Chief Government Whip and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena is said to have been tasked with preparing a report on the UPFA MPs who absented themselves on Thursday and Friday when three orders of the Strategic Development Projects Act were put to vote as well as those who, in a surprise move, voted against them much to the consternation of the government. However, it is highly unlikely that the UPFA will go to the extent of taking disciplinary action against them; they were prepared to face the consequences of their defiance.
Smaller parties in the UPFA coalition have to retain their support bases if they are not to lose their bargaining power in the government. They have felt the need for shoring up their crumbling images by striking discordant notes on the government’s unpopular moves. They are likely to continue to do so in the future as well, however hurtful it may be to the powers that be, because they do not want newly formed Democratic Party to eat in their vote banks.
The only way the government could avert further trouble is to stop trying to bulldoze its way through and heed the concerns of its coalition partners and obtain their concurrence when vital decisions are made. Its popularity is manifestly on the wane and it needs their backing more than ever as national elections are drawing near.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has, at a recent meeting with newspaper editors and electronic media heads, sought to pooh-pooh a media report that a presidential election will be held early next year. He has posed a rhetorical question why he should go for presidential polls when he could hold a parliamentary election first.
President Rajapaksa cannot be expected to show his hand until the last moment. He is very likely to opt for a snap presidential election before parliamentary polls. He is aware that it is he who delivers votes for the UPFA; some of his parliamentarians, provincial councilors or local government members have become political liabilities and the best way to arrest the erosion of the UPFA’s vote bank, as evident from the last PC polls results, is for him to secure another term, if he can, and then dissolve Parliament.
A protest vote people may cast against some of his parliamentarians has the potential to ruin the UPFA’s chances of being re-elected in the event of the dissolution of Parliament before a presidential election. In such an eventuality, the incumbent President will have his work cut out in a presidential contest. He was faced with the same dilemma in 2010, when he was challenged by his army chief who retired to enter the presidential fray. Amidst pressure from his advisers and well-wishers to go for a general election he opted for early presidential polls and his strategy worked; the grand Opposition coalition cobbled together to defeat him disintegrated even before the general election that followed in quick succession and the rest is history. There is no reason why he should not do likewise again.
This time around the Opposition will find it difficult to rope in a more formidable contender than its common presidential candidate in 2010, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, and rally all anti-government forces once again to better its performance. But, let it be repeated that President Rajapaksa may not want to depend on his parliamentarians’ performance at a general election to secure a third term at a subsequent presidential contest. The appointment of the next Prime Minister, in the event of the UPFA securing another term, is a problem that the President may not want to face before a presidential election, where the unity of his camp will be of paramount importance. For, it is sure to cause a lot of resentment and disgruntlement within the SLFP, in which everybody wants to be the PM.