Party leaders’ dictatorship

It is an irony that a party that plunged headlong into an ill-conceived peace process at the behest of sinister foreign powers in spite of the risk of secession has taken precautions to prevent defections from its ranks.

The UNP is reported to have extracted affidavits from all candidates contesting the next parliamentary polls to the effect that they will not decamp in the event of their election. Dozens of UNP MPs crossed over to the government in the last parliament and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe may be wary of taking chances.

President J. R. Jayewardene obtained undated resignation letters from his MPs in a bid to pre-empt a possible mutiny on board. His method worked. All his parliamentarians fell in line. They saw no evil, spoke no evil and heard no evil about their boss! JRJ reigned supreme until retirement.

The affidavit episode signifies two things. One is that Ranil is not confident of forming the next government. He has already urged the people not to grant a two-thirds majority to either of the two main parties. No leader confident of victory makes such a call. By collecting affidavits, he has betrayed his fear of another rebellion in the party after the polls. On the other hand, his attempt to deny the government a two-thirds majority by blocking crossovers smacks of a desire on his part to prevent the abolition of the Executive Presidency in the hope of securing it after President Mahinda Rajapaksa's retirement. Ranil is never tired of waiting! After all, his Uncle JRJ also became President too late in the day.

However, we must not lose sight of what President Rajapaksa said in the run-up to Jan. 26 presidential election. He said only he had a genuine need to abolish the executive presidency implying that he would otherwise have to bow out after completing his second term. This statement is indicative of his desire to do away with the presidency and become Prime Minister by amending the Constitution.

It is believed that JRJ also did not want to give up power after the second term and was toying with the idea of running for a third term through a Constitutional amendment. President Chandrika Kumaratunga, too, did her damndest to change the Constitution and remain in power as Prime Minister.

Thirst of politicians for power being so insatiable, we are likely to see a battle of wits between the two men from Medamulana and Kollupitiya after the April polls.

President Rajapaksa has been a beneficiary of crossovers. The first crossover to benefit him happened in 1993, when his late chum Anura Bandaranaike joined the UNP government under President D. B. Wijetunga after the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. That defection removed the SLFP's heir apparent from his path. Else, when President Kumaratunga was retired in 2005, Anura would have been the SLFP's choice for the presidency. President Rajapaksa also benefited from a spate of crossovers from the UNP to his government after 2005. It was with those defections that he managed to stabilise his government and defeat terrorism.

In the event of the UPFA's victory in April, President Rajapaksa will be compelled to engineer crossovers unless he gets a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution. He might also have to prevent some of his ambitious MPs who fail to secure ministerial portfolios owing to a reduction in the size of the Cabinet, from breaking ranks. JRJ was free from such trouble as he had undated resignation letters of his MPs in his pocket. But, President Premadasa had to quell a rebellion within the party and abort an attempt by a group of dissenters to impeach him. President Kumaratunga lost power in Parliament immediately after winning her second term (1999) as well as a parliamentary election (2000) because of crossovers. Her government collapsed in 2001.

So, President Rajapaksa may also be compelled to do a JRJ or a Ranil after the April polls and have either undated resignation letters or affidavits from his MPs in his pocket.

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