ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 29
Columns - Lobby  

A requiem for a downtrodden people in Parliament

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

“Nava gilunath band chune” jubilant government party MPs and Ministers break out in song after the second reading of the budget was successfully passed
MP Wimal Weerawansa who kept listeners captivated and guessing during his hour-long speech only hinting at how his party would vote.

When a group of ruling party members placed a floral wreath in front of the seat of Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe soon after the government secured a comfortable victory in the Budget vote, it seemed a befitting end to a month-long session of Parliament which would best be put to rest, never to be repeated again.

By turning the budget debate into a referendum on the two-year administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UNP and Mangala Samaraweera/Sripathi Sooriyarachchi SLFP breakaway duo only helped to further depreciate the public image of elected representatives in the country by making them into a mere commodity on whose head both parties were willing to put a price just to secure a vote in their favour.

It also distracted due discussion on the real merits of the Appropriation Bill for the coming year with only members of the JVP making meaningful contribution to the debates while the UNP and government members chose to slander each both in their usual manner.

The Budget also reinforced one unsavoury truth that the UNP and the SLFP (M) faction will have to accept until the next general election comes in 2010, which is that, the JVP will stand in their way to topple this government. While the UNP may have changed its stance on issues such as “federalism to appease the JVP, the Marxist party showed that it is far from getting over its prejudices with regards to the UNP.

It was the guessing game that the JVP adopted in the run-up to the Second and Third Reading on the Budget that led to much of the intrigue associated with this year’s Appropriation Bill aided by the guessing game that went for the entire month with names of potential “hurdles’ being floated around freely.

JVP parliamentary Group leader Wimal Weerawansa who wound up the debate on behalf on the opposition on Friday evening demonstrated why he wholly justifies his role as the Party’s Propaganda Secretary. He was at his rhetorical best and kept the overflowing public galleries of the legislature captivated swinging the pendulum this way and that during his hour-long speech only hinting at how the Party would vote and kept his listeners guessing.

“There are two groups of fleas that have been sucking the blood of the public of this country for the past 60 years. Are we going to remove this group of fleas and then bring in a new group that will begin sucking blood again?” Mr. Weerawansa queried. He described both the SLFP and the UNP as expired products with the JVP the only viable alternative to give a new leadership to the country.

The only distraction to Mr. Weerawansa’s speech was when half way through, MP Anura Bandaranaike was ushered into the Chamber via the opposition side by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe himself amidst loud cheering and clapping by members of the UNP.

Had Mr. Bandaranaike waited another half an hour before deciding to sit in opposition, he may have had a change of heart because when the JVP member wound up his speech, he made it clear that the JVP would not become “a tool of any party that engages in conspiracies to achieve its ends”. The fact that Mr. Bandaranaike left the Chamber prior to the vote and going by the look on the faces of many of the UNP MPs in the Chamber, it was obvious they knew then that whatever chance they had of defeating the government was over.

Whether the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem shared a similar sentiment as voting time drew near on December 14th is difficult to tell, but his cross-over with three other MPs on Wednesday which was received with much euphoria by the UNP/SLFP (M) had evaporated by the last day.

Mr. Hakeem who spoke from his ministerial seat in the front row on the government side prior to the cross-over said his decision to quit was prompted by the fact that minorities “had serious misgivings about the capability of this government with its far right wing slant, to address the grievances of minorities, both Muslims and Tamils from the very onset”.

He added “the unpalatable reality about the government is that its composition and power alignments are such that it can make very little progress in addressing the grievances of the minorities”. It’s hard to understand why Mr. Hakeem did not realise this “unpalatable reality” before he joined the Government in January because this reality was reality even then.

By Mr. Hakeem’s own admission, his decision to join the government was an ill thought out one, done to prevent a split. “I told them (my friends in Parliament and outside) that my stint in this government is not going to last long and it is to prevent a split in the party that I was joining the government,” Hakeem said.

Sadly for him, his decision to join the Government could not prevent the split he wanted to avoid because two of the six members who joined the Government with him, K.A. Biaz and S. Nijamudeen decided to stay on and support the Budget. Chief opposition Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle wound up the Budget debate on behalf of the government and he proved why he is an invaluable asset to the Government. The Chief Whip may not stick to the subject under discussion but is ability to turn any topic of disadvantage for the Government to its benefit by blaming most of the country’s problems on the UNP and a siding with the JVP when under attack by the Marxists helped the Government to a great extent to sidestep important issues.

So who are the real winners and losers in the political game that was played out commencing November 7th and ending on December 14th? The government can count itself the victor along with the assistance from the CWC led by Arumugan Thondaman and the Up Country People’s Front lead by P. Chandrasekaran; the two SLMC MPs who decided to stay back, as well as independent MPs Nandana Guntilleke, V. Putrisigamani and Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera.

The JVP will also consider itself one among the victorious group given the fact they managed to pull out surprises in both the voting on the Second and Third Readings, voting against and abstaining respectively, but also for managing to distance itself from the excesses of the government on the one hand while at the same time from the “conspiracies” being hatched by the opposition.

The UNP, SLFP(M) SLMC Rauff Hakeem group and Anura Bandaranaike are the obvious losers but the real losers in all these political games sadly are the people of this country. MPs criss- crossing from one side to the other for personal gains have made a mockery of the mandate given to the United People’s Freedom Alliance consisting of the SLFP/JVP in 2004 to govern for six years. The value of the ballot has been devalued to such an extent that voters can no longer be sure that the people who they elect to run the country would in fact be the ones who will doing it once elected.

It is on this worrying note that Parliamentary year 2007 came to a close. It is likely 2008 will be another year of petty bickering among lawmakers with little regard for the expectations of their voters and little headway being made to address the problems faced by the country. As the country gets ready to celebrate 60 years of independence from British rule in February next year, going by past performances of our politicians, there is little room for optimism.

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