This week it came to light that 16 SLFP Parliamentarians had decided to crossover and sit in the Opposition in Parliament, a turn of events that once again shines a light on the broken nature of Sri Lanka’s political system.
The political crossover was at one time a tool that was used sparingly by politicians, primarily as a means of putting their ‘country before the party’. It was deemed an honourable move, that enabled a politician to vote with their conscience when they felt their party was not acting in the best interests of the people.
This sadly is nowhere near the case now, as illustrated by these recent spate of crossovers. The 16 MPs crossing over are the same ones who who voted in favour of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. By doing so they are in no uncertain terms signalling their unwillingness to work with the Government, a government that was voted in as a coalition by the people.
To put it bluntly, this is cheating the people who voted for change at the last general elections. While it is still undoubtedly up for debate as to whether those in positions of power have fulfilled their election promises adequately, that is nevertheless a judgement that is up to the voting public to make and should not be taken out of their control – which is precisely what the culture of political crossovers allow for.
The idea of being able to cross over is also corrosive to the hopes of many budding politicians to effect meaningful change; what compromises need to be made in order to get into positions of power? Which then begs the question, what are the people even voting for if a politician sincerely believes he can effect the promised change regardless of which party he is in?
And while it is abundantly clear that political crossovers are an aberration in the country’s electoral system, one that make a mockery of the election process, what’s even worse is the apathy and lack of condemnation with which it is received in the public sphere. Such has been the frequency with which such moves have taken place, that it has now become the new normal to the populace at large.
In the end, when a citizen takes a step back and looks at the larger picture, the task of cleaning up politics and encouraging honest politicians to the fore, whether they are men or women, seems almost impossible.
Party leaders have to change the fundamental structures of their parties so that a merit-based system is established to identify and groom the most promising individuals. They must be singled out because they are educated, accomplished and ambitious.
However, for this to be possible, the entire moral and ethical landscape of politics would have to change radically. And as such an ideal starting point would be to seriously re-evaluate a political system that permits those in power to side-line the will of the people with little to no consequences.