Alas! Divided we fall | Sunday Observer

Alas! Divided we fall

The best laid plans of mice and men, so the saying goes, go awry. In this instance it was the best laid plans of Mahinda that went haywire.

What was Mahinda Rajapaksa and other leaders of the Joint Opposition (JO) thinking when they brought a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?

Obviously, they planned to oust Wickremesinghe from his job. What then was the next move? Was that thought through or was the motion of no-confidence a knee jerk reaction to the euphoria of winning the Local Government elections?

Clearly, the JO believed they would succeed. Had the motion of no-confidence prevailed, there would have been one of two possible scenarios: either someone other than Premier Wickremesinghe from the United National Party (UNP) would have become Prime Minister or an alternative would have been sought from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

What is now becoming clear is that there was never a Plan B- what would happen if the motion was defeated? This was not factored in because Rajapaksa was quite adamant that he didn’t want the motion introduced unless the JO was certain it would succeed.

We now know that the JO negotiated only with the mainstream SLFP headed by President Sirisena, although the President was not directly involved. There were more than enough brokers trying to seal the deal: Susil Premajayantha, S.B. Dissanayake, Dilan Perera and Thilanga Sumathipala, to name a few.

The task of luring UNPers to sign the motion was entrusted to the mainstream SLFP. They were supposed to give the green light (pardon the pun!) which they did and the motion was submitted to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

What happened then is a mystery. Did UNPers deliberately hoodwink the SLFP into submitting the motion? Or, did they suddenly get cold feet and pledge their loyalty once more to their leader? For whatever reason, the UNP dissidents didn’t come out of the woodwork and that resulted in a majority of SLFPers loyal to President Sirisena opting for the easy way out, abstaining from voting by absenting themselves.

As a result, it is the SLFP, or more precisely the Sirisena faction of the SLFP, that is bearing the brunt of the fallout from the defeat of the motion of no-confidence.

The party is divided as to whether it should stay in government or leave it. Those who voted against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe wish to leave the Cabinet and the government. Those who abstained wish to remain in office. Both options are fraught with repercussions.

If the SLFP quits the government, the UNP will go ahead and form a government of its own although it has only 106 seats to call its own. It can get the support of a few disillusioned SLFPers who are marking time to jump ship. It can also count on the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on an issue by issue basis.

This is all well and good for the UNP - and even the SLFP which can get together with the JO thereafter. However, that will isolate President Sirisena and place him at the mercy of the UNP. In effect, it will make President Sirisena a lame duck President, a prospect he will not relish just as much as Chandrika Kumaratunga didn’t enjoy being President under a UNP-led Government in 2001.

If the SLFP does not leave the Government, it will lose whatever is left of its integrity and standing in the eyes of the public. It can be argued that only sixteen SLFPers supported the motion of no-confidence but it is not a secret that the party - from its top leadership downwards - endorsed the motion and desperately wanted it to succeed.

To remain in the same Government after the motion is defeated is akin to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe staying on as PM after a motion was passed against him - it would stink to high heaven and wouldn’t go down well with the electorate.

There is a third option. This is in fact the option that is receiving the most active consideration right now. That is for those who voted for the motion of no-confidence to quit the government while those who abstained would remain.

This is a solution that would ‘work’ - except for the fact that it highlights how hopelessly divided the SLFP would then be: three factions, one loyal to the President within the government, another loyal to the President but outside the government and a third group loyal to Rajapaksa!

Already there are indications that this may be happening. The recent Central Committee meeting of the party was a volatile affair with those wanting to quit Government and those wanting to stay put engaged in heated arguments. Some even called for the resignations of Duminda Dissanayake and Mahinda Amaraweera as Secretaries of the SLFP and the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA), respectively.

That brings us back to the initial thought about the best laid plans going awry. The JO’s intention in bringing the motion of no-confidence against the Prime Minister was to lay open the divisions of the UNP and pit a faction which supported him against those who wanted him to quit.

What happened though was the exact opposite. Instead of the UNP dividing into two factions, the SLFP has fragmented into three groups and is struggling to find common ground.

In contrast, the UNP rallied behind its leader for better or for worse and has now resolved to reform and restructure the party, a process that is going full steam ahead. The party’s Chairman and Secretary have resigned and a twelve member Politburo has been designated as its highest decision making body. What an irony it will be if the UNP emerges stronger as a result of the motion of no-confidence and the SLFP becomes weaker?

This is not the first time Rajapaksa got it wrong. He erred when he called early Presidential Elections in 2015 when he could have stayed in office for two more years.

Now, he - or those who advise him - have blundered again. And this time around, surely he cannot blame it on an astrologer?

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