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