Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, usually a man of few words, hit the bulls-eye when he told parliament last week that both government and opposition seem scared to see the House prematurely dissolved. So, he said, each side keeps challenging the other to hasten dissolution. When Dinesh Gunawardena, who has turned out to be a vociferous parliamentary [...]


Home truths about our revolving door politics


Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, usually a man of few words, hit the bulls-eye when he told parliament last week that both government and opposition seem scared to see the House prematurely dissolved. So, he said, each side keeps challenging the other to hasten dissolution.

When Dinesh Gunawardena, who has turned out to be a vociferous parliamentary spokesman of the pro-Mahinda group in the House, challenged Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the matter of an early dissolution, Wickremesinghe shot back saying he should ask President Sirisena to do so as this was an internal affair of the SLFP.

At least this much is clear. Those two are on opposing sides. But ever so often such clarity disappears and the previously distinguishable black and white turns into different shades of grey. Being the arbiter of proceedings in the chamber, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa is better able to distinguish who is on which side — government or opposition. For the average citizen this task is becoming increasingly difficult because an MP who was on one side yesterday will be found to be on the other side today.

The task becomes even more complicated when they cover themselves with one of the shades of grey. So an SLFP-Sirisena man today can don the political cloak of an SLFP-Rajapaksa man tomorrow and vice versa as post-January 8 politics continues to baffle and bewilder the man in the street, as he is wont to be called, and surely even our star gazers who claim extraterrestial powers.

Keeping track of the movement of the present clutch of parliamentarians seems even more complicated than following the comings and goings of the Deduru Oya herd, as wildlife trackers found several decades ago. Some super salesman wanting to make a quick buck might well recommend to the parliamentary authorities that each member be supplied with an electronic tagging device. But I seriously wonder whether even the most sophisticated of such electronic equipment could successfully keep the daily political manoeuvres of our legislators under constant surveillance.

Just last week this country was foisted with another four deputy ministers. True, they are from the SLFP/UPFA but on which side of the fence within that party they were, was difficult for us poor outsiders to say. It might be recalled that during the presidential election campaign, voters were assured that if the Sirisena camp came to power the Cabinet would be held at a maximum of 25 ministers. Later there was a modicum of an increase to 28. That was then of course.

Since the days of the great promises and the 100-day wishful programme things have changed. Numbers have jumped considerably and it is becoming difficult to create portfolios so all sorts of departments and state institutions are juggled to come up with new ones.

The same happened during the days of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration when ministries had to be stripped of existing subjects to accommodate an increasing number of cabinet ministers and deputies that touched a hundred or surpassed it.

There were plenty of jokes floating around about this. It was said that one day the minister of plantations woke up to find that he was left with only tea as there were new ministers for rubber and coconut. Similarly the minister for subsidiary crops lost his onions, apparently it going to someone who knew where and how his political bread was buttered if not his onions.

The problem with the yahapalanaya government is that the UNP had grabbed the best ministries right at the start. Obviously the UNP had worked all this out before and made the power grab after Maithripala Sirisena won the elections.

The problem for President Sirisena is how to keep his SLFP flock intact without straying to the side of a Lazarus-like resurrection by Mahinda Rajapaksa intent on returning to power as prime minister.

The tug-of-war within the parliamentary SLFP goes on apace with both sides trying to keep their numbers alive. One way Sirisena can keep the numbers steady is to dish out ministerial office, at least deputy minister positions even if not cabinet ministerships. But all this is ephemeral.

So it would appear that a revolving door has been installed. Some are cajoled to accept positions which they do. Then comes the tug and heave from the other side and some resign-the last lot after four or five days and off they go leaving their perks behind.
They are replaced by another lot and so the game of tug and pull goes on confusing the public even more as to what is really happening and whether governance — yahapalanaya or not — is not slowly withering away.

The result is that like in some corner grocery store where somebody is adding up the daily take or credit given, the public, if anybody is any longer seriously interested in the daily political swings, needs to keep a tab of who is where and how many are in and how many are out.

This surely reminds one of the story about the Englishman trying to explain the game of cricket to an American. It goes something like this. There are two sides of eleven players each. One side is in and the other side is out. Two players who are in go out to bat. When one who is in gets out he comes in and another who is in goes out. When they all get out they come in. Then the side that was out comes in and the side that was in goes out … .

That explanation of the game might sound complicated and confusing. Please don’t tell me our political field is less confusing than that?

The fact is that Speaker Rajapaksa hit the nail on the head, as it were. For all these challenges thrown across the floor, the truth is many current MPs fear to face another election. The present parliament could run for another 10 months until April next year. From the standpoint of some parliamentarians who are not sure whether they will receive nominations and under which label and even if they do facing the voters again is not the most pleasing prospect.

If they lose, and some of them are so unpopular that their voters would like to see the backs of them, out goes all the perks they have been enjoying for the last so many years. Without power and perks they are nothing and for months, and even years, to come they will have to keep their heads below the parapet.

In the circumstances with a parliament that can continue for another 10 months, dissolution is hardly what they wish for right now.  But the gesturing, the rhetoric, the challenges and even the threats, over dissolution will go on. Will those who want parliament to be dissolved next week please put your hands up? How many hands do you think will be raised.

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