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Importance of bipartisanship


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Bipartisanship, or the practice of cooperation of two political parties that usually oppose each other’s policies, is not something that Sri Lankans see frequently. Yet when the chips were down, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) stepped up to protect democracy in Sri Lanka, putting aside its often-contentious relationship with the United National Party (UNP) and supporting the restoration of the Constitution. 

The submission of a No-Confidence Motion to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya came from the JVP when parliament reconvened on Thursday. This was an occasion when key political parties put aside their political and ideological differences to take a stand for what is right. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), major Muslim parties, and the JVP supported the UNP to stand their ground, despite strong objections from the section of the house that back President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

This was a welcome sight from a Parliament that is usually riven with fractious and sometimes vindictive behaviour. The behaviour of some Members of Parliament over the years has gravely reduced the respect that was accorded to Parliament in the past. With hindsight, the running-down of Parliament appears to be both insidious and intentional as it gives politicians with vested interest the space to disregard the sovereignty of the people that are represented by Parliament. As much as elections are important, the mandates given by their results are equally important, and it is not acceptable to ride roughshod over either. This is why the term limits of a Government must be respected. 

When Parliament is perceived to be pointless and it is reduced to a sideshow, the people could turn away or disregard its validity in the democratic system. The behaviour of representatives is therefore of particular importance, given that it is directly linked to the very bedrock of democracy and institutional independence. Therefore, political parties have to show that when it counts, they are able to close ranks and work for the best interests of the country. This level of moral integrity is prized because it is rare, and a display of it deserves a salute for that very reason. 

For too long, political parties on both sides of Parliament have concentrated on simply disagreeing with each other. It is clear that this is not enough. To give credit to the JVP where credit is due, they have always had high participatory levels in all functions of Parliament, and have attempted to increase transparency and accountability through the House. It is time that other political parties also get involved in these efforts to build a qualitative discourse around Parliament, and restore the lost reputation to this once-venerable institution. 

If the Members of Parliament behaved as they ought to, then disruptive forces who prefer to disregard the Constitution and democracy when it suits their political agendas would think twice about usurping the powers of the House. In the battle to save the future of Asia’s oldest democracy, political parties of all sizes and colours have never had a stage more likely to ensure their place in history. It is Sri Lanka’s fervent hope that they do the right thing so they retain the respect of future generations.


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