Heading for a big fall

For a budget week, this has been a remarkably quiet one. Following the extraordinarily short budget presentation by President and Minister of Finance Mahinda Rajapaksa, and an even hastier tea party in Parliament on Wednesday, little has been said about what is more or less a very vague Appropriation Bill, holding little promise of redress for the overburdened masses.

Interestingly, the main opposition United National Party and its remaining paltry 43 members, decided to boycott the traditional tea party that follows the budget, claiming they had better things to do with their time.

The UNP has made no bones about the fact that this budget is nothing more than a farce, a little bit of icing on a very bitter cake that was presented not on November 7, but over a month ago, when the five controversial Finance Bills were presented in the House, and passed eventually amidst much controversy.

The Finance Bills, which were brought to introduce taxation on a multitude of commodities, including mobile telephones, and were presented well ahead of the budget, held all the bitter pills, allowing the Rajapaksa administration to manipulate the budget per se into a document of rosy handouts and rash promises about slashing prices of essential items. Of course, by the standards of the Chinthana draftsmen, this budget is a poor show; but then few documents and manifestoes could match the senseless generosity of the Mahinda Chinthana, with its Ďposhana mallasí and Ďkiri pitií for every household with a child below five years of age. The saying goes that it is incredibly easy to give away the million dollars you donít have.

Indeed, post presidential election 2005, the administration has become rather tightfisted, eager to keep the spoils as closely home as possible. Their slip is showing badly with the presentation of the budget for 2008, prompting the JVP, the weather-vane like ally of the administration, to cry foul.

The JVP, which is some five seats shy of being the main opposition party in the legislature, claims that the Appropriation Bill for 2008 is a betrayal of the common man, struggling to survive Ďneath the escalating cost of living.

It is putting up the most amount of opposition during the budget debates and certainly making the biggest noise, as usual.
Rhetoric has always been the JVPís strong suit. But there is much speculation that the JVP will turn traitor to the people and its vote base at the eleventh hour, and this theory is not without some merit.

It will be recalled that when the Finance Bills came up for voting in parliament, the majority of JVP members who had made a huge fuss about the governmentís hoodwinking of the people, and staged public demonstrations against the bills out on the streets, were happily vacationing in China.

Their absence in the House during the vote resulted in the government securing the majority it needed (albeit amidst a huge uproar created by UNP members). On that occasion, the chaos prevailing in the House led to the Speaker deciding to pass the Bills based on the electronic vote count to the great indignation of the UNP. Later, following a party leaderís meeting, it was decided that the vote on the Bills would be taken again.

And herein lies the rub; one might well excuse the JVP for being absent at the first vote on grounds that they were out of the country on legitimate business.

The real sting occurred when the JVP allowed the vote to go in the governmentís favour again, when the vote was counted the second time several weeks later, by walking out of the chamber citing some technical issue.

If ever there was a moment that the JVP stood naked and exposed for its deception, it was then, although it went largely unnoticed at the time, what with the many political dramas unfolding simultaneously.

For two years since the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the JVP has been playing a clever double game. It has been putting up a show of rebellion and opposition to the government, with threats and rallies, but in truth, it has merely been providing the fuel that the government has needed to continue on its way. All indications are that it looks to be the turn the 2008 budget vote will take as well. Firebrand JVP MPs like K.D. Lalkantha and Wimal Weerawansa might make a lot of noise in the run up to the vote on the budget, but when push comes to shove, protecting this administration is in the JVPís best interest.

The JVP will not rid the country of the Rajapaksa administration since it is well aware that to do so would be to inadvertently usher in a Ranil Wickremesinghe administration. In the JVPís eyes, there is no greater evil than a UNP led coalition government that would give the Reds no leverage whatsoever in matters of state.

To bring about the fall of the Rajapaksa government would be one thing, but the JVP is also aware that to go it alone would mean being reduced to less than 20 seats in Parliament, whereas they now enjoy 39, having entered Parliament in 2004 on the UPFA ticket.

In the end, the JVP is more like the UNP or the SLFP than its gung-ho idealistic members would like to think.
Political advantage, power and leverage will always supersede the interests of the country and the people they represent in the 225 member House of Parliament. In this, all three parties are united.

The JVP merely plays a more manipulative, less transparent game. But you canít fool all the people all the time, or so the saying goes.

The people shall have their day. And it would do the idealistic JVP good to realise that one fine day, when the masses do call their bluff, their fall from the moral high horse they have climbed so laboriously upon, will be a big one.