ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 29
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Mockery of democracy

The nation waited in suspense, but the Government, like the proverbial old man's tooth proved shaky but hung on, winning the third and final vote on the Budget on Friday.

From all accounts of what our Political Editor says, the pendulum had swung its way only at the 11th hour. It reinforced the axiom that there are no permanent friends in politics.

The shadowy goings-on; the brinkmanship; the back-stabbing; the crossings and double-crossings; the money bags and the lure of power and perks have all got entangled with the highfaluting statements on principles and issue-based policy decisions. So much so that the man-in-the-street views it all with equal suspicion and distaste.

It is probably unfair to tar all our People's Representatives with the same brush, but one can equally not blame the unfortunate citizenry for doing just that. No doubt, political watchers were kept enthralled by the happenings in Parliament these past few weeks, since the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) voted against the Budget during the second reading. Most people were focused on the theatrics of the MPs and their political parties rather than the discussions on the various Ministries managing the affairs of the country because there was a real possibility of the Government falling.

Two political parties cross-voted during the second reading and the third reading of the vote; the JVP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC); the JVP by abstaining -- in effect helping the Government win the Budget vote. The JVP has run the risk of being accused of the lack of transparency in their decision making process and the lack of forthrightness in its voting pattern, while the SLMC's issues could have been taken up in different fora - even the Supreme Court, which is playing an increasingly active role in Executive matters.

The theatrics apart, there is an urgent need to reflect on the role of the Legislature for a country that seems to be heading nowhere through Parliament. Public confidence in Parliament is very low. The less said about the leadership shown by those who occupy the seats therein, the better. There is a total imbalance in the entire mandate the so-called sovereign people gave at the 2004 General Election.

The Leader of the Opposition has joined the fray recommending Constitutional amendments to clip the wings of the Executive President and increase the oversight responsibilities of Parliament, but Parliament itself has gone nowhere with its previous recommendations, like the Mangala Moonesinghe Committee Report where there was unanimity in the House to introduce decentralisation or the Dinesh Gunawardene Committee report where there was general consensus to reform the deficiencies in the electoral system.

Today's voting system appears to throw up Parliaments with shaky coalition governments, and pave the way for politicians to be open to unprecedented bribery with the government having the advantage of offering perks and the opposition only promissory notes. Yet both appear equally astute in offering big bucks that derogatory references are made to MPs as "Rs. 50 Million Pieces". It has also made the minority parties major players in the country's political fortunes. While this may not be altogether bad, the allegation that monetary factors seem to be the consideration for voting is appalling.

Then, there is a fundamental need to ensure that an MP elected from one party cannot just 'cross-over' either to the Government or the Opposition without going back to the people for an endorsement of such a move. It may be difficult to do this under the existing Proportional Representation, and the State need not bear the cost each time an MP decides to 'jump'. But there is something patently unfair when an MP decides to double-cross the voters making a mockery of the franchise of the sovereign people.

The glory days of Parliament seem to be gone, and what's left is the gloss. There is a need to regain its importance. While the Government is entitled to the fruits of its victory on Friday, the biting remarks of the JVP about this being the "most corrupt and most inefficient" Government of all time must hurt -- if they cared. Clearly, the Government survived by flashing the 'beggar's wound' -- the war that is bleeding this country, with its pledge that it will eradicate the menace of terrorism.

But the government would be wrong to imagine that the victory on Friday is a Vote of Confidence in the policies it is pursuing in general. There is a justifiable fear that the Government will now be emboldened not to 'care two hoots' for all the wrongs it has been doing, from rampant corruption to trampling of democratic freedoms and ruination of the economy by its cavalier approach to public funds.

Surely, the President and his Government cannot be living in that Fool's Paradise.

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