“Coalitions though successful have always found this, that their triumph has been brief.” ~Benjamin Disraeli
President Maithripala Sirisena was not elected President as a candidate representing one single party. He was the candidate of a combine. That combine consisted of the parties that represent the two major ethnic groups, Tamils and Muslims, and the United National Party (UNP), the leading single political party in Sri Lanka since Independence. No more than a marginal few of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) voted for him.
The entire Southern province was swept by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Bulk of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, nearly 65%, voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa. Close to 85%, if not more, of the Tamils and Muslims voted for Maithripala Sirisena. Almost 100% of the UNP voted for him. In other words, if not for the Tamils, Muslims and the United National Party, Maithripala Sirisena would not have been our President today. All of the aforementioned are ‘facts’, not ‘opinions’. Yet the humility has gone the Maithripala way and arrogance belongs in Rajapaksa’s lap.
Then followed the parliamentary elections. Not only did the Rajapaksa-clan and his local (Sri Lankan) cohorts expect and boldly predict a sweeping victory for the SLFP. Even some foreign embassies, particularly those embassies that represent countries that were closely connected to the Rajapaksas’ alleged transactions came out of their usually muted diplomatic shells and privately talked about a parliamentary majority for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister. They were wishfully giddy about a Mahinda-comeback. The Champaign was ready; fire crackers waiting to be lit and parties prearranged. When the results were announced, the United National Party secured a majority of parliamentary seats. Yet it failed to secure an absolute majority. Hence a coalition government was formed. For the first time in the histories of the leading political parties in Sri Lanka, an uncommon and unprecedented decision was reached.
A coalition government came into being. The only stakeholders of the coalition are the UNP and SLFP. The voters in Sri Lanka, collectively decided that the best alternative to a Mahinda Rajapaksa’-led cabal-government was a coalition between the two leading political parties representing a nation, though a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious in real terms, that is increasingly becoming Sinhalese-Buddhist in nature and orientation. The results of the General Election in 2015 produced a UNP plurality, not an absolute majority. This was an error committed by the collective mind of the Sri Lankan electorate. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe campaigned for the UNP candidates while President Sirisena refrained from campaigning for the SLFP candidates. Maithripala Sirisena, as was elucidated at the very outset of this column, was elected to office by a combine of Tamils, Muslims and 100% of UNPers. He simply could not campaign against the UNP candidates. That would have greatly hurt those who elected him, not to forget his pristine conscience. However, President Sirisena’s absence from the campaign trail in the General Election did not help the UNP significantly. Consequently, chances of a UNP-only government evaporated. An agreement between the two leading political parties ensued and a ‘coalition’ government was formed, much to the distress of the UNP voters and ‘suspicious-delight’ of the SLFPers.
What then followed is what we are having now: a Cabinet, enormous in number and grievously disproportionate to the work at hand and an egregious renunciation of a campaign pledge. A natural consequence of a coalition government- trying to accommodate each and every plea, reasonable or unreasonable, of the coalition partners- is overshadowing the need for a manageable Cabinet and a bureaucracy supporting the government policies and principles. The ‘permanent government’, the official bureaucracy which is made up of Sri Lanka Administrative Service personnel in Sri Lanka, does not seem to be aligned with the political leadership of the current Administration in Sri Lanka. (The same is alleged to be in practice in the chaotic Trump Administration in America. In the United States they call it the Deep State). There are reasons for it. The entire bureaucracy, excluding one or two, was in place for the entire period of the Rajapaksa regime. They had become part of the web of corruption and nepotism. Some of them were cronies of the previous First Family. They are as sinful as the politicians who commanded them in that period.