The UPFA is all out to muster a two-thirds majority in Parliament. We reported yesterday that it was wooing the SLMC for that purpose, though the latter had let it down at a crucial budget vote a few years back. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has told a group of his senior party men that anyone could join his government on his terms without demanding Cabinet posts unlike in the past. The UPFA boasts of already having two or three Opposition MPs in its pocket it is very likely to succeed in raising enough numbers to introduce a new Constitution.
The country needs a strong government capable of withstanding various pressures in the post-war period vis- -vis a different strategy the separatists have adopted to achieve their goal by non violent means. It is far more sophisticated than naked terrorism, which proved to be counterproductive. They who tried to destroy economic nerve centres in Colombo with plastic explosives are now trying to destroy Sri Lanka`s economy through boycotts. They haven`t even spared the quality lingerie produced here. Earlier, Prabhakaran sent suicide bombers to coerce governments into submission but today the LTTE rump and its sympathisers are sending foreign diplomats to Colombo to achieve that end! Having failed on the military front, they are waging a war on the economic, human rights and diplomatic fronts.
At home, the Opposition, especially the UNP and the JVP, are unable to challenge the government electorally and it is also likely to change its tactics to realise its political objectives by other means. Remember how it backed a campaign to strip Sri Lanka of GSP Plus in the hope that a collapse of export industries like apparels as a result would cause a loss of thousands of jobs thus creating a situation where it could gain political mileage. The JVP used wildcat strikes as a weapon to achieve its political objectives but in vain. (The people punished the JVP trade union boss Lal Kantha for abusing workers` rights they defeated him at the recent parliamentary polls.) Under the next political dispensation, the JVP is likely to use its university student wing as a cat`s paw to pull political chestnuts out of the fire.
If the Opposition, by way of opposing the government, continues to do what it has been doing, for which it got routed at successive elections, it will be doing the government a big favour in that the latter will be in a position to use its patriotism card and remain popular even while resorting to repressive measures to deal with its opponents. The country has not yet overcome the so-called siege mentality because of hostile campaigns by some foreign governments and Tiger backers, and the government will be able to tilt at windmills or even carry out witch hunts in the name of patriotism.
While the UPFA is engaged in wheeler-dealing to bolster its majority, fear is being expressed in some quarters that it is striving for absolutism. This fear, to our mind, is not totally unfounded.
That brings us to the question: Who will play the role of a responsible and effective Opposition? S. L. Gunasekera in his article on this page today argues that, for want of a better alternative, those who helped President Rajapaksa and his party win will now have to act as a countervailing force to restrain the government. One cannot but agree with him because the Opposition has lost its vitality and credibility. Similarly, it needs to be added that the onus is on the government to act with self-restraint without succumbing to arrogance of power which precedes the downfall of powerful regimes. It may be recalled that the UNP has not yet recovered from the Humpty-Dumpty type fall it had many years ago.
`Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man`s character, give him power`, said Abraham Lincoln. It is during his second term that President Rajapaksa will face the real test of his character.