Ranil: SLFP-UNP pact over, dark times ahead

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 06 February 2007, 09:39 GMT]
Addressing the new session of Parliament, leader of the opposition United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremsinghe, slammed President Mahinda Rajapakse for accepting the cross over of 19 UNP lawmakers to government ranks. Mr. Wickremsinghe said the move had led to the “dissolution” of the Memorandum of Understanding between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP. “The UNP thus finds it impossible to work with the government in finding a solution to the issues referred to in the MOU,” he said. Among the issues are a bi-partisan approach to ending Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Ranil Wickremsinghe, leader of the opposition United National Party (UNP)
At face value, the agreement signed in September between Sri Lanka’s two main parties promised a joint effort to resolving the ethnic conflict, but was also seen as an agreement by President Rajapakse’s minority government, in exchange for the UNP’s support in Parliament, not to poach UNP MPs.

However last month, a mass cross over of UNP MPs, including many senior members, boosted the government’s numbers in the 225 seat Parliament and severely weakened the UNP.

The defections reduced the UNP to just 43 seats, five more than Sri Lanka’s third largest party, the ultra-nationalist JVP.

Last month’s crossovers coincided with those by a key UNP ally, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), whose six MPs also joined the government.

The hardline monks party, the JHU, later also joined the government adding nine seats.

The SLFP-led government now has 122 seats, with 108 holding cabinet posts.

The Parliamentary opposition comprises the rump of the UNP, the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) - which has 22 seats.

Speaking at the new session of Parliament Tuesday, Mr. Wickremesinghe said it was “with great sadness in my heart” that he informed Parliament of the circumstances which led to the dissolution of the MOU.

“The MOU was truly historic because this was perhaps the first and only occasion in our nations past, since Independence - 59 years ago, that the two largest and oldest political parties in the country had agreed to cooperate on several critical issues of vital importance to our people,” he said.

He said the “immense importance” of the agreement between President Rajapakse and himself was accepted millions of ordinary people from “every section of our society” including religious leaders of all faiths, the business community, academia, trade unions and civil society.

“The value of the MOU, as I was forcibly reminded by the leaders of our neighbouring countries - India and Nepal - whom I recently visited, was appreciated by the entire international community with which Sri Lanka has had the most cordial links for so long,” he also said.

The MOU “replaced the politics of confrontation which has been the bane of our nation, with inclusiveness,” he said.

“The MOU was to be the first step in Parliament having an inclusive approach to resolving the North East conflict,” he said, pointing out both main parties had alliances with other smaller parties.

Moreover, the UNP had been in dialogue with the only unallied party, the TNA, on resolution of the conflict, he said.

“But all of this was not to be - and a golden opportunity to change the course of history and indeed our country's destiny has been lost,” as a result of President Rajapakse’s soliciting of UNP crossovers, he said.

Mr. Wickremsinghe ruefully pointed out the UNP had last November supported the government’s budget “because a vote against the Budget is a vote of no confidence on the government with which we have entered into a MOU.”

Wickremsinghe said Rajapakse had gone ahead and sworn UNP MPs as ministers, even though the President had been warned “that such a step would amount to a breach of the MOU.”

Sri Lanka now has a cabinet of over a hundred, out of the 225 seat Parliament.

“The Cabinet of Ministers have become an international joke; democracy is weakened; the decision making in the government has been limited to few. The role of the Parliament has been de-valued,” Mr. Wickremsinghe said.

“The UNP thus finds it impossible to work with the government in finding a solution to the issues referred to in the MOU when the Government has broken this MOU.”

“But we have not wavered in our commitment to the peaceful resolution of the North East conflict. Since the government proclaims that they can carry on the negotiations by itself, we will allow the government to do so.”

However, Wickremesinghe warned of dark times ahead, saying: “We will witness in the coming weeks an increase in the violation of human rights, deterioration of good governance, spread of corruption, undermining of democracy, and the rising cost of living.”

Related Articles:
28.12.06   UNP-SLFP MoU under threat- Wickremasinghe


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