New political culture in the offing | Sunday Observer

New political culture in the offing

30 April, 2023

Sri Lanka experienced the worst-ever economic debacle, political crisis and social upheaval from the beginning of 2022 due to the wrong economic policies and mismanagement of vital sectors followed by the unprecedented degree of corruption during the previous regime. With this extremely chaotic situation in the country, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down with his Cabinet and subsequently President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to flee the country to save his life from the violent protesters who agitated against him with the slogan “Gota Go Home”.

The Aragalaya which started as a peaceful protest at the beginning, eventually gathered momentum with the public support and in this backdrop radical extremist political ruffians infiltrated the Aragalaya movement and turned it into a destructive struggle until the advent of the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was elected by the majority of parliamentarians as the new President through a constitutionally mandated and legitimate procedure.

Open invitation

Soon after assuming duties as the 8th Executive President, Wickremesinghe made a very humble and open invitation to all Opposition parties in Parliament to assist him revive the economy which had been reduced to an abysmal state. However, other than the two Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) parliamentarians Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, no one in the Opposition honoured this humble invitation of the President.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe was of the strong belief that the only way to get out of the present economic catastrophe was to seek International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance and from day one he worked relentlessly to achieve this amid criticism from some Opposition politicians. However, he was single handedly successful in his valiant effort with the support of Central Bank officials.

The country has already seen the light of day economically, compared to the gloomy period we experienced nine months ago. All the economic, financial social and consumer indices and indicators are gradually improving, proving to the world that the country’s economy is back on the correct track with the IMF assistance and all the other donor agencies have guaranteed their continued support to Sri Lanka while some countries had agreed to partner with Sri Lanka in its economic rebuilding process.

President Wickremesinghe’s fervent desire, firm conviction and strict determination is to make the country a better place for our future generation and hence he is repeatedly making a humble request from all Opposition parties in Parliament and even those outside of it to assist him in this nation-building process, setting aside political differences at least for the time being.

It is very encouraging to see comparatively young ministers including Kanchana Wijesekara, Shehan Semasinghe, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Pohottuwa stalwart Prasanna Ranatunga and a host of others discharging an immeasurable service under the guidance of President Wickremesinghe.

President Wickremesinghe very clearly says that he does not want to weaken or destabilise other political parties but what he expects from them is to render their support until the economy is fully stabilised and then engage in their party politics. He had never invited anyone to join the United National Party (UNP) and support the Government.

This is a new political culture that the President is trying to inculcate in the country for the greater good of the public. Though he is still the leader of the UNP, since his ascendency to the Presidency he never took part in any political activity which may boost the image of the UNP. His motto is “Country First”.

President Wickremesinghe who had been an MP for well over four decades and worked with a number of leaders and also as the Leader of the Opposition has fully realised that divisive politics had stalled the forward march of the country from 1948. Hence, his firm intention is to get the support of all parties for his projected program of work.

SJB’s stand

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa had declined the offer of President Wickremesinghe citing customary opportunistic political sentiments at this crucial hour while some of the constituent parties of the SJB have sounded their willingness to join the Government in the nation-building process. Premadasa has said that Government is trying to buy over his MPs at the rate of Rs. 200 million for each MP which has earned the wrath of his MPs as it is casts aspersions on their character and honesty.

It is speculated in political circles that some of the Members who broke away from the Pohottuwa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) and became Independent in Parliament may extend their cooperation to President Wickremesinghe until the economy becomes fully stabilised.

When the President presented the IMF program in Parliament on Wednesday, all Government Members applauded it while the SJB had their customary criticism and reservations on some clauses of the Agreement.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s stand on the agreement was also the same while the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s usual negative stance was aptly displayed by its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. The newly-formed Helicopter alliance also aired their unwillingness to support the Government over this agreement.

President Wickremesinghe earnestly reiterated his request to the SJB and all Opposition Members, citing the importance of working as a team to achieve success with the IMF agreement.

All-Party Government

President Wickremesinghe was interested in an All-Party Government (APG) at the beginning but everybody backed out citing different reasons and expressing opportunistic political sentiments. It is speculated in political circles that the President is not interested in forming alliances, fronts or coalitions only with one, two or three parties as political history has proved that they do not last long with their different political ideologies and personal agendas.

The first ever coalition Government was formed in the country by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who broke away from UNP and with the support of revolutionary Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) leader Phillip Gunawardena, W.Dahanayake and some other leaders, he formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Government in 1956. But within a few years he had problems with his constituent partners on a numbers of issues, especially on the Paddy Land Act of Phillip Gunawardena.

The next coalition Government was formed in 1970 by Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Samagi Peramuna) with LSSP leader Dr. N.M. Perera, Communist Party (CP) leader Peter Keuneman and many other party stalwarts. But before completing the stipulated period they too had differences of opinion on various issues and finally the constituent partners were removed from the Cabinet by Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Then the next coalition Government (Probationary Government) was formed by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with the support of the JVP and within two years they had problems and broke away from the Government.

Then it was the Yahapalanaya Government of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe which was formed in 2015 and within a few years they could not cohabit and in the latter stages, the two leaders were at loggerheads on every issue that finally affected the smooth administration of State affairs.

President Wickremesinghe who has a clear vision for the country is of the strong belief that divisive politics had stalled the steady progress of the country since Independence and it is imperative that the consensus of all parties is of paramount importance in the nation-building process. That is why, he repeatedly called upon all parties in Parliament to support him in this solemn endeavour, setting aside political differences for some time.

It is admirable to see that the majority of parliamentarians, especially the Pohottuwa members had pledged to extend their continued cooperation to President Wickremesinghe in this nation-building process.

Independent and unbiassed political analysts said that the main opposition SJB should extend its support to the Government without harping on petty issues if they have an iota of love for the country. Failing which, they would be branded as a set of power-hungry political ruffians. It is time that the SJB realised that they will not get any political advantage in a future election by opposing President Wickremesinghe’s efforts at this crucial stage.