Adding glee to former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters' mood, the National Unity (NU) government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe witnessed uneasy power struggles within it.
It has been reported that President Sirisena clipped Wickremasinghe's wings by reducing some of the latter's responsibilities. The president took away the central bank, the National Operations Room and various other institutions from Wickremasinghe's control. The prime minister had them under him since the unity government took over the charges in January 2015.
The development came to the fore on Wednesday, March 28, when a government gazette notification announced the transfer of the responsibilities to the country's foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Though there was no official reason as to why the changes took place, there is no denying the fact that the NU government is facing more and more internal challenges with each passing day that it is struggling to address. The president and the prime minister were found to be making efforts to overcome differences in their 'Good Governance' regime to carry on till the elections in 2020 but after the latest development, it would look all the more weakened and encourage Rajapaksa, the strong president whose loyalists recently bagged a considerable success in the local elections.
In 2015, a central bank governor appointed by Wickremasinghe was accused of indulging in corruption and Sirisena set up a special inquiry which cleared the PM. But the governor was held responsible for leaking sensitive information to his son-in-law who made undue profits worth millions.
Sirisena-Wickremasinghe coalition seeing multiple cracks
The Sirisena-Wickremasinghe partnership also saw cracks after the disappointing local polls as the president accused the prime minister of the debacle. Sirisena also had differences with Wickremasinghe's free-market economic thinking and accused it as even more corrupt than the Rajapaksa government of the past. Differences also rose over Sirisena's attempt to extend his presidential term by a year, a move which was blocked by the country's Supreme Court early this year.
Wickremasinghe's United National Party (UNP), however, holds a comfortable majority in the parliament as the single largest party and Sirisena can hope to make his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) stronger by engineering a defection in the UNP.
A section of the SLFP wants a no-confidence move against Wickremasinghe on April 4 and that could create the divide between the parties even wider. The UNP also has given indications that it could go alone in the 2020 election while a number of leaders of the SLFP have asked Sirisena to join hands with Rajapaksa loyalist Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna though that seems improbable as Sirisena had broken away from Rajapaksa's ranks (he was a minister in Rajapaksa's government once) to contest against him and beat him in the 2015 election.
Sirisena, however, cannot dismiss the government and call an early election as that power was abolished through a constitutional amendment introduced just after the coalition government assumed charge.