Budget vote, arithmetic and sacking of jumping jacks

Much awaited second reading vote of Budget 2023 in Parliament ended with proving doomsday predictions. While 121 Members of Parliament belonging not only to the ruling Sri Lanka Pudujana Peramuna (SLPP) but also several Opposition MPs who joined the Government at different stages voting in favour, only 84 MPs voted against. The smooth sailing for the Bill received at this stage has made the final budget vote next week a foregone conclusion.

The predicted split in the SLPP did not take place and only those MPs of the ruling party who announced their crossover a couple of months ago voted against the budget. Opposition MPs and the ‘independent’ MPs who told the media that several SLPP MPs would crossover and defeat the budget stealthily left the Parliament without meeting the media after the ignominious defeat. One media outlet said the crossover of 5 MPs to Opposition ranks will tilt the balance. It is interesting to see how they analyse the 37 vote majority of the Government.

Earlier this week, Prof. Charitha Herath of the ‘Independent’ group said some of the MPs who voted for President Ranil Wickremesinghe including himself would have to vote against the budget if the amendment which was proposed by them to withdraw the releasing of lands from the purview of Mahaweli Authority and other demands were accepted.

Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Gevindu Kumaratunga and Prof. Hearth opposed the proposal to hand over the authority of lands to District Secretariats from the Mahaweli Authority. MP Sarath Weerasekera also opposed this proposal.

Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, who welcomed the budget and rated it as good, had a change of heart at the last minute and voted against the budget. Priyankara Jayaratne, who was rumoured to be joining the Opposition, voted for the budget.

The Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) decided to vote against the budget but only 6 out of 14 SLFP MPs did so, while others including those who joined the Government voted in favour. On November 21 the SLFP, obviously with the intention of halting further crossovers from the party, decided to suspend membership of eight MPs who have accepted Ministerial and State Ministerial portfolios in the Government. The SLFP said they did so by contradicting the unanimous decision taken by the party.

Most significant suspension was that of Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, former Chair of the party and until recently Patron of the SLFP.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was removed from the post of UPFA General Secretary and Thilanga Sumathipala was unanimously appointed to the post. State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna was removed as SLFP Treasurer and Sarathi Dushmantha replaced him.

Furthermore, the party membership of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, C.B. Rathnayake, Chamara Sampath Dasanayake, Suren Raghavan, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Jagath Pushpakumara and Shantha Bandara were suspended as well.

SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena earlier informed six MPs, who had obtained positions in the Government, in writing, that they will be removed from all the positions held in the party. The party membership of Shantha Bandara and Suren Raghavan was suspended prior to that.

Although Duminda Dissanayake escaped the wrath of SLFP leadership, he showed his open opposition to the party by voting for the Budget on Tuesday. John Seneviratne too voted in favour.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa acknowledged before the budget at least one SJB MP would join the Government. Premadasa pointed out that the SJB is ready to support the Government within a social-democratic mechanism, considering the serious situation the country is in due to the economic crisis, but would not support the budget in its present form.

Speaking in Parliament he stated that no amount of incentives could be used to lure MPs from the SJB to the side of the Government, and that no MP from his party is willing or ready to join this ‘rotten’ Government.

“Today, there is an auction for Ministerial posts. The promises of privileges are sky-high. Our MPs have principles and they remember their beginnings when making a mark on the democratic history in this country. We were able to win our first election in a record-breaking manner by forming the alliance of the Samagi Jana Sandanaya. We know that the Government is trying to poach MPs from the Opposition, but we won’t send them abroad or hide them, as our MPs have self-esteem,” the Opposition Leader said.

Some media, quoting ‘reliable’ political sources, claimed that approximately 13 MPs from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) will join the UNP on the date of the Budget speech. They also claimed that initial discussions have been held in this regard, and that further talks are being carried out regarding the ministerial positions to be given to the MPs who will join the UNP.

However, these speculations were found to be wrong and the Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year 2023 was tabled in Parliament for the second reading on November 14, without any Cabinet reshuffle.

The Opposition Leader apparently failed in his attempt to woo SLPP MPs to join his party and defeat the budget. His strategy was to launch a 1964-style political coup to defeat the Government, but he did not have Kautilyas of the calibre of Esmond Wickremesinghe who masterminded the crossover of Leader of the House C P de Silva and 11 others on December 3, 1964. They voted against the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government at the Throne Speech vote and crossed over to the Opposition. Parliament was dissolved on December 17, 1964 and in March 1965 General Elections United National Party captured power.


– Daily News Sri Lanka

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