Democracy on bumpy ride
The TNA has thrown its hat into the ring for the Opposition Leader s post. The UPFA will cease to be an Opposition party if it joins forces with the UNP to form a national government. Therefore, the TNA, with 16 MPs elected on the ITAK ticket, demands the aforesaid post.
The JVP has also staked its claim for the position of the Opposition Leader. Those who are opposed to the TNA politically maintain that it lacks a national reach and, therefore, is not qualified to lead the Opposition. But, there is no constitutional provision to that effect and what really matters is the number of seats in Parliament.
President Maithripala Sirisena sought to justify the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister following the Jan. 08 presidential election on the grounds that the Opposition coalition which backed his candidature had asked for a popular mandate for that purpose. Today, the SLFP has decided to join a UNP-led national government though the UPFA coalition, of which it is only a constituent, told the electorate, in no uncertain terms, before the August 17 general election, that it would not join any government with the UNP as a partner. About 4.7 million people endorsed its position!
What we are witnessing today is antithetical to good governance. Some candidates rejected by the people at the recent general election have been appointed to Parliament through the backdoor and the party which the electors have relegated to the Opposition is going to exercise power as a partner of the government. When Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the last presidential election President Sirisena et al asked him to respect the people s verdict and go home. While Rajapaksa was making a bid to secure premiership President Sirisena told him that there were other SLFP seniors who were eligible for that post. But, the President has appointed a bunch of defeated candidates to Parliament at the expense of more deserving nominees on the UPFA s National List! Such action is not only tantamount to a distortion of the will of the electorate but also bound to lead to a severe erosion of public faith in the electoral system.
It is a travesty of democracy for a party sharing power with another in Parliament or any other political institution for that matter to act as the Opposition. In the last Parliament, towards the latter part of its term, the Opposition and the arbitrarily appointed government became political Siamese twins. The next Parliament which will last at least four and a half years, unless, of course, its members decide otherwise, should have an Opposition which is not an appendage of the government. A dichotomy between the UPFA and the SLFP which did not contest the August 17 election is not possible.
The Opposition is to a government what a brake system is to a juggernaut. A robust countervailing force is a prerequisite for protecting democracy and safeguarding public interest. In this country governments are notorious for stealing public funds and abusing power and the public needs the help of a set of disgruntled, jealous thieves to catch others of their ilk or at least raise the alarm. The alleged corrupt deals under the Rajapaksa government would not have come to light if the UNP had been part of the UPFA government.
Attempts being made to form a UNP-SLFP joint administration are sure to run into a legal snag over the number of ministers to be appointed. It was the UPFA and not the SLFP which contested the last general election. The 19th Amendment does not provide for the Cabinet to be expanded in the event of a party which has not contested a general election joining forces with the winner to form a national government. This problem can be avoided by limiting the Cabinet to 30 members. But, in such an eventuality, there won t be enough ministerial posts for the UNP to share with the SLFP!
Whether President Sirisena will succeed in wresting control of the UPFA s decision-making body and getting it to do his bidding so as to clear the constitutional hurdle at issue remains to be seen. All indications are that there will be a legal wrangle. If the UPFA officially joins the national government on the cards, of its own volition or under duress, it will have to cede its right to the post of the Opposition Leader.
The SLFP has sought to justify its decision to join a national government by claiming that the two main parties should work together if the country is to achieve progress. Its MPs do not necessarily have to savour power for this objective to be achieved. The SLFP can extend conditional support to the UNP for the sake of the country without asking for ministerial posts.