Another election is on the horizon. The parliamentary polls will have to be held before the end of April. Thereafter, we will be able to gain a breather hopefully.
The government is toying with the idea of amending the electoral system posthaste. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing his last propaganda rally in Piliyandala on Jan. 23, promised to kiss the preferential vote (or manape) system goodbye, the implication being that the Proportional Representation (PR) system would go or remain as a mere appendage of a hybrid electoral system to be introduced, which would give pride of place to constituency-based representation in keeping with the recommendation of the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee on electoral reforms.
Going by how the electorate has behaved at the past few elections, the government stands to gain tremendously from a parliamentary election held under the first-past-the-post system. Emboldened by its spectacular performance at successive elections, the Rajapaksa government is eyeing a two-thirds majority in the next Parliament it may find the PR system an impediment. But, in changing the basic law, expediency must not be the motive.
For an Opposition in total disarray, there could not be a worse nightmare than a general election, where it cannot hold its loose alliance together. Adversity may have made strange bedfellows of the JVP and the UNP but, theirs is a marriage that cannot be consummated, as it were, for ideological reasons. Their chosen presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka has lost ignominiously and they have had to part company.
There is no way the UNP and the JVP could come together ever again seeking a popular mandate to form a government. So, Fonseka, who held the two parties together for a few weeks, will have to align himself either with the UNP or the JVP. It is rather doubtful whether the UNP will want to accommodate Fonseka and run the risk of landing its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the same predicament as the proverbial Arab who fell for the wiles of his camel and allowed it into his tent only to be pushed out in the end. It is also unlikely that Fonseka, who even did not want to play second fiddle to President Rajapaksa, will want to subjugate his ego to the weak leadership of Wickremesinghe, who lacked the courage to contest the presidential election.
Fonseka has openly embraced open economic policies of the UNP, which are anathema to the JVP and therefore Rathu Sahodarayas will find it difficult to have him as a partner. On the other hand, Fonseka may not want to board a sinking ship with a red flag! He is likely to retain his Swan symbol and try to be an alternative to both the UNP and the JVP with the help of the likes of former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, Mangala Samaraweera and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
With the Opposition thus debilitated and completely at sea, President Rajapaksa will be able to help the UPFA win the general election and form a stable government even under the existing PR system the way the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa did in spite of having scraped through a presidential election in 1988. (He secured 125 seats.)
In constitution making, a steamroller majority tempts any government to railroad the Opposition and other dissenting forces into settling for a fait accompli. Both in 1972 and 1978, we had two Constitutions rammed down our unwilling throats by two sets of arrogant politicians intoxicated with power. Those Constitutions, no doubt, have had salutary features but they sadly lacked the most important ingredient that makes the basic law durable and workable consensus. Similarly, even if the government and the Opposition were to reach consensus by any chance in that endeavour next time, there should be no mad rush.
In a rare show of unity, the government and the Opposition fully co-operated to ratify the 17th Amendment. But, the sheer rush that characterised its drafting and subsequent passage caused it to be riddled with holes.
There is no reason why the government should be in an indecent hurry to tinker with the Constitution before the next parliamentary polls. Let that project be shelved for the time being. It was Moliere who famously said, `Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.` We have been down that road on several occasions as regards Constitution making. The time has come for a new beginning.