Politics is the art of the possible

We are hearing the call for a national government once again. In some quarters, the belief is that the coming together of the UPFA and the UNP is the panacea for all our ills, including the much vexed LTTE problem. Some of the proponents of a national government are genuinely interested in consensual politics while others are peddling a hidden agenda, especially the big businesses who betted on the wrong horse at the recent election.

Intentions apart, are the national government campaigners striving for something possible? The two parties don’t see eye to eye on almost everything as evident from the absence of national policies in this country. Political leaders may shake hands, exchange pleasantries and have tea together but beneath that veneer of bonhomie there is simmering hatred, which precludes any cooperation. No amount of effort is going to bring them together. Like the similar poles of two magnets, they naturally repel.

We have had several opportunities which the two parties could have made use of, had they been keen to forge a national government. The best was the unprecedented power arrangement with an executive President representing the parliamentary Opposition and a prime minister from the ruling party from 2001-2004. Chandrika and Ranil could have opted for political co-habitation to bring about the much needed consensual politics. But they went for each other’s jugular in what turned out to be a veritable dog fight. The UNP was badgering Chandrika and she was busy devising ways and means of engineering Ranil’s downfall, which she finally succeeded in achieving.

Chandrika sacked Ranil’s government and consolidated her presidential power and the rest is history. When the call for a national government was made from some quarters, she derisively called it Jaathika Aandu Valippuwa (which roughly put into English means ‘National government epilepsy’). But lo and behold! The self-same Chandrika and Ranil made common cause when the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse became a formidable political threat to both of them.

Do we need a national government in the first place? There are said to be only two good politicians—one not yet in power and the other voted out of power. So, to keep the ruling party in check, we need a strong Opposition. The Opposition says the government is corrupt and abusing power and the government says it is the Opposition which once did so. The pot is calling the kettle black, one may say. But where will we stand if both of them close ranks? It will be like the collusion between two lawyers and the public will be left defenceless in such an eventuality.

Cooperation between the two parties is said to be essential for solving the LTTE problem. But there is no guarantee that the LTTE will be amenable to a negotiated settlement even if consensus is reached between the government and the Opposition as to what should be offered by way of a solution. The on-going ceasefire has debunked the much publicised theory that the LTTE cannot depend on a future government to adhere to what it agrees on with an incumbent government. The UNP and the SLFP were at loggerheads over the CFA. But, today, the SLFP is sticking to it and offering to take the peace process forward. With the powerful international community behind the peace process, whichever party captures political power, there is no turning back. It finds itself burdened with a fait accompli. On the other hand, even if they were to be united and jointly offer a solution, unless the people including all stakeholders accept it, even if it is acceptable to the LTTE, there will be no way of it being implemented on the ground. Thus, it could be seen that what really ails the peace process is not so much the absence of cooperation between the UNP and the SLFP but the intransigence of the LTTE as well as the failure of successive governments and the international community to take all stakeholders on board.

Politics, as Bismarck said, is the art of the possible. Instead of striving for the unattainable, the possible must be attempted. The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was unanimously ratified, has proved that consensus could still be reached on certain issues. That appears to be the way forward. But there again, the goal of the amendment is far from achieved as the petty political squabbles have prevented the reappointing of the Constitutional Council (CC). All independent commissions cannot be reappointed as a result. The Elections Commission could not be set up at all due to a tug of war between the UNP and President Kumaratunga. It is incumbent upon President Rajapakse and the UNP to reappoint the CC urgently as well as the independent commissions. The country cannot wait till a national government is formed.


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