Essential role of opposition at times of national crisis | Sunday Observer

Essential role of opposition at times of national crisis

12 June, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented an exceptionally disturbing health crisis in almost every country. The catastrophe is common to the Government and its political opponents alike, a factor that almost every opposition party in Sri Lanka has conveniently overlooked. As in many other countries, at the beginning of the crisis, the opposition parties offered positive sentiments up to a certain extent on curbing the pandemic.

Regrettably, that optimistic and constructive response turned negative in the later stages of the issue. Not only parties with Governing experience who have confronted similar situations but also smaller opposition parties sans experience also started landing scathing attacks on the Government whenever they saw an opportunity. Factually, Democracy does not exist without vigorous opposition. Nevertheless, the sustainability of such democracies prevails only when the political opposition becomes reasonable in a national crisis.

Always opposing opposition

Legislative conflict in parliamentary Democracies is generally common to many developing countries, particularly in Asia. Nevertheless, in many instances, opposition parties support at least policies on public welfare or common crisis. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, this writer only remembers such support only when the parliament or other political institutions pass a bill for the benefit of their fraternity. In almost all other instances, the opposition parties oppose any action, good or bad, regardless of the common benefits to masses for opportunistic political gains.

The public opinion ‘rally around the flag’ is the universal motto during a major crisis a nation confronts from time to time. During such events, most often, public support for the Government is increased without discretion. In Sri Lanka, even the opinion of rallying around the common enemy was not seen during the height of the LTTE separatist’s war from 2006 to 2009 where factions of the then opposition mocked the military efforts by publicly making derogatory statements.

Some of the senior members of the then opposition not only insulted the efforts of the Government but also attempted to willfully disrupt the Government’s actions. Ironically, some of the leaders whom the then opposition publicly ridiculed more than once have become a strong political ally of the opposition later. However, most of the opposition party supporters who were politically against the Government during the conflict have rallied around in support of the Armed forces throughout the entire duration.

Disrupting the healing

The pertinent question is whether the political opposition in Sri Lanka is genuinely and honestly, helps the efforts of the Government with an interest to serve the citizenry. The simplest answer is negative. The current opposition vehemently and often unfairly criticises every action taken disrupting counteractions on Covid-19. They willfully attempt to confuse the general public by distorting facts. They have been attempting to fabricate stories from unsubstantiated gossip.

The main opposition with only a few who can make credible public announcements are not appearing in television debates or giving newspaper interviews. The vast majority who are sanctioned by the party are politicians who can yell and offer any mucky idea to the public. Most of them, most of the time do not even properly understand the subjects in a discussion. These opposition politicians habitually play to the gallery to score personal points from voters of their constituencies, without any honest feeling about the crisis at hand.

On the contrary, the Government politicians who appear in television discussions either too weak to face the opposition barrage or over-attempt to justify all Government actions and trying to justify weaknesses. Usually, any reasonable presentation on effective efforts to curb the virus is appreciated by the rational general public. Therefore, it is time that politicians on both sides realise that the well-informed general public in the country does not accept everything the politicians express.

Contradictory statements

The opposition since the beginning keeps on making contradictory statements on issues related to Covid-19. For example, when the lockdowns are imposed, they imply that people are starving and it is unreasonable and when the Government attempts to evade such action, they blame that the Government is not concerned about the safety of the public.

However, the biggest damage is caused by some of the so-called politically affiliated professional trade unions where even the positive actions of the Government are criticised unjustifiably. Instead of arguing on sensitive information in a table discussion, they hold press conferences regularly to instigate negative public opinion. Although there may be salient and useful facts in their statements, only the Government machinery can put them into action. The mere presentation of information to the public is of no use and that can lead to public mayhem.

The Government’s vaccination program is running effectively in selected areas where there is a high number of cases. It may not be as smooth as everyone expects. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the vaccination programs are being done without hindrance. Sri Lanka, with nearly two million doses (nearly 10% of the population) administered to date is placed at a reasonably high status in the world vaccination list. However, several isolated incidents took place where politicians involved needlessly, discrediting the process and the Government.

For example, the incident that took place involving a politician is a complete faux pas and disgrace to the Government. The said controversial politician acted shamelessly like a gangster in front of thousands of people disrupting an important vaccination effort. In a somewhat unusual occurrence, the perpetrator was arrested and remanded promptly. Such incidents not only excessively spoil the reputation of the Government but also earn the wrath of the general public, regardless of political alliances.

It is a common phenomenon that in ‘normal’ time, opposition parties take an adversarial stance on the ruling party in most Democracies. However, in most countries, since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the opposition parties were only moderately critical, giving required leeway to the respective health mechanism to perform without hindrance.

Contrarily, however, in Sri Lanka, even when the process is going on efficiently, the opposition attempts to upset the apple cart by issuing constant statements condemning the actions of the Government. For example, they kept on criticising the authorities citing that there are delays in getting down vaccines although currently, the vaccination program is progressing effectively in the areas where the threat is high.

Health and economy

It is understandable and logical that an opposition confronts the actions of a Government on ideological differences. However, in a nation such as Sri Lanka which struggles to face a major threat on two issues, namely health and economic, the politicisation must not take place. The opposition that has a parliamentary membership with ruling experience knowingly and completely ignores the general obstacles they have faced in crises. The present opposition may not likely to genuinely support any effort on controlling the pandemic as such feat will hamper their intention of achieving power in the next elections.

The public can witness that the Government’s crisis management also provides opportunities for the opposition to take a more negative stance. For instance, some of the contradictory and confusing public announcements, behaviour of Police officers on the ground due to lack or delays of proper instructions, destructive and arrogant conduct of regional politicians, and contradictory opinions of senior Government officials provide openings for dubious factions with vested interests. Seemingly, the Government has not yet taken the entire effort under a single authority on public communication.

The Government-opposition relations have not qualitatively come together in the most fearsome crisis the country has confronted in the recent past. Both the Government and the opposition parties must realise that the present situation on the pandemic control as well as the extreme economic crisis needs to be addressed together without political differences as the repercussions are common to both.

Instead of building competitive strategies by making use of the pandemic issue, the opposition needs to concentrate on supporting the public health-related issues with compassion. The actions taken concerning Covid-19 has to be interpreted on neutral grounds rather than on a political angle.