SRI LANKA’S eventual politics is taking yet another turn in reassessing who should best occupy the chair of Opposition Leader. Evaluations between various candidates are likely to be set to rest today, but one thing that remains constant is the importance of having a strong Opposition to stand for public interest.
The very essence of democracy is dissent and debate. As a Government of, for, and by the people, it must work through discussion and persuasion. Unfortunately, things have not been going on in a healthy manner in many a democracy. Those who are deeply entrenched in seats of power and their legacy are very intolerant of the Opposition.
Dissent, open criticism of the unrealistic, is conceived and high-handed policies of the Government in power are looked down upon as nefarious doings of traitors, or fascists, or anti-national elements acting as tools and hirelings of hostile foreign governments. This branding was apparent in the previous administration and the new one is also struggling to push through reforms while maintaining the democratic cornerstone of a strong Opposition.
The role of a healthy Parliamentary Opposition can never be controverter. It is essential for the sound working of democracy. Unless there is a vigilant Opposition constantly on the alert and ever-watchful of the Government’s policies and actions, the ruling party would tend to get complacent and tardy or become arbitrary and autocratic.
But when there are well-informed critics ever-ready to expose the wrong committed by the Government and to bring to light its acts of omission and commission, the ruling partly can hardly afford to be negligent in the performance of its duty towards the country. The constant tug-of-war between the majority party and the Opposition keeps the Government on its toes and ensures good Government.
This is the role that any fresh Opposition leader would have to bring to the table. An effective Opposition promotes and ensures legislative excellence. It discusses the law threadbare, pinpoints and highlights its shortcomings, defects and possible repercussions and thus, forces the ruling party to discuss the law before it gets the final assent and enters the statute book. In the absence of a formidable Opposition, the ruling party can enact any laws arbitrarily.
Another outstanding contribution of effective Opposition to democracy is that it educates the people of the land on politics matters and assures active and intelligent participation of the people in public affairs. Sri Lanka is already struggling with the results of a previous governance system where a ruling party used its two-thirds majority to enact policies that ultimately did not take into account the best interests of the nation.
Unravelling these tangles that have seeped even into large-scale development projects will likely take years. An enlightened citizen in a democratic country is not merely to obey as a mute chattel; he or she is expected to develop the power of vigilance and to distinguish between chalk and cheese.
Democracy provides an outlet and a safety valve for the people’s anger and frustration and this outlet is open and intelligent criticism of the Government. The one essential pre-requisite is that Opposition must function in a responsible and healthy manner, keeping national and public interest uppermost.