UPFA General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, apparently, has had enough. He has virtually read the riot act on the dissidents within the SLFP in the Unity Government. Many SLFP ministers, deputies and state ministers have, in recent times, threatened to quit the government. Minister Amaraweera has now broken his silence vis-a-vis the dissidents and has chosen to call their bluff.
All along, it has been the UNP MPs who had been griping against their SLFP counterparts in the government for speaking out of turn. They even went to the extent of summoning media conferences to demand that the garrulous MPs of the SLFP who criticized the UNP, and its leader, should leave the Unity Government. They (SLFP MPs), they contended, cannot have the best of the both worlds, meaning, remaining in the government and criticizing it's main constituent and thus making overtures to the Joint Opposition. Matters came to head that, both, the President and Prime Minister, had to intervene to settle things.
However, things have now taken a turn for the worse, with senior SLFPers holding top ministerial office, not stopping at criticizing the UNP, but also taking issue with the government, as a whole. In other words, they have also started being critical of the SLFP component of the Unity Government and by extension, the President, who is the Chairman of the party. What is more, they do so while still enjoying the perks of office.
Hence, it is only natural that the day of reckoning must arrive, sooner or later. Minister Amaraweera has requested these ‘fence sitters’ in no uncertain terms, that they should leave the government, instead of criticizing it, while remaining in it's fold. He has also reminded them as to what would have become of their fate had the UNP gone for an election soon after the President's victory on January 8. Would they have had the opportunity to become ministers? On the other hand, the UNP held the majority in parliament and it would have been a simple matter for the PM to engineer a few crossovers and form a UNP government. Where would they have been in such an eventuality?
The minister was incensed that the SLFP ministers were criticizing government policy and the efforts taken to overcome the massive debt inherited by the regime. You cannot have it both ways. Toe the line or quit, the minister seems to be telling the rebels. He said: “Not only President Sirisena, but many SLFP ministers have admitted that if the UNP went for an immediate general election, they would have secured a majority in parliament, easily. Therefore, it is high time that all those who criticize and insult government policies must either put a stop to them or resign immediately from the SLFP and their portfolios and join the JO, because their behaviour is extremely unethical, shameless and treacherous.”
The SLFP rebels in the government fold have for a long time openly expressed their unease at remaining in the government, apparently for the consumption of their support base. It must not be forgotten that these ministers and MPs rode on the back of the Mahinda wave, to enter parliament and are obviously making noises to avoid incurring the wrath of their supporters. Not just these rebels, but it is true of all SLFP MPs in the present parliament. The hostile reception received by some SLFP MPs who dared criticize Rajapaksa, at public events, in recent times, certainly had influenced these rebels to buy insurance for their future survival, by expressing sentiments that are in accord with Mahida Rajapaksa and the JO. Their open criticism of the Hambantota port agreement and the Trincomalee oil tank issue are based on this thinking.
At the same time, they are also aware that they will be cast adrift, rudderless, if they leave the government, and with it, their portfolios. For, they will be out in the cold for another three years (when the next election is due) sans ministerial perks, privileges and the trappings of power. Hence, their procrastination, instead of taking the plunge. Some of these ministers and MPs say they are planning to quit, after the budget. Is it their case that they will not leave the government if the budget is a people friendly one?
Be that as it may, these SLFP elements in the Unity Government cannot be allowed to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. Disciplinary action is called for against them, rather than a mere demand to quit. Stability is vital for the smooth functioning of a government, and, attempts to throw a spanner in the works should be dealt with firmly. Investors may shy away when they spot a regime that is shaky. Besides, a Cabinet that is at variance on government policy can only lead to destability, with ministers working at cross purposes.
Those making dissenting noises, therefore, should be shown where to get off. If certain SLFP ministers are uncomfortable with remaining in the government, they should be told, in no uncertain terms, that they are welcome to quit.
Daily News, September 14, 2017