The politics of crossing over

Thursday, 30 March 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim this week claimed that if Tissa Attanayake were to make a formal request to rejoin the UNP then there would be ‘no obstacle’ stopping him. As Hashim put it, several UNPers have left the party and rejoined so there should be no reason why Attanayake should be any different. 

Attanayake of course is at present in the midst of a trial, having been accused of forging documents with the signatures of the Prime Minster and President in the run-up to the last presidential election. That his reinstatement to the party, whether seriously or facetiously - only Hashim knows for sure - can be taken into consideration highlights the broken nature of Sri Lanka’s political system with its focus on party politics.

When we look at the United States in its present state, all the ills of party politics are clearly on display, so much so that the US has been in legislative gridlock for quite some time now, with Executive Orders the name of the game for both Presidents Obama and Trump. President Obama for years was filibustered and blocked by Republicans whenever he attempted to pass any meaningful legislation. Obama eventually managed to push through healthcare reform, but that has been firmly in the crosshairs of President Trump since he took office. 

Ironically it was this partisan nature of the US political system that put paid to legislation attempting to repeal and replace Obamacare. The reason? The so-called primary concern of any Government, the wellbeing of the public, was overlooked. Republican and Democratic constituents alike opposed the new healthcare legislation.

In Sri Lanka, a similar but less transparent system of partisan politics is taking place and like in the US it is the public that is being shunted. First let us take a look at what it actually means to cross over from one party to another. 

For one, it completely bypasses the will of the people; a vote against Attanayake suddenly becomes a vote for. This in turn makes a mockery of the election process with politicians able to gain power without even being democratically elected. 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? 

In the end, when a citizen takes a step back and looks at the macro 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 - something which is completely sidelined in a culture of frequent crossovers. However, for this to be possible, the entire moral and ethical landscape of politics would have to change radically.