Soda bottle politics
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has succeeded
in getting most of the country's political parties together
in one way or the other to support his Government.
He has used the carrot more than the
stick to attract this support knowing full well that
seduction by way of Ministerial office is almost irresistible
to power-thirsty politicians.
In the process of winning the support
of the main opposition party, the UNP, the President
appears to have dumped the party on whose shoulders
he rode to office, the JVP. The JVP is accusing the
President of veering away from his election promises,
as he now steers a slightly different path. But all
that can be put down to politics.
What is before all these political
parties, the ruling PA, the UNP, the JVP and all the
minor parties is yet another try at reaching some agreement
on certain crucial issues on democracy, representative
government and the election of the people's representatives.
For years, from the pre-Independence
era to the present day - almost 60 years after Independence
- this country and its leaders have been grappling with
the onerous task of finding what political system best
accommodates the wishes of the people, and which system
is most suited to make democracy work.
Disillusioned as they have been with
the functioning of democracy in Sri Lanka, which from
1956 onwards has seen a two-party system, many have
asked the pertinent question as to whether this is a
luxury that Sri Lanka can afford.
When they see the crass partisanship,
how party politics has ruined lives, destroyed property,
and caused efficient public servants to be flushed out
of office for nincompoops to be brought in purely because
of their party colours; how people are labelled and
branded as supporting one party for no real reason;
how nepotism has been practised as a fine art; and now,
how people win elections from one party and without
any conscience, cross over for ministerial office -
one is permitted to ask whether this two-party system
That is until one reflects on a one-party
We have seen petty dictatorships under
a two-party system. How would it be under a one-party
But to compare the two-party system
with the one-party despot dictatorships you still find
in many countries around the world is not what is best,
but rather to compare it with multi-party democracy
-- not just in name as we have had for so long here,
but in practice.
Once again, the proposal to re-activate
the Executive Committee system that was found under
a Board of Ministers in the pre-Independence era has
cropped up as a lesson in the entire legislature gathering
together towards a common objective, that of national
This system was criticised as being
flawed, and went into disuse soon after the Westminster-style
Cabinet form of Government came into being, but many
people have seen in it the foundation for collaboration
between parties with different viewpoints.
Simultaneously, there is once again
the suggestion to reignite the Dinesh Goonewardene Committee
report where there has been consensus from all parties
to have the present Parliament (no increase in numbers)
elected on a mixture of the old 'first-past-the-post'
system and the current proportional representation system.
There seems to be a lot of merit in both systems, and
a mixture is well worth a try as we continuously strive
for the most acceptable voting system.
We have long supported the old Ward
system being reintroduced for local councils like Municipalities
because today, no one knows his or her Municipal member.
The Executive Committees must not be mere namesake committees.
They are meant to run Government. Today, these old-fashioned
committees have been given modern names in the US, Japan
and EU. In the US they are called Oversight Committees
and are usually, chaired by Opposition congressmen or
women with powers to summon officials and documents
and hold public hearings.
There is far more transparency in
these committees, as much as there is far more joint
Parliamentary control of Government while at the same
time, stiff Government-Opposition rivalry on public
Parliamentary committees have rarely
played the role that has been expected of them. As we
mentioned only last week, the High Posts Committee has
been a 'nothing' committee while the Public Accounts
Committee, the Committee on Public Enterprises, both
have fallen way below expectations. Members hardly ever
go into the annual reports tabled by the Auditor General
regarding public finances.
While there is a much greater need
for Parliamentary control over Government and bipartisan
control at that, the debate over the continuation of
the Presidential system of Government has gone into
limbo. That is the problem with Sri Lankan politics:
It's all soda bottle politics. Very soon the fizz bubbles
out and we are left, content to make do with only the