The new Government of President Maithripala Sirisena has pledged good governance and stability of democracy. Political instability in political parties and governments stem from crossovers, performed by elected Members of Parliament. The country has a witnessed a number of crossovers in Parliament over the past decades beginning from 1951. The first crossover was S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The legacy of crossovers has continued unabated, and the country witnessed the most number of crossovers over the past three decades. Crossovers certainly have a great effect on the political landscape and the State administration.
Unlike in other countries, in Sri Lanka we see crossovers from both sides. Some members, having won elections from political parties and thrown into the opposition by voters, switch camps making lame excuses to gain better positions in the government. Governments of the day warmly welcome such defectors even though having the required majority in the House. At times governments do welcome crossovers to garner numbers to strengthen their majority.
In such a backdrop there is an urgent need to introduce an Anti-Defection Bill to prevent crossovers in Parliament in the future. This move should be considered as a priority in the first 100 days of the Sirisena Government as the President plans to go for a general election after April. A parliamentarian elected from his party of origin should not be allowed to join governments at the expense of voters. When the member hops, the voters of the party which elected him to Parliament are at crossroads. It’s a betrayal of the confidence and trust of the voters who had elected him to the supreme legislature in the country.
The crossovers often claim that there’s nothing wrong in defecting when he or she has lost confidence in the political party through which they were elected, and do not believe in the ideology of the leader of that party. Or they say they are being ill-treated or sidelined by the leadership. If that is the truth, he or she should resign from both the party and Parliament without breaching the trust of the voters. Or, they may also continue in Parliament amidst such situations within political
parties till Parliament is dissolved to uphold the confidence of the voters.
Crossovers in Parliament are today treated as a condemned brand. Why? Because even if the reason to cross over is genuine, voters strongly believe that money is involved in that action. Today, the accepted perception in the society is that parliamentarians cross over for monetary gains as rumours spread fast that huge sums are offered. Many people believe that these members were paid to defect, and it is nothing but political corruption. Such has not been proven but the general belief remains that he or she had been bought over. In South Asian democracies, Sri Lanka would have recorded the highest number of crossovers over the past three decades.
Members elected to Parliament by vote are directly responsible to the voters, be they in the government or opposition. They cannot be allowed to breach the trust of the voters. When they breach the trust of the voters, the political parties they represent tend to suffer setbacks. All political party leaders representing Parliament should examine this aspect in a united manner, if they are to protect the unity of their respective political parties. It will also build confidence in the minds of people who support those political parties. Then, they are certain that the member whom they elected will not breach their trust, till the life of that particular Parliament ends. The only way to put an end to the crossover menace is the introduction of an Anti-Defection Bill. Both sides of the House must back that Bill if they are truly committed to uphold democracy and live in the confidence of voters who had elected them to high public office. If the crossover menace continues in the new Parliament, the world will laugh at us saying; Sri Lankan parliamentarians are the best comedians in the world.