JVP’s decision to sack its MP must be lauded

The leftist political party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), has had a chequered history in this country. It entered the political arena offering itself as an alternative to the traditional left, at a time when that end of the political spectrum was dominated by the Lanka Samasamaja Party and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka.

Since then, it has been instrumental in staging two insurrections in the early seventies and late eighties, both of which failed at a tremendous cost both to the party as well in terms of the thousands of lives lost among the youth of that generation.

As a result of these abortive insurrections, the masses viewed the JVP with some unease but over the last decade, the JVP re-invented itself to emerge as the most potent third political force. As its former propaganda secretary once adroitly described it, they held the ‘remote control’ of the government.

Lately, however, the party has been beset with crisis after crisis. Its’ parliamentary representation is now split into two factions, its call for a general strike was an utter flop and it suffered an embarrassing defeat at the recent provincial council polls. The latest scandal to hit the headlines is one of its parliamentarians being deported from Japan on allegations of human smuggling.

But acting swiftly, the party’s disciplinary committee met and ordered that the MP should resign. And this, despite the fact that the vacancy would be filled not by one of its own members, but by a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which it now vehemently opposes in Parliament. That was because of the quirks of the last general election where the JVP was a constituent of ruling coalition.

No matter how one views the JVP, its policies and actions, this is an extremely courageous decision which must be commended; not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because we appear to be surrounded by a culture of political expediency rather than principled integrity.

Of course, in mature political systems, resignations are the order of the day. Politicians in democracies the world over have resigned when they have been linked to scandals. In some countries, such resignations have been tendered even when the politician concerned is not directly responsible for the incident in question.

This indicates that a sense of decency pervades these political systems and indeed, it should be so. Anybody in a position of trust, be it politicians or high public officials, also have a responsibility to be above board in their actions and when there is a whiff of scandal, impropriety or even a strong difference of opinion, the proper course of action would be to go with grace rather than wait until you are shown the door.

This is not a concept alien to Sri Lanka. In 1953, the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake resigned following the ‘hartal’ against rising rice and other commodity prices. Then, we saw M.D.H. Jayawardena, then a senior minister of J. R. Jayewardene’s Cabinet; resign after criticising Ronnie de Mel’s budget speech because it violated the principle of collective responsibility. Thereafter, Gamini Jayasuriya also resigned from Jayewardene’s Cabinet because he opposed the Indo-Lanka Accord that Jayewardene signed. These are but a few examples.

However, times appear to have changed. Now, ethical conduct seems to be the last thing on the minds of politicians and their hangers-on. And even when they get embroiled in scandal after scandal, they continue to cling on to positions of power and privilege. And resignations? These are simply unheard of!

We have seen the spectacle of at least one minister flouting the law with impunity again and again, so much so that there has been almost a countrywide demand for his resignation. That man of course cares not a whit and merrily carries on.
We have also seen how high ranking public officials have been censured by the highest courts in the land and ordered to pay fines. They too want to carry on regardless of public opinion and the judicial strictures issued against them.

What this does is to encourage and inculcate a culture where probity and principles count for nothing. Ethical conduct takes a back seat, as persons in positions of power and trust begin to believe that they can get away with anything. Then, having political clout translates into being clever. Soon, this becomes the mantra that everyone recites and the exception becomes the rule. Recent events suggest that Sri Lanka may be slowly but steadily moving in that direction.

And that is why the recent decision of the JVP to sack its MP must be lauded. Some may argue that the JVP may be lacking in finesse or political vision and that it has committed many atrocities in the past but in this instance, it has certainly demonstrated that it maintains party discipline and adheres to principles of good governance, even at the cost of a parliamentary seat.

It is an example for other political parties to follow and especially so, for the ruling party which carries the onus of wielding power and therefore has to be accountable to the public for its actions. That accountability must come not only from the government as a whole, or its leader as an individual, but by every single person who enjoys a stake in it. And that also appears to be the message that some minions walking the corridors of power just don’t seem to get!