By Gamini Jayaweera –
In the Sri Lankan General Election on 17 August 2015, the United National Party won the highest number of seats in the Sri Lanka Parliament but they failed to get the overall majority to rule the country. The leader of the second largest party, UPFA decided to form a coalition government with the UNP to govern the country for the next five years. The Central Committee of the SLFP ratified the proposal forwarded by its leader to join the coalition government, hence the so called “National Government” mainly consist of MPs from UNFGG & SLFP was established after the election under the premiership of the UNP leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.
As per the constitution of Sri Lanka, the Opposition Leader is elected from the party which has got the largest number of seats in the opposition. Accordingly the parliament has elected the Leader of the Tamil National Alliance party, Mr.R. Sampanthan as the Opposition Leader of the new parliament. Mainly the government is represented by the coalition led by two major parties, UNFGG & UPFA and the Opposition is represented by mainly TNA and JVP. This is how the parliamentary democracy works in practice and the process has been accepted by the civilised societies in all over the world. If so, what is this so called “Joint Opposition” formed by some members from one of the parties in the coalition government in the Sri Lankan parliament? Has it been given any legitimacy to function in the parliament under the banner of “Joint Opposition”? Do these MPs represent UPFA or any other “invisible” party which is known to themselves only?
It appears that the minority partners of the UPFA, namely MEP, NFF, DLF, and PHU together with some SLFP members of parliament who supported the former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa in the general election to become the Prime Minister, have formed an informal group to oppose the Coalition Government because it is led by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the UNP. The irony is that the members of the so called “Joint Opposition” are still members of the coalition government’s parliamentary group (UPFA & UNFGG), but behave inside and outside the parliament as a “separate party”. It has been reported by some of the members of the “Joint Opposition” that the leader of the UPFA, President Maithripala Sirisena has granted permission for the rebel MPs of the governing coalition to sit in the opposition and carry out their parliamentary affairs as members of the “opposition”. If this is true, there is no doubt that we have become the laughing stock of the civilised world because the ruling party members cannot represent the official opposition in the parliament unless they resign from the governing party and sit in the opposite side of the chambers. This is traditionally known as “Crossing the floor” which means the changing allegiance. The naked truth of the matter is that there is only one official “Joint Opposition” in a parliament and that that is the combination of all parties in the opposition which have been accepted and approved by the parliament.
Mandate for Change
Sri Lankans of all races and of all religions have given the mandate in millions on 8 January and 17 August in favour of a real change in political culture that is required to run our country for the next 5 years. It appears that the MEP, NFF, DLF, PHU and several other SLFP members are not willing to accept the coalition government of the UNP and the SLFP or the new political culture which has been advocated by the President and the Prime Minister. If so, they should do the decent thing of leaving the UPFA and “crossing the floor” to operate as separate minor opposition parties or form a new party to represent them in the parliament. It appears that the SLFP members who have joined this so called “Joint Opposition” are behaving in a most undemocratic manner taking no notice of the decisions and policies advocated and approved by the Leader and the Central Committee of the SLFP. If the rebel members of the SLFP feel that they cannot support the UNP led coalition government, the general public expect them to do the decent thing of either changing the leadership of the SLFP by democratic means and withdrawing from the coalition government or resigning from the SLFP to represent the opposition. It is apparent that these rebel MPs neither want to leave the party nor they want to support the policies of the Leader and the Central Committee of their own party. If so, people in Sri Lanka cannot understand why the Leadership of the SLFP is not taking any disciplinary action against these rebel members? How long the Leadership of the SLFP is going to tolerate this “Tail Wagging the Dog” culture practised by the rebel MPs of the SLFP?
“I, Me, & Mine” Politics
It appears that these rebel MPs are still bitter about the defeat of their former leader and they do not want to change their mind-set to accept the reality and move forward. Some of our politicians have already demonstrated that they practice “I, me, & mine” politics and they have failed to see the bigger picture. They are not interested in national policies which bring peace and prosperity to the country. Some ministers of the coalition government, from both parties argue in public stating that one is better than the other clearly exhibiting their upbringing, culture of “I, Me, & Mine” politics, and lack of political experience & political maturity. Recent activities of some of our politicians have demonstrated that they are lacking a very important leadership quality of humility and they are full of ego which defines the strength of ignorance, greed, and hatred according to Buddhism. The irony is that they call themselves as ardent Buddhists who are working to preserve the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in Sri Lanka!
The President and the Prime Minister have demonstrated, as Ezra Taft Benson stated “Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” We have witnessed that so far the President and the Prime Minister are singing from the same hymn sheet demonstrating that they can work together in open and honest manner to establish the new political culture. On a positive note we have also witnessed during last few months that some politicians from both parties are willing to learn and embrace the new political culture which has been promoted by the President and the Prime Minister.
Time is Right
It is fair to say that the President Maithripala Sirisena has allowed a reasonable period of time for these rebel members to reflect on the present political climate and respect the democratic decisions taken by the leader and the central committee of the SLFP to govern the country for the next five years as a coalition partner of the present government. It appears that they do not want to embrace radical changes to our old style political culture which supports short-term political goals and hinders the long-term religious, moral, social and economic developments in the country. The nation believes that radical changes on all fronts are urgently required if we are going to provide an efficient, cost effective public service and compete for our goods and services in the global market.
The general public feels that the time is right for a decision by the Leadership and the Central Committee of the SLFP to take disciplinary actions against these rebel MPs to maintain the party discipline and safeguard the wider interests of the country.
The voters feel that the time is right for the leaders of both major parties to demonstrate that they do not support or tolerate the narrow minded party members who practice “I, Me, & Mine” politics to sabotage the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments which the nation now deserves.
The general public also feels that the time is right for the President to demonstrate that he leads our country as a Statesman, not as a Politician and as James Freeman Clark said in 1870 “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation. A politician looks for the success of his party; a statesman for that of his country. The statesman wished to steer, while the politician was satisfied to drift.”
*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and has obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford