This country may be short of anything but issues. They crop up at such a rate that people are at a loss as to how to cope with them. They simply don t have time and energy to concentrate on each and every issue. Therefore, they tend to treat even serious matters perfunctorily and fatalistically. Public focus shifts from issue to issue and as a result there doesn t occur, virtually on anything, a substantial public debate effective enough to shape public opinion for or against it. This kind of situation has stood governments in good stead.
The latest issue is the prorogation of Parliament. It has eclipsed all other problems. The President has discretionary powers to prorogue Parliament and the government s contention is that no undue importance should be attached to it. But, the President wouldn t have prorogued Parliament for the fun of it in the run up to a crucial election. A politician, as it is popularly said in this country, doesn t even turn to a side unless that is to his or advantage. The Opposition has naturally smelt a rat. It believes the government is all out to prevent the situation in the Eastern Province being discussed in Parliament both before and after the May 10 PC polls.
How will a prorogation at this juncture help the government? President Mahinda Rajapaksa has drawn heavy flak from the Opposition and the so-called civil society over the manner in which he has sought to fill the vacancy of the Secretary General of Parliament. The appointment of Dhammika Kitulagoda has resulted in protests from an irate Opposition even inside Parliament. The President s action has been described as ultra vires. Some of his critics have gone to the extent of suggesting that an impeachment motion be moved against him as he is allegedly guilty of willful violation of the Constitution. The President is also dodging the question of the reappointment of the Constitutional Council despite pressure from the Opposition. So, the need for a breather may have been one of the reasons for the prorogation at issue.
Another possibility is that the government wanted to relieve its parliamentary team of all other tasks so that it could go at full throttle in the Eastern Province during the last few days of the campaign. That would not have been possible had Parliament been sitting with the Opposition running riot.
Speculation is rife that if the government manages to win the Eastern Province polls, it is likely that Parliament might even be dissolved, provided the military scores a huge victory in the Wanni within the next few months. Another electoral defeat will debilitate the UNP further and the JVP is already in disarray. It will be months, if not years, before they recover and become combat ready once again. Therefore, if defeated at the forthcoming PC polls, the UNP will enter the fray at a future general election without some of its popular leaders who are already with the government. The government might try to capitalise on such a situation and wrong-foot the UNP and the JVP by going for a snap general election.
The UNP-SLMC combine s fear is that the government is preparing the ground for large scale polls rigging and the prorogation of Parliament is aimed at facilitating that move, as was said earlier. The SLFP has a history of election violence and malpractices. How ruthless and undemocratic it could become when it strives to capture or retain power was evident in the dastardly manner in which the SLFP-led PA used unbridled force against the UNP, abused state power and stuffed the ballot boxes at the North Western Provincial Council election in 1999. That may have happened under a different president but the fact remains that the SLFP is quite capable of a repeat performance in the East or elsewhere anytime. The UNP, which, too, demonstrated its skills in rigging and violence for seventeen years, is in a position to tell us about how the SLFP is going to do it. According to a popular Tamil saying, only a snake knows the legs of another snake pambin kaal pambu than ariyam.
Saturday s election has turned out to be a fiercely fought prestige battle. Its intensity is perhaps higher than that of the real war in the Wanni. It is an election that both parties cannot afford to lose, given extremely high stakes. Blinded by the greed for power, they won t baulk at anything in trying to win it. Defeat will prove disastrous for the government. It is too early for President Rajapaksa to lose an election. A reinvigorated Opposition calling for a general election, as was the experience of President Chandrika Kumaratunga during the first two years of her second term, is the last thing President Rajapaksa wants. If he loses the East, having done so much for the Easterners who were suffering under the jackboot of the LTTE, he will be in the same predicament as a man whose bride elopes with his arch enemy, on the wedding day. The President knows he has to win in the East, if he is to ward off a threat to his presidency too early in the day.
Therefore, nobody will believe the government s claim that the prorogation of Parliament has nothing to do with the Eastern polls.