Political alliances minus policy convergence may result in bleak future for the country

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The media is awash with reports about political alliances that may be formed before any future election. The possible permutations and combinations being written about in the print and social media are largely speculative and often planted to create uncertainty and dissension in the ranks of political opponents.

While the media in a democracy is supposed to perform the valuable role of keeping the public informed with regard to developments in the country, speculative reports often without a basis can only confuse an already struggling public with regard to what choices they may have at an election in the future. 

Many of these media reports lack ownership and responsibility and do not identify the source of such information. In order to weigh and balance the credibility of such information it will help the public immensely if such reports contain the byline of the journalists who write such reports.

While the nation’s attention is focussed on the steps being taken by the Government in the economic field, the future direction that the country takes in the political sphere will determine the future trajectory of the country in the long run.

Prior to the enacting of the 1978 Constitution, groupings between parties were mainly no contest pacts without a core policy component to bind them together after the election. This was directly linked to the first past the post electoral system which ensured that the main party in such political formations could win sufficient seats to form a Government by itself and did not have to depend on its allies to form and sustain the Government.

The exceptions to such no contest pact arrangements were the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Government led by S.W.R. D. Bandaranaike in 1956, the 7-party National Government led by Dudley Senanayake in 1965 and the United Front Government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1970. The MEP Government was based on a grouping that came together just prior to the general election while the National Government of 1965 was put together after the results of the general elections were announced. Consequently both these Governments were not policy driven and began to face internal frictions right from the start.

The exception was the United Front Government of 1970 which was the result of policy agreement between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party long before the general elections. In fact the common programme of the United Front, which was the outcome of intense negotiations between the three constituents over a period of over two years, was presented to the public in 1968 at Bogambara, Kandy well before the elections of 1970 and enabled the coalition to govern the country without internal dissension until 1975 when disagreements began to emerge and eventually resulted in the comprehensive defeat of the SLFP, LSSP and CP.

In the post 1978 period, most parties had to rely on alliances of one form or the other to face elections or form Governments after elections. This was due to the belief that no single party could win an election under the Proportional Representation system introduced by the 1978 Constitution.

In 1994 the Peoples Alliance Government of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge formed a Government through a hastily cobbled together coalition without much prior policy agreement but managed to survive its full period in office mainly because of the resounding mandate for peace given to the President at the presidential election of 1994. The governments of 2005 and 2010 led by Mahinda Rajapaksa were alliances of several political parties as was the government led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The 2015 Yahapalana Government of Maithripala Sirisena was again a hasty coming together of several political parties without policy based consensus among the constituent parties. The only common thread was the promise to abolish the Executive Presidency which demand had been earlier popularised nationwide by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera.

However, this was not sufficient to hold the Government together and the cracks began to emerge very early, thus preventing the Government from completing even its promise of constitutional reform and the abolishing of the Executive Presidency.

In the context of the country’s experience of political alliances bereft of policy convergence the question arises whether such alliances without prior agreement on crucial policy issues can take the country forward after any future election. The search for policy consensus among political parties is ridden with numerous challenges particularly because many of them as well as individuals in such political parties have taken strong and divergent stands on some of the key issues facing the country.

Differences exist within the polity with regard to the shape and form the economy must take if the country is to rebuild its economy. There are differences with regard to whether power should be devolved and if so to what extent. There are also accountability issues particularly with regard to human rights violations during the war as well as those with regard to the economic failures of the Government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The importance given to the Rule of Law and Democracy including the many unsolved crimes such as the murders of Lasantha Wickremetunge, Wasim Thajudeen and the Easter Sunday attacks, to name a few vary from political party to political party.

Few parties give significance to getting rid of or minimising the cancer of corruption which has been the bane of the country.

Merely glossing over these issues to form alliances that may yield victory at future elections will not be sufficient to ensure successful governance once installed in power. The country will need strong policy cohesiveness and commitments from those who aspire to govern the country if Sri Lanka is to get out of the rut that it has been driven into.

Failing which the future will indeed be bleak for the 22 million population whatever may be the outcome of any future election.