Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Tuesday, in parliament, hinted at the fate that awaits the Joint Opposition parliamentarians, come January, were they to support any other party, other than the SLFP at the Local Government elections, slated for January. Making a special statement in the House, on the subject of the LG poll, the Premier said there will not be a single JO member in parliament after January next year, in the event they supported a political party other than the UPFA, read SLFP. "How could the Joint Opposition members support some other party at an election? Thereafter, their party membership would be cancelled,” the Premier said, adding that he would request the JO members to support the UPFA and “we can function after January peacefully”.
The Premier may have made this comment in jest, as is his wont, often, in parliament, but it also portends events to unfold. SLFP General Secretary, Minister Duminda Dissanayake has already read the riot act on erring JO MPs and has up the ante in recent times. In all probability we are soon going to witness another Lalith-Gamini episode, where the UNP stalwarts were expelled from parliament for spearheading a rebellion against President Premadasa. Along with them, out went G.M. Premachandra, Samaraweera Weerawanni, Premaratne Gunasekera and Laskhman Seneviratne. The Supreme Court held that they violated party discipline and acted against the party constitution.
Of course, there is the instance when the SC gave a contrary ruling in the Sarath Amunugama and Co expulsion, after they switched sides on the eve of the 1999 Presidential Election. But that was a ruling that was tainted to the core, as with a majority of the cases presided over by a Sarath Silva led Bench. That ruling, in effect, held that the rebels were entitled to sit with the government and vote with the government, while still being members of the UNP, short of losing their parliamentary seats. That is because, the court held, they (rebels) were not given a hearing by the party and that their expulsion was arbitrary. This, of course was the time when CBK was President, and, almost all the Supreme Court rulings were in the government's favour, in a scandalous state of affairs that called into question the integrity of the country's highest court.
Presently though, those risking their parliamentary seats are not from the ruling party and the changed circumstances, no doubt, will place the Joint Opposition MPs on a sticky wicket. The heat is already being turned with President Sirisena, as the leader of the SLFP, replacing a host of electoral organisers, with is loyalists. The dice, no doubt, is stacked against the JO. This is because they will be giving all the ammunition to the SLFP to mount a successful case against them to secure their expulsion from parliament.
To begin with, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who, no doubt, will lead the JO campaign at the LG poll, will necessarily have to attack the SLFP and the party's leadership, for it (JO) to have any chance doing well at the poll, in addition to the fusillades directed at the UNP. By doing so, Rajapaksa and co, who were elected on the SLFP ticket, at the last general election, will only be playing into the hands of the blues. The SLFP Central Committee would not even need to summon the rebels for a disciplinary inquiry.
The last occasion when parliament witnessed a mass exodus of government MPs to the Opposition was in 1964, when C.P. de Silva crossed the divide, taking with him some 40 government MPs to the Opposition. There is a very real possibility of the country witnessing another mass exodus of MPs, only this time it will be some 50 odd members of the Opposition, not crossing the floor to join the government, but exiting parliament, altogether, if the hint dropped by the Prime Minister is anything to go by.
Lest we forget
Fire crackers were lit by in several towns by former members of the now defunct local councils, allied to Mahinda Rajapaksa and the JO, following the announcement by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of the Supreme Court determination that required a referendum to accompany a two thirds majority in parliament to pass the 20th Amendment into law. The 20A, had as its objective, the holding of Provincial Council elections on a single day and for the deferment in the holding of the NCP, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Council Elections, until such time the new arrangement is put in place. Those rejoicing at this news acted as if the elections, themselves, were already won (by the JO). Such were the high octane celebrations.
In the melee, though, a salient factor had been overlooked, namely the Court's independence to act freely and without bias, ruling against a government sponsored Bill. In this context, it is not out of place to recall the fate that befell the country's first lady Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, who was thrown out on her ear, for daring into countermand a piece of legislation, sponsored by a Government minister cum Rajapaksa sibling.
Daily News, September 22, 2017