Stirring change?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

PARLIAMENT is rife with speculation that it will be dissolved this week but as the chips remain in the air its complicated and often fractious members are caught in an ever-increasing tussle to decide what its future will be. 

The House on the Diyawanna Oya is central to the country’s future but different political parties and their agendas are creating more clashes than consensus.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, also occupies the position of main Opposition. Even during the final debates of the 19th Amendment, Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva was heard to insist the same support be extended for the 20th Amendment, which was ostensibly to improve representation through electoral reforms. 

In principle this seemed to be a simple enough plan. Once the 20th Amendment is passed, Parliament would be dissolved but elections would be held under the old system familiar to the voter. But the devil proved to be in the details with parties failing to thrash out the nitty-gritty. 

Proposals have veered in different directions, with some calling for 237 seats in the reforms and others preferring the existing 225, though creating a possible increase in Tamil and Muslim legislators seems to be a positive move. Even increasing women representation has received a, albeit inadequate, share of attention. 

Impatient with the dragging discussions and sensing resurgence in its voter base, the United National Party (UNP) headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is champing at the bit. For nearly two months they have insisted they are ready for elections and have pushed for dissolution. 

Perhaps in an attempt to find common ground, President Sirisena told a group of media heads that Parliament could be dissolved once the Constitutional Council was appointed. Such a move would pave the way for independent commissions to be appointed ahead of what promises to be a very close election battle. 

Even Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament he was ready to set the current MPs free to be elected on merits decided by the voter. But a faction of Parliamentarians also fears reforms will be derailed if dissolution happens before the 20th Amendment is passed and have appealed to the President to keep Parliament corralled until then. It is not quite clear why they believe this as all the main political parties have pledged election reforms. Moreover, even if the 20th Amendment is passed, it is unlikely the reforms will be implemented immediately.

Caught in the middle are the public who are saddled with promises but have to face delays not of their making to exercise their franchise. The people voted for a 100-day government but now they are left with 100-day-and-then-some representatives who refuse to let the public have their say. 

Adding insult to injury, political parties are yet to clearly inform the public about what the new reforms contain and how they will reduce the expense of elections while increasing the voice of the voter in Parliament. After all, the overarching goal of promised reforms is these two points: reducing polls expenses and increasing direct representation. 

Convoluted, lengthy and opaque discussions, no matter how noteworthy, will eventually exhaust public patience, which is anyway notoriously short. If circumstances are dragged to that point, all politicians should be held accountable by the people these reforms are so grandiosely meant for.