Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) big guns fought quite a battle to oust President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015. Today, they have ganged up against Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera. They say he, as a UNP National List (NL) MP, has no right to remain independent in Parliament and must resign forthwith. Interestingly, Rathana Thera as well as other JHU heavyweights endorsed defections from the Rajapaksa government to bring the present administration to power! Now, his erstwhile chumps are all out to hound him out of Parliament for breaking ranks with them and the UNP-led coalition. Karmic forces at work!
We don’t intend to get involved in the JHU’s internal dispute, but those who are demanding Rathana Thera’s resignation have apparently ignored some arguments anent NL appointments. The fact that the NL mechanism is blatantly abused by some party leaders has led to the belief that all NL MPs are beholden to their political bosses for their appointments. This may be so in the case of political rejects catapulted to Parliament through the NL. The UNP has gone so far as to appoint Sarath Fonseka, who contested from a different party and suffered an ignominious defeat, as an NL MP. It is antithetical to all democratic norms for politicians rejected by the people, in whom sovereignty is said to reside, to be appointed NL MPs and Cabinet ministers.
However, there is a school of thought that the MPs appointed from a party’s NL, presented to people at a parliamentary election, are justified in arguing that they, too, have been elected, to all intents and purposes, in that the voters have endorsed their nominations.
One may also argue that a considerable number of supporters of Rathana Thera voted for the UNP at the 2015 general election because he was one of its NL nominees. On the other hand, all prominent SLFP and UPFA politicians who defected from the Rajapaksa government and threw in their lot with Maithripala Sirisena and subsequently contested the parliamentary polls on the UNP ticket were returned. Champika Ranawaka, Rajitha Senaratne and Navin Dissanayake are some of them. The UNPers were grateful to them for their contribution to the 2015 regime change, which enabled the UNP to make a comeback. Therefore, Rathana Thera may argue that he, too, could have won like Ranawaka if he had contested the last general election as a UNP candidate.
Moreover, the late Ven. Sobitha Thera and Ven. Rathana Thera were among the leading campaigners who helped defeat the Rajapaksa administration. The UNP had suffered many electoral defeats until then because it opposed the war and was seen to be subservient to separatists. The two monks helped the UNP leaders effectively counter the Rajapaksa government’s malicious propaganda and regain lost ground. Rathana Thera may, therefore, argue that he is not indebted to the UNP or anyone else for his NL appointment and has a right to remain independent in Parliament.
Ven. Sobitha Thera died crestfallen because he felt cheated by the yahapalana leaders, who unconscionably used his social position, popularity, integrity and credibility to rebrand and remarket themselves and make their political project attractive to the public. They wouldn’t have had any peace of mind if he had survived his illness and bounced back; perhaps, they would have ditched him in such an eventuality. Rathana Thera has got the so-called karapincha (curry leaves) treatment—he has been used and discarded—because he has had the courage to voice dissent without being railroaded into submission.
Whether the JHU’s efforts to oust Rathana Thera will reach fruition or not remains to be seen. But, we believe that the Thera has, as a politician, set an example for others to follow in Parliament. The past one and a half decades or so have seen many lawmakers defect and join other parties either for dosh or positions. There has been a proposal to ban crossovers by way of a remedy. But, such action will only put an MP in a constitutional straitjacket and pave the way for the dictatorship of party leaders in that they will be able to suppress dissent ruthlessly and reduce their parliamentarians to mere putty in their hands. A way out may be to make it mandatory for the MPs who decamp to remain independent.