Small is better
The UPFA has pledged to
reduce the number of Cabinet Ministers. It is a good decision.
There is no doubt that this decision would be welcomed by the
majority of the voters.
Sri Lanka has had a number of jumbo Cabinets. Moreover, its
numbers kept on increasing with changes in the political
currents in Parliament.
While many were skeptical about the effectiveness of large
Cabinets there was a reasonable argument that justified their
The jumbo Cabinets were a consequence of the Republican
Constitution and its electoral system which prevented both the
winner takes all result as well as a decisive majority in
Parliament for the ruling party. It made coalition governments
the order of the day.
The Chandrika Bandaranaike Government of 1994 had only a
majority of one in Parliament. The PA Government of 2000 was
defeated in Parliament midway due to the defection of a few
members from the ruling party to the Opposition. The Mahinda
Rajapaksa Government of 2005 could continue in power for the
full period only because a substantial number of Opposition MPs
crossed over to the Government at various times.
Thus instability was a built-in feature of the 1978
Constitution which incidentally was approved by a Parliament
which had a five-sixths majority won through the
first-past-the-post system. J. R. Jayewardene who drafted this
Constitution thought that no single party would be able to get a
two-thirds majority to change it.
Though his thinking has been vindicated up to now, it is the
voters that would have the last say on April 8. President
Rajapaksa understood this reality and his method of overcoming
the constraints of the Constitution was to woo Opposition
members by giving them Ministerial portfolios. Though costs
escalated it provided him with a stable government.
A stable government is a sine qua non for rapid development
as well as for rapid execution of any governmental program. This
stability was a vital factor that helped him win the war over
terrorism and unify the country.
Besides the experience of countries such as Pakistan and
Italy in which governments fell at too frequent intervals also
underlines the need for stability.
The victory over terrorism and the subsequent massive surge
of support for the ruling UPFA has now given rise to a new
objective situation. It has made the return of a stable
government with or without a two-thirds majority a realizable
Therefore, the need for a jumbo Cabinet also does not exist
in reality. The promise of the UPFA, therefore, is both
practical and genuine.
Sri Lanka, a small country with a population approximating 20
million, could very well do with a Cabinet of 35. After all
giants China and India have Cabinets of 27 and 33 members only.
In the UK the Cabinet numbers only 23 with five other Ministers
attending Cabinet Meetings only when their Ministerial
responsibilities are on its agenda.
The proliferation of Ministries has also affected their
efficiency and work implementation. When there are several
ministers in charge of a subject none of them seem to understand
their individual responsibilities. What results was a situation
better described in the folk idiom andi hathdena kenda ivva
wage. In the fable seven friends promised to put a handful of
rice to a boiling pot of water to produce kanjee or rice
porridge. However, each thought that the others would fill the
pot and hence it was not necessary for him to do so. At the end
none had contributed with rice and they were left only with a
pot of boiling water.
The smaller the better.
Thanks to the perseverance of the Commissioner of Elections
and the work of the police most of the unwanted faces in display
in the streets have vanished. Giant size cut-outs that aroused
mixed feelings in the hearts of the voters are no more,
excepting for those of a few who still continue to hoodwink or
terrorize the poor cops.
Now they have started a new game or a number game. The faces
are hidden behind innocent looking numbers. Moreover, all look
alike - benevolent, humane unlike the outrages faces that were
displayed earlier. Still, it is a mystery why they cannot leave
the numbers and lamp posts alone. One thing, there is more
democracy now with even a humble candidate being able to display
his number for the expenses are relatively less.
The issue arises when numbers clash for the same number may
represent more than one individual when multiple parties or
independent groups contest. It's here slogan writing comes and
rivalries, both inter-party and intra-party are generated.
Very soon the voters will do away with all with or without
numbers. While the victors would enter Parliament the ordinary
voters would go into hibernation till the next election comes
around. This is democracy in Sri Lanka and elsewhere too.