Jumping frogs meet their match: A watershed moment for crossovers

9 October 2023 12:45 am – 5      – 938

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In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has affirmed the legality of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress’ decision to

The expulsion of Minister Naseer Ahamad by the SLMC stemmed from his vote in support of the budget on December 10, 2021

expel Minister Naseer Ahamad from the party, resulting in the forfeiture of his parliamentary seat. The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court concluded that there were no grounds to challenge the party’s decision. The expulsion by the SLMC stemmed from his vote in support of the budget on December 10, 2021. The verdict serves as a reminder for all Politicians about the importance of upholding their integrity and not succumbing to financial incentives.

The determination has put the positions of two Samagi Jana Balawegaya members and several MPs from the Pohottu faction who switched sides in a precarious situation. The ruling has created uncertainty about the fate of these politicians.

It underscores the crucial responsibility of elected representatives to prioritize the interests of their constituents and the nation over personal gain or external pressures. Integrity is essential for the effective functioning of a democratic system and for fostering public trust.

Some of these crossovers are so disgraceful that they border on the unbelievable. Former Jathika Hela Urumaya member Udaya Gammanpila, departed from the government in 2014, along with his party leaders, only to abruptly and astonishingly return to the government’s fold a day later. Article 99(13) allows expelled parliamentarians to seek a judicial determination regarding the validity of their expulsion. This legal recourse has led to a situation where the member retains their parliamentary seat, despite being expelled by their party.

We have witnessed a large number of crossovers, some of which have been motivated by various reasons, including perceived noble causes. One of the first crossovers occurred when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,the second-in-command realizing that Hon. D. S. Senanayake was grooming his son Dudley to succeed him, left the DS government in 1951. While the motivations behind such crossovers may have been complex, they did bring about a social revolution. This historical perspective highlights the nuanced nature of political crossovers, where the ethical aspects can be debatable, but the consequences and impact on the country’s course are significant.

It’s essential to recognize that political crossovers, while sometimes controversial, have played a role in shaping the political landscape and addressing important issues in Sri Lanka’s history. This historical context can provide valuable insights into the broader discussion of ethical considerations surrounding crossovers in the country’s legislature.

In 1999, when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed Sarath De Silva as the Chief Justice, despite there being more senior judges, many perceived De Silva as being closely aligned with the Kumaratunga administration and, questioned the impartiality of his appointment. However, in 2005, Silva made a ruling that had significant political implications. He determined that Kumaratunga would have to step down from office one year earlier than initially expected. This decision opened the door for then-Prime Minister Rajapaksa to run for the presidency.

In December 2016, Constitutional Council members discussed the idea of revoking parliamentary seats for crossovers and conducting by-elections to discourage unethical crossovers. This could serve as a deterrent to those who switch parties for personal gain. There have been public recommendations made to the Lal Wijenaike Commission in favour of holding by-elections in cases of parliamentary crossovers. At that time, legislators showed strong support for incorporating provisions in a new constitution aimed at discouraging post-election crossovers between political parties. It was emphasized that existing laws prohibiting crossovers were still in effect, as exemplified by the case of the Lalith and Gamini duo who lost the party memberships.

Since then, a common practice among renegade MPs has been to seek restraining orders from District Courts to delay or prevent their expulsion from the party. This situation has raised concerns about MPs prioritizing their own interests over representing their constituents effectively. Adopt measures to prevent MPs from taking their electors for granted and prioritize the interests of the electorate over their own,and discourage unethical crossovers.

Many crossovers have occurred since the S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Another notable instance of mass crossovers affecting the political landscape was in 2001 when several influential figures from the Kumaratunga government switched allegiance. This series of crossovers played a significant role in precipitating a general election and ultimately led to a change in government, with the UNP-led UNF assuming power. These events underscore the complex and evolving dynamics of political crossovers.

Many of these crossovers were indeed driven by selfish motives, with politicians seeking personal gain and the benefits of holding office. The mass crossover in 1964, led by C. P. De Silva, where members of the government switched to the Opposition was to obstruct the passage of the Press Council Bill. This crossover resulted in the downfall of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government and subsequent electoral defeat. Since then, the pattern of crossovers in parliament has been predominantly one-way traffic, with members elected from one party that lost in elections often crossing over to the government side. This behaviour has been perceived by many as a betrayal of the constituents who elected them, as they switch to the opposition camp.

It is indeed a notable point that despite the existence of specific laws prohibiting crossovers, the Supreme Court, during the tenure of Chief Justice Sarath Silva, validated the crossovers of individuals such as Wijayapala, Amunugama,Susil Moonasinghe and Mathew from the UNP. This decision raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral system, as these individuals continued to be members of the UNP, while holding ministerial positions in a different political camp. Such situations have led to debates and discussions about the success and enforcement of anti-crossover laws.

Another significant instance occurred in 2008 when Mahinda Rajapaksa orchestrated the crossover of 18 UNP stalwarts led by Karu Jayasuriya and M. H. Mohomed. This move was aimed at securing the necessary two-thirds majority to pass the 18th Amendment. As a reward, these crossovers were appointed to ministerial positions, resulting in a large cabinet with associated perks and privileges. Moreover, many of these individuals had their pending legal cases withdrawn, while others had their outstanding bank loans written off. These actions raised concerns about political patronage and the use of ministerial office for personal gain.

The UNP faced challenges in attempting to unseat these renegade members, highlighting the complexities surrounding legal and political mechanisms for addressing such crossovers and their implications. It’s clear that the issue of political crossovers in Sri Lanka has raised concerns about the integrity of the political system and the potential for abuse.

One proposed solution is the implementation of provisions for “conscience crossovers,” where members who wish to switch parties would need to stand for a by-election, allowing voters to judge the authenticity of their claims that the move was made on their behalf. This approach seeks to maintain accountability to the electorate and ensure that representatives are held responsible for their decisions. Such measures could help restore public trust in the political process and discourage opportunistic crossovers motivated solely by personal gain. However, the implementation of such reforms would require careful consideration and may involve changes to existing laws and regulations.