New Political Alliances in the making | Daily News

New Political Alliances in the making

The Government was this week pre-occupied with several critical domestic issues such as efforts to revive the economy, the upcoming Local Government elections, ethnic reconciliation and the proposed revision of electricity tariffs all of which attracted considerable public interest and discussion.

Foremost among the Government’s priorities was resurrecting the economy which has been severely impacted by the ongoing foreign exchange crisis. Acting accordingly was the Central Bank which this week said it was taking measures to stabilise rising interest rates offered by commercial banks.

The Central Bank had last week announced measures to restrict licensed commercial banks’ access to the Standing Deposit Facility (SDF) to five times a month while limiting the access to the Standing Lending Facility (SLF) to a maximum of 90 per cent of a bank’s reserve requirement.

“These measures would also eliminate unhealthy competition for deposits among financial institutions and would be instrumental in inducing a moderation in the market interest rate structure (of both deposit and lending interest rates) with improving market liquidity conditions,” the Central Bank said.

Government officials are also continuing to pursue financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Several rounds of talks have been held and agreement has been reached on most related issues and formal ratification of the assistance is expected soon, officials have said.

The other issue which has evoked great public interest is the Local Government elections. The Elections Commission has now announced dates for accepting nominations from January 18 to 21. The date for the election will be announced after nominations have been accepted.

Preparations for poll

With positions in 340 Local Government bodies at stake, all major political parties are engaged in hurried preparations for the poll. This is despite claims by some Opposition parties that the Government is not keen on conducting the election on schedule and may defer it to a later date.

However, the Elections Commission has said that the poll will be held unless there is a court order that restricts the election. The Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has petitioned courts for the poll to be held as planned while a private citizen has also petitioned courts asking that it be deferred.

Commissioner General of the National Elections Commission Saman Ratnayake said postponement of the election was not the task of the Elections Commission and that its duty was to implement legal requirements as stipulated by the Elections Ordinance. Preparations are underway for this, he assured.

“A budget allocation of Rs.10 billion is available to hold the election, but we expect to manage with lesser expenditure. Based on the electoral register of 2022, 16.8 million people are eligible to vote. The Commission will go ahead with preparations for the poll prior to March 19”, Ratnayake said.

Many a political development is occurring in view of the upcoming poll. A significant aspect is the growing rapport between the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the United National Party (UNP) headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the lead up to the elections.

The SLPP evolved as a breakaway faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) after control of the latter was taken over by then President Maithripala Sirisena. Most SLPP MPs have their political origins in the SLFP. The SLFP and the UNP have been arch political rivals for many decades.

Even at the last major national elections, the Presidential Election of November 2019 and the General Election of August 2020, the UNP and the SLPP contested as the two major parties vying for power. In that battle, the three-year old SLPP convincingly defeated the seventy-three-year-old UNP.

The sudden resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President in July 2022 saw SLPP MPs opting to vote for Ranil Wickremesinghe to become President in preference to Dullas Alahapperuma, from their own party. Since then, President Wickremesinghe’s cordial relations with the SLPP have improved.

Now, there are discussions, both formal and informal, between the SLPP and the UNP about contesting the Local Government elections in co-operation with each other. This is based on the premise that such an arrangement will pave the way for better prospects for both parties.

Stalwarts from both parties attended a discussion earlier this week. While there were many areas that required clarification, there appeared to be a general consensus that the UNP and SLPP should contest co-operating with each other, given the current Government is also based on a similar arrangement.

An arrangement that is under discussion is for SLPP candidates to be fielded on UNP lists where the UNP is perceived to be more popular and for UNP candidates to be fielded on SLPP lists in regions where the SLPP is regarded as being more popular. Some areas may also have a ‘joint’ list.

The Local Government poll is a complex election because seats are allocated both on the Proportional Representation (PR) system as well as the first-past-the-post system. Therefore, how the UNP and the SLPP will implement any agreement that is reached will need to be spelt out in detail.

Opposition political parties

On the opposition front however, talks between Opposition political parties haven’t been that productive. Among the major Opposition parties, only the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has categorically said they will contest by themselves. That is as the National Peoples’ Power (NPP).

The other major Opposition party, the SJB, in contrast is facing some hurdles in presenting a united front. Some smaller constituent parties have expressed their intention to contest as separate entities in certain Local Councils. In these specific areas, they will therefore be running against the SJB as well.

A different obstacle is hampering the formation of yet another opposition alliance. There were plans for the SLFP, the Uttara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS) led by Wimal Weerawansa and the Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa (NJS) to work towards forming a single alliance for the Local Government poll.

Several rounds of discussions were held in this regard. The group of Parliamentarians led by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa were also to be invited to join this opposition alliance. Progress in these discussions has been limited after some logistical issues about the election came to light.

Within the complex system of elections involved in the local poll, members elected on a PR basis had to be nominated by the General Secretary of the relevant political party. It was reported that the SLFP’s General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara requested that this responsibility be entrusted to him.

The other political parties involved in the discussions had reportedly opposed this prospect and that led to a stalling of negotiations for some time. Nevertheless, the dialogue is continuing and, at the time of writing, both Jayasekara and SLFP Leader Sirisena have said a ‘joint’ alliance is a possibility.

Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has said he will not participate in the Local Government election campaign, was devoting his energies to having a dialogue on ethnic reconciliation with the major party representing the Tamil Community, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

The TNA was due to meet with President Wickremesinghe on Tuesday for a discussion. The issues under consideration were fast tracking the release of military occupied lands in the north, full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution and the evolution of a political solution.

This dialogue is watched with interest due to President Wickremesinghe’s reputation for having cordial relations with minority communities during his political career. This is despite the likely inability to have a resolution of the ethnic issue by the 75th anniversary of Independence next month.

Electricity tariffs

Yet another matter generating public interest is the Government’s proposal to increase electricity tariffs. This week, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera announced that Cabinet approved the implementation of a cost-effective electricity tariff beginning from January 2023.

However, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has said it cannot approve the proposed hike in electricity rates. The PUCSL claimed that the Government’s calculations at arriving at this decision was flawed. Hence the proposed hike cannot be accepted, the PUCSL said.

A petition protesting against the proposed tariff hike, reportedly signed by 6.9 million consumers of electricity, was presented to the PUCSL and accepted by its Chairman Janaka Ratnayake. The different views held by the Government and the PUCSL leaves room for much discussion and debate.

With these developments emerging on several fronts, the coming weeks and months will be busy for both the Government and the Opposition, tackling not only economic issues but also the political fallout from the much anticipated Local Government elections, the first national elections since 2020.


Add new comment