President Mahinda Rajapakse seems to have slightly opened the door which, he said the other day, he had closed on the UNP parliamentarians who were jostling to join the government. The cabinet reshuffle in the pipeline is said to be a move to accommodate the UNP crossovers. The ministers are reported to have agreed to shed some of the subjects under their purview so that new ministries could be created. It looks as if the country were moving towards a Parliament of Ministers!
Although President Rajapakse doesn`t experience problems in Parliament at present as he told the press on Tuesday, there is no guarantee that he will be free from trouble in time to come. Politics is full of vicissitudes and no one knows which way parliamentarians may jump. Therefore, he may have thought of securing a clear majority here and now so as to forestall the obstacles that might be slapped on his path with the passage of time.
Any government is obsessed with the consolidation of power as much as any Opposition is busy devising ways and means of recapturing it. That is the way with politics. But, when the government and the UNP signed an MoU the other day and made a grand show of it, some may have thought there would be no need for the usual numbers games as President Rajapakse and UNP Leader Wickremesinghe had taken a solemn vow of co-operation. They must now be disillusioned by the unfolding crossover drama.
The much flaunted MoU was the result of political intrigue. Nothing is further from the truth than the claim that the two parties wanted to join forces for the good of the country. That was the brainchild of some UNP dissidents who wanted to justify their cooperation with the government. President Rajapakse was making an open offer to them to join the government. Ranil made an adroit move by grabbing the offer and signing a pact with the President, short of joining the government. Thus, he managed to outfox the President and spike the dissidents` guns. How could President Rajapskse turn down Ranil`s offer, having invited the UNP to join hands?
The MoU may have served Ranil`s purpose but not the President`s. He, who pursues the stag, it is said, regards not the hare. Cooperation of the UNP means little to the President who is desperate for an undisputed majority in Parliament. He cannot be unaware that he and Ranil will have to part their ways sooner or later before the next election.
Ranil may have thought that with the MoU he had trapped the dissidents and the President the way kattadiyas (exorcists) trap evil spirits in empty bottles to be dumped in the sea. But, if the second wave of defections on the cards is any indication, his plan has gone awry. He seems to have problems with MoUs! His MoU with the stripped ones also didn`t go the way he wanted.
To politicians, fidelity means lack of opportunity. President Rajapaske, who remained mum on crossovers for a while, after the signing of the MoU, and dodged all questions on the subject with a smile, is now declaring that the pact doesn`t cover defections. He sounds like an insurer who points to the small print to avoid obligations. But, the UNP insists that crossovers are not possible according to the spirit of the agreement.
The question is whether Ranil wouldn`t have acted in a similar manner, if he had got an opportunity to pull the carpet from under Mahinda`s presidential feet. MoU or no MoU, he would have had to do so, on his own or under pressure from his party. He formed the government in 2001, it may be recalled, by engineering mass defections from the Kumaratunga government.
How Ranil will take any more defections from his party remains to be seen. Given his sober reactions to difficult situations, he may not act like a bull in a China shop. He may desist from pulling out of the MoU forthwith. But, it is doubtful whether he will have any need for it if it doesn`t serve his purpose?preventing crossovers. The government, too, will lose interest in the agreement if it manages to muster a comfortable majority in Parliament to be in a position to continue till the end of its current term. Chances are that the MoU will go the same way as the Liam Fox agreement, which is as dead as a dodo, in all but name.