Thirst for power keeps political parties divided

| by Milinda Rajasekera

(November 16, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)The fate befallen the political parties in this country is a matter that has evoked much public interest today. Almost all our political parties have fallen prey to this awful fate. The UNP and the JVP, the main opposition parties, are the major casualties. This development in the political arena is viewed differently by different sections of people. While some in the government shed crocodile tears, others do not hide their happiness about this situation. Some, in fact, have either ignited the flames of intraparty dissension or added fuel to the fire of these feuds.

The JVP leadership now thinks that it was a mistake to have joined together in alliances and supported certain leaders at elections. But a considerable section in the party is of the view that it was a mistake for them to have departed from those alliances. Their active participation in the administration would have served the national interest a great deal, in their view.
Those who venerate the Westminster model bemoan the blow to the system dealt by this party disintegration. They are disappointed over the inability of these parties to perform their prescribed function of opposing government policies and actions. The cynics, of course, welcome these splits in political parties as they expose the mockery enacted by them in the pretext of contributing to the practice of parliamentary democracy.

What is unfathomable to those with independent attitudes is why these parties that incessantly vow their commitment to democracy cannot settle their disputes on the basis of democratic principles of discussion, compromise and consensus. What appears to be the biggest obstacle to settlement of disputes is the unwillingness of persons holding leadership positions to relinquish their positions as desired by the majority in their parties. They seem to be so steadfastly glued to their positions that they cannot budge from their positions.

What this tendency demonstrates is the politicians’ irrepressible thirst and greed for power, fame, positions and privileges. Once they get a taste of these endowments and begin to enjoy them, they develop bloated egos and start treating all other principles and values as things secondary to their ambitious clinging on to their positions. It is indeed this desire and craving on the part of those possessing power for remaining in their positions and retaining all privileges and perquisites that is causing tension and conflicts in most nations in the world today. So it is for the leaders of our ailing political parties to examine their conscience and conduct and act democratically if they really want their parties to make progress.

However, a cursory glance at political events from the time of gaining independence would show the mockery to which the democratic party system has been reduced in this country. The deterioration in the situation became more poignant in recent times. The convenient and unashamed manner in which our politicians switch parties betray the scant regard they have for the cherished principles and values of democracy. They have no compunction about jettisoning their party policies and loyalties overnight to join another party, more often than not, falling for carrots dangled before them by designing parties. What is contemptible is that they not only cross over but take upon themselves the task of enthusiastically promoting the very policies they had torn into pieces while in their original parties. Furthermore, they completely alienate themselves from the policies their former parties pursued. Some even go to the extent of severely criticizing the very policies they previously sponsored.

Whatever the reasons for these intraparty conflicts it is clear that they obstruct the solution of national problems. The parties’ preoccupation with their parochial problems leaves them with little time and energy to devote for national issues. For instance, while the important issue of the expropriation of enterprises legislation was being discussed, these parties were engaged in mending their own fences. The attempt the government seems to be making to solve the ethnic problem with the cooperation of all political parties will be rendered abortive if these parties continue to be disunited. Moreover, a united opposition approach to the present administrative weaknesses will not be possible. The JVP parliamentarians did a great deal in exposing waste, corruption, extravagance and other ills in the administration.

The JVP leadership now thinks that it was a mistake to have joined together in alliances and supported certain leaders at elections. But a considerable section in the party is of the view that it was a mistake for them to have departed from those alliances. Their active participation in the administration would have served the national interest a great deal, in their view. Former JVP propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa who subscribed unflinchingly to JVP Marxist policies, serves today as a minister in the present government. To go by the media reports, he is doing good work as a minister.

The JVP dissidents think that they should pursue the revolutionary path in view of the failure to set things to rights through nonviolent criticism and protests. What is important, however, is that they should face the realities of national politics. They should seriously evaluate the verdict they received from the people at recent elections. If they really reject the process of democratic elections and rely on violent revolution then they should say so without trying to deceive the people.

It was also noteworthy that amid the raging controversy over the Expropriation Act, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and expressed his views on the proposed legislation. He had reportedly agreed to support the measure if the government was prepared to spare three of the ventures earmarked for takeover. Apparently, his suggestion had not been accepted by the government. The opposition leader’s action, though condemned by the UNP dissidents, yet it constituted a positive attempt, in the present context of acrimonious politics, to resolve controversial national issues through exchange of views.

The UNP is now saying that it would return the expropriated enterprises to the owners under an administration of their party. This assurance, no doubt, is to placate those aggrieved parties and get their support for the party. Is this party of the opinion that the failed enterprises should be permitted to continue regardless of the consequences to the economy? If they are really national minded they should examine the real reasons for taking over these enterprises without attempting to make political capital. This indeed was the way the political system operated in this country. It was the same attitude that led to the aggravation of the ethnic problem and to the 30-year curse of terrorism.

It is a pity that our political parties have failed to learn lessons from the past experiences and to adopt policies and systems that are conducive to solution of national problems through the democratic process of discussion, compromise and consensus. The ruling party has the primary responsibility to make this process work without attempting to ride roughshod over the views and wishes of the opposition parties. The government often says its doors are open for discussion. But merely keeping the door open is not sufficient if the path to the door is obstructed by boulders and hurdles.