Parliament First -BR and RW

Parliament First -BR and RW

The cold war between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLPP founder, Basil Rajapaksa, is till not over argue some political commentators .The next presidential election would be held first between Sept. 18 and Oct. 18., 2024 according to Wickramasigha.

Basil has assured party members that he will do everything within his power to have parliamentary elections first .

It is true that the people tend to vote overwhelmingly for the party at a general election or any other electoral contest that is held after a presidential race. But there have been notable exceptions.

Presidential Elections  First Doesn’t work Always

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga secured a second term by winning the 1999 presidential election, but her SLFP-led coalition, the People’s Alliance (PA), could not obtain a working majority in the parliament at the general election held the following year. The PA could obtain only 107 seats in the 225-member parliament. The UNP secured 89 seats, the JVP 10, the TNA 5, the National Unity Alliance 4, the EPDP 4, the TELO 3, Sihala Urumaya 1, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress 1 and Independent Group 2 (Digamadulla) 1.

The PA government collapsed due to mass crossovers the following year, and the UNP-led UNF won the 2001 general election and formed a government, which President Kumaratunga sacked in 2004. The SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance won the 2004 general election.

Maithripala Sirisena, who was fielded by a UNP-led coalition, won the January 2015 presidential election, defeating the then sitting President Mahinda Rajapaksa government, which had a two-thirds majority in the parliament. But the UNP-led UNF could obtain only 106 seats at the general election that was held seven months later. President Sirisena went all out to ensure the defeat of the UPFA, which named former President Rajapaksa as its prime ministerial candidate, as he wanted the UNP to form a government, but the UPFA won 95 seats. The JVP obtained 6 seats, the ITAK (TNA) 16, the SLMC 1 and EPDP 1.


Love for Democracy

Basil is not driven by any love for democracy when he says a general election should be held first so that the people will vote rationally, and no political party will get a steamroller majority in the parliament. The SLPP cannot find a presidential candidate and Basil knows it will be left with only a few seats in case a general election is held after the presidential polls. Some of its seniors are expected to defect to the UNP in the run-up to the next presidential election.

It had been smooth sailing for President Wickremesinghe until recently. He would do as he pleased and even did not heed the dictates of Mahinda or Basil. He refused to appoint some of the SLPP district leaders in the government parliamentary group to the Cabinet, and went so far as to win over some SLPP MPs including ministers much to the consternation of the SLPP leadership.

But the situation has changed since Basil’s return from the US on March 05. Several days before he came back, his kinsman, Udayanga Weeratunga, went on record as saying that a general election would be held before the coming presidential election. It was a trial balloon. Having gauged public opinion, Basil, while leaving the BIA after returning from the US, indicated the possibility of a general election being held first.

In a interview, Basil said all former Local Government heads representing the SLPP had asked him to go for an early general election. Thereafter, he officially informed President Wickremesinghe of the SLPP’s decision on Thursday evening. The SLPP and President Wickremesinghe, however, have not reached a consensus on which election is to be held first, and several rounds of talks are likely to be held on the issue within the next few weeks before a decision is made.

Dissolve the parliament

President Wickremesinghe can dissolve the parliament anytime, but he is not likely to do so because it is far more advantageous for him and the UNP to face a presidential election first. He will do what is good for him and his party. UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara has told the media that a presidential election should precede parliamentary polls. So, the SLPP will have to cause the parliament to be dissolved without the President’s help if it wants an early general election.

The task before Basil will be to have a resolution signed by at least 113 MPs, calling for the dissolution of Parliament. He can deliver more than that number for Bills, etc., in the House; he ensured the defeat of the no-faith motion against Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Thursday (21).
He delivered 117 votes for that purpose while the Opposition could muster only 75 votes, but the dissolution of the parliament is not something that many MPs are amenable to. There are new MPs who have not completed five years in the parliament to qualify for pension, and there are also legislators who are not sure of re-election. The SLPP also has in its ranks some MPs who have switched their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe for all practical purposes and are planning to defect after the next presidential election, which, they think, Wickremesinghe will win. They do not want to decamp earlier and run the risk of falling between two stools in case of a general election being held before the presidential polls.

The Opposition has been clamouring for the dissolution of Parliament. It wants the government to seek a fresh mandate. So, it will have to support a bid to dissolve the parliament. This may be Basil’s trump card.How ever the NPP has rejected the idea of having parliamentary elections first .

Parliament will be dissolved before the end of this year even if a presidential election is held first. Whoever wins the presidency will opt for a snap general election immediately afterwards. The SLPP cannot find a formidable presidential candidate let alone contest the coming presidential election confidently, and Basil is trying to prevent it from suffering a humiliating loss similar to that of the UNP in 2020 by having Parliament dissolved and the next general election advanced.

It will be advantageous for President Wickremesinghe to face a presidential contest first and then go for a general election, for he apparently thinks he can leverage his political leadership for the country’s economic recovery efforts to win the presidency and consolidate his power before preparing the UNP for a general election. The UNP, none of whose candidates were returned at the 2020 general election, has hitched its wagon to its leader.

Besides taking up for discussion the SLPP’s position that a general election should be held, Basil, at Thursday’s meeting with President Wickremesinghe, expressed his displeasure at the manner in which the state enterprises were being restructured. He said that had to be done with the concurrence of trade unions, the Maha Sangha and the nationalistic forces supportive of the SLPP. He is trying to shore up its support base, which has eroded over the past several years. He is making a last-ditch effort to save the SLPP from a disastrous electoral defeat. President Wickremesinghe finds himself in a dilemma; pressure will continue to mount on his to dissolve the parliament prematurely, but is not likely to give in to the SLPP easily

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