A break with the past? | Daily News

A break with the past?

The claim made by Minister Vijith Vijithamuni Soysa that the Yahapalanaya government had no intention of “buying over” any member of the SLFP group in the government who intends joining the Joint Opposition, if genuine, is refreshing news indeed. We say this, because, down the years, the voters had been reduced to helplessness, as politicians, whom they have sent to parliament from one party, have gone on to pledge their loyalties to another party, usually, the party in power, kicking against their mandate with nary a thought to their electors. In the end, it is the public who had to pick up the tab for the perks and privileges showered on these turncoats. For, there can be no other reason than the filthy lucre that had always been the motivating force that had lured these men and women to sell their souls for a mess of pottage throwing overboard all principals, ethics and accepted norms held sacrosanct.

Addressing a media conference at his Ministry, Minister Soysa said that rumours were afloat that 18 members of the SLFP group in the government were to sit with the Joint Opposition. However those named as possible poll vaulters had met him and assured that no such thing would ever take place. True, there had been some unrest among the SLFP MPs in the government, but nothing so bad as that which could not be ironed out. No minister or deputy minister would join the Joint Opposition as they have joined the government voluntarily to take forward the policies of the Yahapalanaya government, the minister asserted. In any event, the government was not going to offer would be crossovers any form of privileges and neither will there be any horse deals to retain their support, he added.

In the past, it had been the practise for those MPs who had been overlooked for ministerial office to sound off their intention to crossover to the Opposition from the government ranks. Unlike under the old electoral system, when the ruling party commanded huge majorities, making such crossovers insignificant, under the PR system, with close finishes (and sometimes even a photo finish), a crossover or two may well tip the scales, thus keeping governments ever vigilant as to their numbers. This scenario came to a head in 2001, when some ministers in the Chandrika government switched sides, to trigger a collapse of her regime. It is not clear what perks and privileges were offered to these renegades, that included Prof. G.L. Peiris. But they all received top portfolios under the UNP government that followed.

Such a scenario would not have obtained in the 70-77 and 77-89 parliaments due to the sheer numbers in terms of the majority obtained by both governments, so much so that JRJ even enjoyed the luxury of obtaining letters of resignation from his MPs knowing none would dare challenge him give the five sixth majority he commanded. The only exception to this rule was 1964 when there was a mass crossover from the Sirima Bandaranaike government to the Opposition, led by C.P.De Silva, against the Press Council Bill, the only occasion a government was defeated under the old first past the post system when the ruling party commanded an overwhelming majority.

On the contrary, the precarious balance in parliament in 2000 when Chandrika attempted to ram in her famous “package” saw a ‘musical chairs’ of sorts with MPs crossing the floor, either way, with monotonous regularity for the duration of the debate that saw copies of the draft constitution set on fire in the House. This was the first attempt made to change the 1978 Constitution which came a cropper with CBK failing to muster the required two thirds majority, try as she might, by “buying over” UNPers. On the other hand, Mahinda Rajapaksa had no difficulty in luring as much as 18 UNP MPs to obtain the magical figure to amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits and in the process, for the first time creating a parliament of ministers (from the ruling party).

Be that as it may, the Minister’s assurance, if put into practice, will not only see an end to the pork barrel politics that is in vogue in the present day, but would also ensure that the voters are not cheated by MPs, whom they sent to parliament from one party, switching loyalties for the rich pickings. It is not just filthy lucre that is on offer, but other means too where a politician’s loyalties can be bought over. One recalls how a notorious provincial councilor who was arraigned for rape being let off the look under the Rajapaksa regime on condition that he switched allegiance to the ruling party. Nor how a onetime minister’s wife, who was on death row for the murder of his (minister’s) mistress, was granted a Presidential Pardon when the minister concerned was poised for the poll vault.

This quid pro quo politics has to be put to an end and it is hoped that Minister Soysa has fired the first salvo in this regard.


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