The looming nomination deadline on 13 July has drawn attention to the power struggle within the UPFA coalition. On reading the UPFA constitution, I will show that President Sirisena’s power to singularly drive nominations is limited and that his control rests on his ability to negotiate with the executive committee of the UPFA.
The UPFA coalition won the 2010 general election, accounting for 144 of the 225 MPs in parliament. The SLFP was overwhelmingly the dominant force within the UPFA (fig.1) – with 123 MPs. The remaining 21 MPs belonged to 11 parties.
Given the concentration of SLFP seats, coupled with President Sirisena being the Chairman of the SLFP and Leader of the UPFA, many have assumed that the President has the discretion to drive UPFA nominations. In light of this, the prospect of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his close supporters being nominated as UPFA candidates has led to admonition amongst those who aided President Sirisena in coming to power in January 2015.
The UPFA Executive Committee
This simplification of the power balance ignores the UPFA constitution, which stipulates the process for nomination. Contrary to popular belief, the parliamentary nomination process is neither controlled by the leader (President Sirisena) or the General Secretary (Susil Premajanth) of the UPFA. Nominations are determined by the majority decision of the UPFA executive committee.
The executive committee comprises of 72 members (fig.2), of which the SLFP must nominate between 37 and 49 members.
The UPFA constitution – with its prescription of 72 members (exactly half of 144) reflects the status quo that existed after the 2010 general election. It is structured to facilitate SLFP control of the UPFA. It however assumes SLFP unity. When the party leader and the SLFP members of the executive committee are at cross-purposes, the latter committee’s power to nominate candidates becomes amplified.
The list of the UPFA executive committee is not in the public domain. The committee members are also under no obligation to follow the diktats of the UPFA leader President Sirisena – which can be heralded as a democratic feature of the coalition. Furthermore, the mooted withdrawal of the SLFP from the UPFA, which requires a decision of the SLFP central committee and the communication of such withdrawal by SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, could also face similar hurdles through failures to garner party support.
Wresting control through negotiation
When combining all these factors with the short time frame within which President Sirisena has to act, his options are few – despite many still waiting on his word. The only way for him to control UPFA nominations will require him to garner the support of at least 37 members of the executive committee. This support will require President Sirisena to demonstrate an ability to negotiate at the 11th hour, far exceeding that required of him to date.
Is President Sirisena demonstrating his pledge to refrain from being an all-powerful executive president? Or is this tense situation a result of his failure to galvanise power early on within the UPFA executive committee? Share your thoughts and questions at www.manthri.lk/en/blog; over Twitter @manthrilk, or by text to the manthri.lk hotline: 071-4639882.