The Sunday Leader

Treat Cross-Overs As Pariahs

Lack of clear majorities, inability to maintain political stability within ruling parties and strong opposition parties with the backing of trade unions were features of weak governments in the first two decades since Independence. Yet strong oppositions prevented governments from riding rough-shod over the rights of the people

The first government of D.S. Senanayake had only 42 UNP members in a 100 seat parliament. The Opposition was led by erudite and capable Marxists with trade union backing and an array of independent candidates. Senanayake even with his charm, tact and diplomacy found it tough going.

On his death his son Dudley Senanayake who was appointed prime minister called for elections and won comfortably. But he was in office only from March 1952 to October 1953 when a deteriorating economy resulted in him jacking up the price of rice. It led to violent protests outside parliament resulting in the death of some protestors. Senanayake resigned from office.

UNP governments continued in office till 1956 when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who led the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) coalition, which swept to office winning 51 seats and reducing the United National Party (UNP) to only eight seats.

Despite its stunning victory, Bandaranaike controlled only 51 seats in the 100 seat parliament. The government was stymied by internal dissension within the coalition as much as from the opposition, Bandaranaike himself was assassinated by opposing forces within his own party.

The inability for a political party to get a commanding majority at elections and political instability within ruling parties resulted in Sri Lankan democracy stumbling along not so much because of a strong Opposition.

1970 witnessed a complete change in the electoral politics of the country. The United Front coalition under Sirimavo Bandaranaike won a two thirds majority that enabled her to bring about many changes such as a new Constitution which previous governments and leaders failed to bring about.

Marxist parties during the first half of governance co-operated with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) that formed the majority of the coalition that made it possible for the government to do whatever they wanted.

With a two thirds majority in parliament, the people for the first time were subjected to government control as never before.

The first Constitution, the Soulbury Constitution with the separation of powers ensured the freedom of the people far better than the 1970 Constitution which placed the supremacy of parliament over the executive and to certain extent over the judiciary.

The Opposition which was supposed to be the bulwark against anti-democratic forces became an impotent force because of their few numbers in parliament. The country began to experience the ‘dictatorship of the two thirds majority’ against which there was no protection.

When a substantial section of Marxists broke away from the United Front the seemingly invincible power of the ruling SLFP commenced withering away and suffering an ignominious defeat.

During the rule of the United Front government, it became stunningly clear that democracy without an effective opposition was a farce.

The J.R. Jayewardene government that came to power with a 5/6th majority in 1977and subsequent UNP governments displayed the exercise of near absolute power and abused it at its will. The enfeebled opposition was left limping after the 1977 elections which was further incapacitated by its internal squabbling.

Even though the impact of the official Opposition was negligible under the 1970 government, the JVP insurrection shook it to the roots. The government perhaps presumed that the answer to the rising revolution of youth was nationalisation of the private sector including implementation of land reform laws. But there being no tangible benefits to the youth and the under privileged, the 1977 electoral debacle was the result.

The UNP rule after 1977 had no real opposition except for the two insurrections — the insurrection of Tamil youth in the north and east, and the second JVP revolution.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political coalitions could not win a two thirds majority in either the 2005 or 2010 parliamentary elections. Yet many MPs from the Opposition particularly of the UNP crossed over to provide him with a two thirds majority. It is widely alleged that he abused this power of the two thirds  majority and was finally  called to account when he attempted to extend his term of presidency where he could even contest presidency as many times as he wished.

The next parliament is likely to be closely balanced with little difference in numbers between government and Opposition benches. In such an event, the ruling party will try to make opposition members to cross over with many inducements such as cabinet portfolios and other unmentionable inducements.  If this happens, the 2015 parliament and possibly Sri Lankan democracy will be doomed.

There have been many attempts in the current election campaign to have political parties elect honest, educated characters of upright standing. It is alleged that the main parties have failed to do so. If there are crossovers as stated earlier by candidates, then party leaders themselves are to blame for their predicament.

Voters should make it plain to candidates that if they are elected from a particular party and then cross over after elections, they will be treated as political pariahs.

1 Comment for “Treat Cross-Overs As Pariahs”

  1. H.L. van Straten

    I heartily agree. However it is hard to see how voters could make that plain. They have only their vote to cast, but have no influence on the conduct of their preferred candidate after the election. Of course they could gnarl their teeth if their candidate later chooses to cross over… and that will then hardly hurt the object of their wrath…

    No, let somebody publish a list of politicians who crossed over, let’s say in the last 10 years and admonish the voters NOT to vote for these characters in the coming election! And/or drag them before a judge on a charge of electoral fraud. Hopefully they could be condemned with an annulment of their citizen’s political rights (exclusion from being a candidate in any future election) and condemnation with a stiff fine on top of that. If necessary, let that be the first proposed law to be dealt with in Parliament by the new elected government.

    And let the people challenge the present candidates to express a clear opinion on the practice of crossing over before election day and only vote for those who in no uncertain terms condemn it.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes