So, Maithripala Sirisena is President of Sri Lanka. Still feels weird to say that. Maithri campaigned on an ambitious 100 Days Plan and he’s mostly kept to it. What has he done in his first week?
1. He Survived
Not easy. If Mahinda had won he would have surrounded Maithripala with troops and likely jailed him for something. He certainly wouldn’t be living well. Ranil would have still been opposition leader but Maithri would have lost everything, possibly even his freedom. He was quite brave.
It was not clear that Mahinda would step down peacefully and, indeed, there’s in investigation ongoing into whether he floated a coup. For whatever, reason, however, Mahinda did lose power and he was out by the next day. Maithripala conducted a rushed swearing in ceremony and became President the day after the election.
Got Control Of The SLFP
Though Maithripala had control of the government, he still didn’t have a working majority in Parliament. This was necessary for him to keep his campaign promises, but for that he needed control of the SLFP.
He managed to break about 20 MPs off to support him, but Mahinda made a show of trying to keep Chairmanship of the party. The party was, for a few days, effectively split. Mahinda was also publicly stirring up ethnic tensions and causing trouble.
Then, however, Maithirpala met with Mahinda and – through whatever carrots and sticks – got him to step down as party leader. Mahinda gave up control of the SLFP, enabling Maithripala to form a national government with the majority to pass constitutional reforms.
2. He Set Up A Stable Government
Maithripala’s next task, obviously connected to surviving, was to form a stable government. This meant a couple things.
Rewarding The UNP
At least 80% of Maithri’s voters were from the UNP. He had to set Ranil up and install a 70% UNP crew of Ministers to maintain that power balance. They also happened to have some competent people ready to roll.
Bringing The SLFP In
He gave some Ministerial spots to the SLFP, but the main thing was getting Chairmanship of that party. Now he has something like a working 90% majority in Parliament, something no President has had.
Maintaining Popular Support
In office, Maithripala has spoken very well, he has eschewed the trappings of power (not moving into Temple Trees, which is technically the Prime Minister’s residence/office; not giving out a lot of ministries; not taking any ministries besides defence; cancelling dodgy deals; etc). His government has also made some rapid changes – reducing waste at Sri Lankan Airlines, busting weapons, cigarettes and alcohol that was being transported dubiously, finding illegal vehicles and elephants, etc. This and more has shown that he’s on the right track and is making people happy. He still has to take steps to reduce the cost of living without breaking the budget, which is a challenge.
Patching Up Foreign Relations
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s first trip was to India. Their media kinda screwed the new government over, misquoting Ranil as some sort of closet Eelamist, but the right signals were sent about the value of that political relationship. He has made nice with China as well, but Sri Lanka is moving towards a more non-aligned status, which is good.
America is also happy and Ranil can deal with them and the UN far better than the at best incompetent and at worst belligerent policy before. As you can tell, foreign policy seems to be more a Ranil thing than a Maithri thing. Maithripala was able to host the Pope right after the election, no mean feat, cementing his hold as head of state.
Honestly, not a bad week. Maithripala Sirisena went from underdog facing ruin to a President commanding Parliament on his own terms. The one serious governing problem is that the probably illegally appointed and definitely dodgy Chief Justice Mohan Peiris hasn’t resigned. As long as the CJ is there you have judicial problems, and it’s not easy to impeach him.
Beyond that almost no one opposes Maithri’s 100 Day Plan, presumably because it does open up democracy up for everyone more than Mahinda’s family rule ever did. They know that they have a shot before the voters in three months and everybody is playing nice. This is also a weird period where voters are being continually courted, the media is freer than it’s been in years and basically everything seems possible. It’s also a rickety coalition, but things are hopeful. It honestly feels like there was a revolution, even though it was just an election. We’ve handed over consistently power before, but I guess never with these stakes.
According to Maithripala’s 100 Day Plan Parliament should have met today, but it’s delayed a bit till Tuesday. It’s been a busy week.