By Ranga Kalansooriya –
I was watching a political ‘debate’ on a private TV channel last night, but got entirely confused and frightened. What was used to be a heated debate earlier has turned out to be a non-debate, where all participants were taking a common stand having a free ride. Will this happen in Parliament also?
I strongly felt that the program was missing something – what was it? An opposition. Where are the counter arguments? Who maintain checks and balances? Who play the watchdog role?
But isn’t it the reality of the day? Where is the opposition? Or who is the opposition? And what are the guarantees to ensure that this phenomenon will not transpire in Parliament when it convenes next week?
The entire electioneering process focused on one cardinal slogan – democracy and good governance, which require a strong functioning opposition who keep checks and balances on the government. All political theories envisage the need of a healthy opposition for a strong democracy. In fact one could comfortably argue the fact that the previous regime played so called havoc due to the absence of a strong opposition. The UPFA had a comfortable playing field with a two thirds majority and a weak opposition for the past five years. Only a few fire-brands like Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Harin Fernando and even Ranjan Ramanayaka were left on the floor. Dayasiri Jayasekera was bought over and it was a major blow to the opposition.
But my confusion is mainly about the role of opposition in the current political landscape. The usual practice is the loosing team sits on the opposition but who is the looser here? For my own reading as of today the only looser is Rajapaksa clan, but not the UPFA or SLFP to that matter. Of course it was a race between two candidates – Mahinda and Maithri and Maithri won. Then the Mahinda camp should play the role of opposition. Even with the post-polls individual cross overs which would provide the new Prime Minister with necessary numbers, there should be a visible opposition that should provide the balance of power within the House.
But the current political trend suggest otherwise. President Maithripala Sirisena has won another battle of gaining the control of SLFP. Though vowed to fight back just after the defeat, Mahinda Rajapaksa has accepted the reality and decided to step down. Thus, SLFP President and UNP Prime Minister. [We had a similar situation in 2001 but in a different context where then Ranil and Chandrika were arch rivals]. According to some internal sources SLFP may also contest under the Swan symbol at the forthcoming general elections. If this is true, there will be another battle for nominations between the two major political forces and it will be more fierce if it is going to be under new electoral system. Be that as it may, my worry is the way of securing a strong opposition even during this 100-day period and also in the next parliament.
One could argue on the validity of an opposition when there is going to be a national government as it had been envisioned in the Maithri manifesto. But please do not forget the fact that national government does not mean a one-party [or one coalition] rule which undermines the basics of democracy in which an opposition is a must.
The old Communist and Sama Samaja Party stalwarts have already voiced their opposition against any UNP-led government. But would these Dinosaurs form a strong opposition within and outside the House?
The obvious choice would be the JVP. They had a strategic stand during the campaign process where it never openly requested whom to vote, but stood strongly against Rajapaksa. Also JVP, particularly its current leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka has managed to regain its lost glory and win the trust of many of its listeners. Of course, it is an undoubted fact that JVP was a leading force in defeating Rajapaksa. People would not vote for the JVP in millions but millions would listen to them before voting to others. Thus their voice does matter and its political machinery at grass root level is still effective albeit the defection of Gunaratnam group which was exposed as a Rajapaksa mouth-piece during the last presidential polls. JVP had a challenge from Sarath Fonseka camp of becoming a third largest political force in the country, but I do not think that factor valid anymore.
In a peculiar scenario where the two major political forces coming together and others like Hela Urumaya and Sarath Fonseka, too, joining the same platform, the non-corrupt JVP would have a better opportunity of leading the opposition camp. With Anura’s leadership, to my mind, they would do a better job in keeping checks and balances provided they receive sufficient numbers in the next Parliament. But it should have good bargaining deal with TNA for the post of Opposition Leader for which Anura Kumara would be the ideal candidate. Too much of hypothesis?