position him as a leader whom the party could rely on at difficult times.
UNP’s compromise strategy
Settling for a national government before the election was nothing short of a compromise for the United National Party. But, it was a compromise that the UNP could not avoid. They needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to introduce constitutional amendments and go for the election as soon as possible. In this process, the UNP will now have to share the “credit” with the SLFP for the 19th Amendment.
However, no one can undermine the role the UNP played in the battle against the Executive Presidency, especially when Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power. It was the UNP who first decided that the abolition of the Executive Presidency should be the main rallying point for the opposition alliance at the presidential election. This was when certain political pundits pompously pointed out that slogans such as ‘abolition of Executive Presidency” were not appealing enough to the public.
The UNP’s compromise will also allow President Sirisena to dissolve Parliament soon after the implementation of the 100 day programme. The President will now be in a position to justify his decision to the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party as he has also allowed the SLFP to join the government accepting ministerial portfolios. Hence, from the UNP’s perspective, it can be construed as an act of taking one step back to jump two steps forward.
The United National Party prefers to have the Parliamentary election before the end of June. At the last Working Committee meeting of the party, the UNP appointed a special committee to look into immediate social welfare measures that need to be taken before the Parliamentary election. The committee comprised of Ravi Karunanayake, Sajith Premadasa, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Gayantha Karunathilake, Eran Wickremaratne and Ranjith Maddumabandara.
The party also decided that immediate development programmes should be carried out at the grassroots level to draw more public support to the party at the election. Although the party is preparing its election machinery for an early election, the dissolution of Parliament is in the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the Leader of the rival political camp. However, at a meeting with the heads of media institutions last week, President Sirisena said that he would not be “insincere” to the feelings of the UNPers who elevated him to the Presidency at the recently held election.
Irrespective of the outcome of the election, the Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika has already arrived at the decision that there should be a national government in the country for at least another two years. This has been repeatedly stated by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on numerous occasions. However, the ministries held by each party will be proportionate to its share in Parliament. Therefore, it is important for both parties to get a bigger share in Parliament and become the “majority stakeholder” of the new national government.
Joint Cabinet support total abolition of Executive Presidency
The joint Cabinet of the new national government met at the Presidential Secretariat on Monday evening to discuss the future of its programme and the proposed constitutional amendment. The meeting was attended by new members of the Cabinet who represented the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In a major development, the joint Cabinet decided to adopt the 19th Amendment to the constitution without amendments. This means the Cabinet arrived at a principled agreement that the Executive Presidency, which was introduced by the late J.R. Jayewardena, should be abolished in its entirety.
With this new development, the President would be the Head of State and the head of the Security Forces. However, a question arose with regard to the head of the government and the head of the Cabinet. The 19th Amendment, which was adopted by the Cabinet, was silent about the head of the government and it actually remained a grey area.
However, a senior Cabinet Minister, who spoke to the Daily News on Monday night after the Cabinet meeting said that for all practical and tactical purposes, the interpretation would be that the Prime Minister would function as the head of the government.
The Cabinet also adopted the provisions of the 17th Amendment to the constitution which includes the setting up of independent commissions. The setting up of independent missions, which was also a key aspect of the political campaign of the common opposition at the last presidential election, will be done as part of the 19th Amendment to the constitution.
With this decision, the Elections Commission, the independent Police Commission, the Public Services Commission and the Constitutional Council will be set up as part of the process to reduce the powers of the Executive.
The Cabinet agreed that the Executive Presidency should come to an end with the end of President Sirisena’s first term. After the President’s first term, the Presidency will be more or less a ceremonial figurehead as in India and several other Western countries. President Sirisena has already stated that he will not contest for Presidency again and this will be his last term in office.
Ranawaka wages lone battle
However, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who is also the General Secretary of the Jathika Hela Urumaya vehemently opposed the move saying the Common Opposition campaigned for the removal of the excessive powers of the Executive Presidency and not for the total abolition of the system. He was of the opinion that the total abolition of the Executive Presidency would destabilize the country and would go against the mandate of the new government.
The remarks made by Minister Ranawaka irked several senior members of the United National Party who were strong advocates of the total abolition of the Executive Presidency.
At this point, Minister Laskhman Kiriella responded to Ranawaka stating the original idea was to fully abolish the Executive Presidency and the present President can retain his powers until the end of his term, in accordance with the provisions of the constitutional amendment.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera strongly responded to Minister Ranawaka saying the those who were involved with the opposition campaign from the beginning were pushing for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency. The Foreign Minister said the JHU joined the opposition campaign much later.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while endorsing the Cabinet’s decision, said there should be a more comprehensive constitutional amendment under the new Parliament which will be convened after the next Parliamentary election. He said the 19th Amendment was only an amendment to the present constitution implying that it should not be considered as the end of the road.
President Sirisena, addressing the Cabinet meeting, said the government was already late in terms of introducing much needed constitutional amendments. What he emphasized was the fact that the government had no time to waste over trivial matters. He also added that the national government should work fast and take every possible action to get the amendments passed in Parliament without any delay. The President has already made his position clear stating that he was for the total abolition of Executive Presidency and he did not want to cling to his presidential powers eternally.
Although there are some concerns about politicians who have been included in the joint Cabinet, the first meeting of the ministers produced a satisfactory outcome with two main parties arriving at a settlement on the total abolition of Executive Presidency.
National govt puts a damper on MR plans
The newly formed national government has certainly diluted the campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power. Although the pro-Mahinda parties are already planning to hold another rally in Rathnapura, it is clear that the movement has lost momentum with the SLFP joining the UNP-led Cabinet. The pro-MR parties were constantly urging the SLFP to name Rajapaksa as its Prime Ministerial Candidate at the election and the SLFP’s decision to join the national government is a severe blow to their campaign. By joining the national government, the SLFP has given a clear indication to the pro-MR supporters that the party was not interested in accommodating “Mahinda” at the election.
At this point, if former President Rajapaksa wants to be a Prime Ministerial Candidate at the next election, he will have to form another political movement with the support of hardcore MR loyalists. But, it is now becoming clear that the former President does not want to take a political gamble by contesting without the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Therefore, he will take a backseat at the upcoming General Election as the two main parties will seek a mandate for the formation of a national government.
That was what former President Rajapaksa meant when he congratulated he national government formed by the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
He said he was laughed at when he spoke of a national government during the time of war. “But I will not laugh at the new national government,” Rajapaksa said wearing a typical Cheshire cat smile on his face.
“I am having a rest these days. So I should not talk about the developments on the political front,” Rajapaksa said when he attended the prefects’ investiture ceremony held at the Samarasinharama Dhamma school in Thelijjawila, Matara, on the day the national government was formed. Determined to get a fiery comment from the former President, a journalist who was present at the event asked Rajapaksa whether a national government was good for the future of the country.
In response, the former President calmly said it was yet to be seen. He avoided further questions by bringing forward Mahinda Yapa Aneywardena who also joined the national government just hours before. “If you have any questions about the national government, ask our “national government ministers,” said Rajapaksa with a wide grin.
“I have nowhere to go these days, except temples. I accept invitations from Dhamma schools. The children who come from the distant areas speak of the success of Dhamma schools. A Dhamma school is a good place for producing a disciplined set of people.”
“According to Buddhist doctrine we are able to face victory and defeat in the same manner. Children should be able to face victory and defeat alike. Do not betray the country. Respect the country in the same way you respect your parents, “he said.