Is crossover always bad?

14 October 2023 03:10 am – 3      – 420

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The notion that the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that upheld the expulsion of former Environment Minister Nazeer Ahmad Zainulabdeen from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has set a new precedent is a misconception.
Reports about political parties planning after this ruling to take legal action against their members who have defected to other parties are based on this misconception.
Another misconception is that former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva legitimised defection by Parliamentarians from political parties through the case filed by former minister Sarath Amunugama and several others against the United National Party (UNP) General Secretary over their expulsion from the party in 1999.
Also, there is a misconception that political parties feel that it is useless to attempt to take legal action against their members for going against the party leadership or supporting another party, after the judgment of the Amunugama case.

Nazeer Ahmad Zainulabdeen
Dr Sarath Amunugama

Based on these misconceptions many politicians and media seem to be of the view that the Nazeer Ahmad case would prompt a series of expulsions of MPs from the political parties they were elected or appointed to Parliament.
What really happened was that the Sarath Amunugama case did not set any precedence that prevented political parties from sacking their members.
It was on various technical grounds that in many subsequent cases, defection was validated. In a newspaper interview in 2014, former Chief Justice Silva said that it was wrong to say that he legitimised defection through the Amunugana case, as it was the then Acting Chief Justice Ranjith Amarasinghe in his absence, who gave that judgment, despite him having endorsed it.
Subsequent to the Amunugama case, in the case of Basheer Segu Dawood v. Feirial Ashraff in 2002, the Supreme Court held that as the MP was a member of the SLMC, whereas he had been expelled from the National Unity Alliance (NUA), a coalition that included the SLMC as well and was then led by Feirial Ashraff. It was not any precedence but a technical issue. Again, the Supreme Court in its judgment in the case of Ameer Ali MP v. SLMC in 2006 invalidated the expulsion of the MP saying the “expulsion will be competent only in the most exceptional circumstances and in furtherance of the public good…”
Again in November 2010, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) sacked MP P.H. Piyasena from the party because he broke party discipline and voted with the Government on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
When he approached the Supreme Court, the judges ruled that the expulsion was illegal as the decision to expel the MP had been taken by the Disciplinary Committee and not by the Central Committee of the party. Here again, no precedence is involved but the judgment was based on a technical matter.
On the other hand, the case involving Sarath Amunugama was not the first one the judgment of which validated defection. Tilak Karunaratna MP was expelled from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1993 for being critical of the party and he approached the court where in a three-judge Supreme Court bench two judges ruled that the expulsion was invalid.
However, the Nazeer Ahmad case indeed is the first to uphold the expulsion of an MP from a party was validated after the case over the expulsion of Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and several others from the UNP in 1991.
Several important issues including the personal judgment and the conscience of the politician concerned, the internal discipline of the party and the people’s mandate always seem to be considered by the court in these cases.
In fact, these are very important. When the First-Past-the-Post electoral system was in place in Sri Lanka the conscience was given precedence over party discipline and it is the other way around – party discipline takes precedence – after the Proportional Representation (PR) system was introduced in 1978.
Public opinion on the merit and demerit of crossover by people from one party to another has changed over the years depending on the political situation of the day.
Frustrated by the high-handed and unprincipled actions along with the economic burden heaped on the people during the latter part of the J.R. Jayewardene administration, the pro-crossover mindset had got the
upper hand.
People wanted at least a few ruling party MPs to stand against the government. This was further strengthened due to the State terror that was unleashed on the people in the process of suppression of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna/ Deshpremi Janatha Vyaparaya, during the
Premadasa administration.
Then, people wanted the ruling party politicians to act according to their conscience in Parliament and sever link with the ruling party. Hundreds of articles would have appeared in newspapers in this line of thinking then.
Defection by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake along with several others from the Premadasa Government in 1991 was therefore hailed by many. However, ugly and shameless incidents of summersaults by politicians for power and perks in the recent past spanning over 20 years have changed public opinion.
Hence, many articles and editorials appeared in newspapers hailing the decision by the Supreme Court in the Nazeer Ahmad case.
Switching parties or abandoning a party to form another is not always prompted by opportunism or greed for power or perks. Regime changes always come to pass with millions of people’s minds changing on their party affiliations. We cannot call them opportunists. That is how political history unfolds.
Some political parties and groups that have had a heavy bearing on the country’s political history have come into existence with such switching of affiliations, irrespective of the long-term goal of the leaders of those parties and groups being controversial.
Founding of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) by S.WR.D. Bandaranaike, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) by RohanaWijeweera, National Freedom Front by Wimal Weerawansa, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman and the Tamil armed groups in the 1980s are several cases in point.
If an MP of the current government withdrew his support to the government rejecting the recent moves by it to bring in a series of repressive laws such as the Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill, Anti-Terrorism Bill, Regulations declaring High-Security Zones (HSZs) in Colombo and Broadcasting Regulatory Bill, it cannot be considered to be opportunism.
Nonetheless, his sincerity can only be demonstrated by the actions he chooses to take in the coming months or years.
Over 95 percent of defections in Sri Lanka are prompted by sheer opportunism and greed for power and perks. Opportunism and greed is the basic rule that practically governs the day-to-day politics of the country, not
only in defections.
Muslim politicians are at the forefront of this hunt for personal fortunes through politics. For instance, all SLMC members elected to the Parliament at the last election were highly critical of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Rajapaksas during their election campaigns, for the latter’s shameless role in playing a communal card
against Muslims.
However, except for SLMC leaders Rauff Hakeem all others aligned with the SLPP government once elected. They even supported the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which was meant to strengthen the Rajapaksa Dynasty.

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