An all-party splitting poll
The Presidential Election of 2015 will certainly go down as one of the most entertaining and unpredictable campaigns in the history of democracy in Sri Lanka. Quite frankly, no-one knows who will do what, next.If a key measure of the vibrancy of Sri Lanka’s democracy is the independence of members of various parties, then we can safely say that our country’s political system is very much alive and kicking. Never in the long history of Sri Lankan politics have so many politicians split from their parties and crossed over to the opposing sides.There was a time when the crossover of one Member of Parliament made waves, and threatened to bring down a government. But today, politicians of all hues are breaking away and joining their adversaries at dizzying speeds indeed.
The current Presidential Election has become, not so much a test of the national issues and future plans of each candidate; but one in which the key factor appears to be ‘Who is going to crossover next, and to which side?’
Both the major parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party – have been split. So has every medium-sized party – the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Communist Party (CP), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), and EPDP.
Such a level of dissent within so many parties is indeed unprecedented, from the time of independence, and even before – from the time political parties were formed in Sri Lanka during the time of the British.
This is also the first time that the General Secretary of a major party has broken away; and for good measure, the General Secretaries of both major parties have crossed over. It is also the first time that a General Secretary has become the candidate of the opposing party.
If the crossing over of Maithripala Sirisena to the Opposition was unexpected, then the bolting of Tissa Attanayake from the green camp to the blue one was even more shocking.
This also brings us to the largest number of Ministers to have broken away from a government, namely four – Champika Ranawake, Rajitha Senaratne, Maithripala Sirisena and Rishad Bathiudeen. This narrowly surpasses the three Ministers – Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Suresh Premachandra – who crossed over during the attempted impeachment of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
The present spate of crossovers was made possible by the peculiar interpretation of the Constitution by then Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who reversed the safeguards put in place by earlier President J.R. Jayewardene, which had prevented crossing over from the ruling party to the Opposition, although it did not prevent one-time crossovers from the Opposition to the Government! J.R. had cunningly used the Constitution he engineered; to disrupt the Mrs. Bandaranaike-led SLFP during the 1980s through crossovers.
Looking back in history, one might be tempted to believe that it was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who started the practice by breaking away from the UNP to form the SLFP in 1951. But the fact is that the 1930s, 1940’s and 1950s saw a mushrooming of political parties in the country with politicians moving this way and that way, including the formation of the Sinhala Maha Sabha, the Federal Party, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, the UNP, the SLFP, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the LSSP, the CP, the CWC.
So far, none of the existing parties has been threatened with extinction by the crossing over of members. However, it remains to be seen what will happen after the election, and whether any new parties will be formed on a permanent basis.
We still have 11 days to go for the election. Who will cross over during this time? The nation waits with bated breath. One thing is for certain – it will certainly be an entertaining time.
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