The SLFP's indigestion
Splits in political movements
and in political parties are part and parcel of politics. It was with
this in mind that the wily J. R. Jayewardene provided a constitutional
loophole for Members of Parliament to jump sides. In his original
'Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka' the 'Lokka',
as his admiring party membership began to call him, had provided for
tight control by political party leaderships over their respective
parliamentary groups. An MP could attempt to jump sides in the House
only at the risk of losing his or her parliamentary seat altogether.
Seeing the value of such 'jumping', Jayewardene used his five-sixth
majority in Parliament to push through constitutional provisions that
enabled MPs not only to easily jump sides while retaining her/his seat
in Parliament, but also retain their membership in their original party
even as they were rewarded with ministerial positions for their
cross-over to government. Given this kind of constitutional protection
of what essentially amounts to political betrayals, is it unsurprising
that this 'jumping' disease is now endemic to the political system?
Today, this kind of 'jumping' has proliferated to the degree that few
ordinary citizens - the voters - can easily track as to which
parliamentarian belongs to which party. All this is part of the larger
trend in Sri Lankan politics, no doubt helped by the news media's
penchant to build personalities over policies.
Thus, today, there is a far greater emphasis on personalities and
their loyal vote banks - mainly comprising caste and ethnic affinities -
over political party policies and political commitments to voters. And
such electoral affinities only further worsen the on-going inter-ethnic
and inter-caste rivalries to the detriment of socio-political stability
and policy-based national agenda-setting.
And it is almost always the party in power that has the greater
benefit of such political pole-vaulting while major opposition parties
tend to be weakened by losses in strength due to such cross-overs, some
parties being reduced to near-collapse.
If the UNP suffered from this jumping disease in the recent decade,
today it is the SLFP that is riven by such internal battles not yet
amounting to an effective split in the party. That President Maithripala
SIrisena survived his own leap from the SLFP to a new opposition
alliance led by the UNP is partly due to this technical protection
provided by the Constitution and parliamentary by-laws. That SLFP
renegade MPs can jump back and forth between the two major power blocs
within their party and between the Government and Opposition benches,
shows the wide ramifications of this parliamentary law so craftily
devised by master minds nearly a generation ago.
The very special circumstances of a defeated presidential personality
frantic to defend himself and his associates - including family - over
their severe mis-governance record and suspected massive theft, are also
adding pressures for manoeuvres for political survival by droves of MPs
of the former governing coalition, the UPFA.
Today, the average voter is being dragged deeper into the mire of
political confusion by the ridiculous gymnastics of various SLFP and
UPFA parliamentarians who seem to be happily swinging from one party
tree to another with such rapidity that where they are this week may not
be the same next week!
The question for the citizen-voter is: do they deserve to be voted
back into the House once again if all they can do, in the face of
crucial national imperatives for reform and clean-up, is to indulge in
this swinging rather than join in the national momentum for an overall
...And the UNP's diet
True to its reputation for disciplined resilience, the party that was
once in near-tatters and riven by a leadership struggle, is today
drawing on that discipline to prove its worth as the most organised
political entity even if it has yet to prove its electoral strength
after over a decade in the opposition. That the party survived a major
internal leadership battle is proof of its resilience. That it quickly
went into 'combat mode' when called to suddenly contest the presidency
and then won it is proof of its discipline.
As the party which has survived all its troubles and overcome them to
answer the call of the citizens, it would be logical for a citizenry
tired of one political formation's lengthy corrupt and autocratic rule,
to look to the UNP for change.
Thus, a fresh governmental formation with the UNP playing a major
role would seem a natural trend in our electoral politics. That this
ambition is part of the UNP's political hunger is very clear from the
pronouncements of many of its leaders and, also the party's eager
appetite for parliamentary hustings.
But what its political diet should be is tied also to the appetite of
the citizenry who clearly voted for major structural changes in the Sri
Lankan polity first, before any single political party is allowed to
exclusively take up the reins of government.
The mandate of the current regime is unquestionably one of
collaborative government for a consensual process of reform in which
consensus is seen by the voters as the only way greater democracy is
assured as the outcome of that reform.