Memorandum of Undercutting
The Cabinet of Ministers, the country's apex policy-making body has set the platform for crossovers from the Opposition to the Government side by announcing that the ruling coalition is prepared to take in as many Opposition Members of Parliament as possible.
There is always a buzz when there is a Cabinet reshuffle in the offing, and MPs crossing over en-masse. For a country that has a surfeit of politics, these theatrics are the talking point at boardroom meetings and social gatherings alike. But the excitement dies down no sooner it happens because the stark reality is that nothing really flows from such events.
The fact that this week's Cabinet announcement puts pressure on the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party could not have been lost on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet.
It is also noteworthy that this MoU came into effect on October 12 last year, which means that its imminent disintegration comes just three months after it was signed by the leaders of the two parties, witnessed by the President of the Republic and the Leader of the Opposition, no less.
The Leader of the Opposition has told his party stalwarts that the MoU is in danger of being abrogated on the basis that Article 10 - the last item of the Agreement - which says that any disagreements between the two parties will be resolved by a high-level committee jointly headed by the President and the Opposition Leader, has been violated. The Cabinet's unilateral decision clearly indicates that the Government is not going to be bothered with such niceties and it's a case of 'to hell with the MoU ……we are going to establish our parliamentary majority, come what may'.
The Sunday after what was a historic agreement was signed, we said in these columns: "The nuptials we saw solemnised this week were not arranged after years of negotiations as some have tried to make out. It was a virtual shot-gun marriage with a certain section of the UNP blackmailing and arm-twisting the beleaguered leadership to sign up or face a mass exodus. However shoddily arranged, co-operation between the two parties, now that it has been formalized, must be for the common good of all the people and not tainted by craving for ministerial posts or any other mess of potage for some politicians or sections of the people". Alas, this is exactly what this whole episode has boiled down to.
Some of those who drafted the MoU tried to smuggle in bizarre provisions for UNP MPs to sit in the Cabinet (while being in the Opposition). One need not be a professor to have seen through this. The entire exercise was to inveigle themselves into Place and Power. That provision was dropped at the last minute, and now there was no use for the MoU for this group of persons, so they have burnt the very MoU they drafted and are manoeuvring to end up in the Cabinet by hook or by crook.
The conduct of our politicians, especially in recent years, has been a sad reflection on the general scheme of things, and thus it comes as no surprise that the country is accelerating down the precipice.
While MoUs are not meant to be written in stone, they must have some sanctity, surely.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has learnt a bitter lesson by signing MoUs with the Government. The UNP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress have an MoU, but it seems it is more an MoMU or a Memorandum of Mis-Understanding, for the SLMC seems to be cold-shouldering the UNP with whom it even had electoral pacts for positions in the Government. MoUs with the Ceylon Workers Congress are abrogated before the ink can even dry. It would seem a political party's MoU today is not even worth the paper its printed on.
This, no doubt, will have terrible ramifications, especially for a Government that keeps telling the rebel LTTE organisation to take it at its word.
Here we see the fickleness of the country's political leaders taken to a new low. While it is admitted that there are political square-pegs in ministerial round-holes, and some kind of reshuffling of the pack is required to streamline governance, this new decision to open the floodgates for crossovers is crass political expediency, especially when even the President knows that at least some of the politicians he is accepting into his ranks, are purely trying to avoid investigation for the sleaze they are enveloped in.
The President will say that all his Executive powers come to naught when he is without a parliamentary majority. But this is what the UNP promised him in the MoU. Then again, he could turn round and say that the carpet could be pulled from under his feet at any time, such is the political trust among leaders today.
The man and woman on the street may still hope for some kind of honour among political leaders, but it now seems that all the arguments on the need for a small Cabinet have fallen on deaf ears, and political reality is the order of the chaotic day.