COLOMBO: The on-going squabble between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) over urgency in regard to electoral reforms could lead to an early dissolution of the island nation’s parliament and snap parliamentary elections, a year ahead of schedule.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP are of the view that primacy must be given to reform of the Executive Presidency; restitution of the Independent Commissions; and enhancement of the powers of parliament. Electoral reform could come later as this is a complicated matter, they say. But the Leader of the Opposition, Nimal Sripala de Silva of the SLFP, wants electoral reform to be part of the current reform package. Both have stuck to their guns.
Since the SLFP has the majority in parliament, the UNP cannot pass any of its constitutional amendments without the SLFP’s support. The amendments sought need two thirds majority. To browbeat the SLFP into submission, Wickremesinghe has threatened to dissolve parliament and seek a fresh mandate. His calculation is that an immediate dissolution will be disadvantageous to the SLFP as it is now divided between the Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa factions.
The Wickremesinghe government, which is a coalition of the UNP, elements of the SLFP, and other parties, is itself divided on the issue. While minister Rajitha Senaratne of the SLFP told the media on Thursday, that parliamentary elections will be held only after electoral reforms, Wickremesinghe told the National Executive Council that electoral reforms will have to wait. Priority must be given to other constitutional reforms, he said. He warned that if he does not get sufficient support for this view in parliament, he will dissolve it and seek a fresh mandate.
Wickremesinghe also pointed out that electoral reform was not one of the key promises of Maithripala Sirisena’s Presidential election campaign. And Sirisena could not have won without UNP’s support. In Sirisena’s manifesto, the accent was on the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the re-establishments of Independent Commissions to oversee the functioning of the police, elections and the civil service, with a view to de-politicizing these institutions.