The Democracy of Purchase Politics
Posted on December 6th, 2019

Courtesy The Island

December 6, 2019, 9:41 pm


We are caught in a dual crisis. There is the unusual silence of Switzerland over the alleged complaint of its employee about a renewed white van situation. There is also the situation of leadership in the opposition. Government voices and the media has big focus on the Swiss silence, which is not unusual given the current political situation, of a new national leadership, and alleged attempts to raise old accusations.

Just now it seems we will have to wait for the Swiss silence to be broken. There is an old joke about Switzerland; when asked what is so great about Switzerland, the reply from a keen observer was that the Swiss flag is a Big Plus. We are also told that when the national flag was stolen from a Swiss embassy, the Ambassador there was nonplussed!

Let’s see how long the Big Plus flag will be waving as the alleged white van situation moves in Berne and Colombo, and possibly later in Geneva. Will the winner be Swiss silence – with supposed neutrality, or the loud Sri Lankans with calls for fair play. Let’s see how the sword bearing Lion on our flag can match the Huge White Cross on their flag. Are we seeing a new trend in the fight with the name ‘Candappa” being thrown in to dowse the white van allegations, and the call for ambulance air services? Are the Colombo-Chetties another bad minority? That is by the way.

Let’s move to the other crisis. The latest big news from the opposition is that the UNP has decided that Sajith Premadasa should be the Leader of the Opposition in parliament. Ranil Wickremesinghe has once again finally given in. With parliament prorogued till January 3 next year, and dissolution possibly in March 2020, there is nothing much the new Leader of the Opposition could do, in the wider world of politics.

The next battle for Sajith Premadasa, or rather his loud supporters in the UNP, is for him to be chosen as the party leader. As things move in Green politics today, Ranil will most probably have to make a much delayed give away in this too. But those who are calling for the change in UNP leadership should also look at changing the party rules that enabled Ranil to remain as party leader with such a long string of defeats and taking the public support for the UNP to its lowest level.

The 5 million plus votes that Sajith got in the recent election was not only from the UNP. It came from other parties in the alliance that supported him, and the Tamil and Muslim minorities, too. This raises major questions about the real position of the UNP as a political force in the country, as well as the need for the emergence of other leaders that can democratically challenge the Pohotttuva power that sweeps the country today.

If the UNP is to be revived as the truly major party of the opposition in the country, the rules that allow a leader to be at the head for too long must be changed. Just as the country, with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, decided that the President, who is national leader, should have only two terms, the major political parties having any claims to democracy should also limit the terms of their leadership to two or not more than three terms in office. Or else we will be moving towards the trend in many Eastern European democracies that are faced with the problem of continuing leaders, who have moved away from public thinking and realities of politics and governance.

Just as President Mahinda Rajapaksa used a largely purchased majority in parliament to bring in what was a life-time presidency, among other anti-democratic moves, with the 18th Amendment, the power of politics and governance has all the dangers of uncurtailed power. The leadership rules of the UNP that kept Ranil in place for so long, could also be the future controlling power of Sajith as the next party leader, if so chosen. Political parties in a democracy needs rules to safeguard the democratic process with them too.

The resounding defeat of the JVP-led alliance in the presidential poll, which saw the loss of deposit too, and the continuing divisions in the UNP, shows the country in a situation with no strong political leadership in the opposition. We have moved far away from the early days of independence, when there was a range of leaders from the right and left, that saw the country move with some progress, despite many setbacks too. It did not take long for family politics and racist-cum-religion politics to move the country away from a wider democracy for all people.

What we see today is the publicly accepted leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) Prof. Tissa Vitharana, appointed the NCP Governor by the national President and leadership of a hugely Sinhala-Buddhist political alignment. He is not the only LSSP member to move away from the policies of the old left party, that once stood for parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil as national languages. What we see is an overall failure and loss of democratic political leadership and the absence of personalities that could give such leadership.

The current call for the complete withdrawal or defeat of the 19th Amendment, without limiting changes to its faults and weaknesses, is the call for true opposition leadership in the country. Are we to return to the democracy of purchase politics and governance, and return to a life-time presidency for a Rajapaksa or any other? Let us not forget that 19A was passed with only a single vote opposition in parliament. All parliamentary voices now asking for its complete withdrawal, voted for it in 2015, not too long ago. The call must be for true opposition to the democracy of purchase politics – with money or power!

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