4th April, 2004  Volume 10, Issue 38




















 Inside Politic
Final count: chaos and confusion

By Suranimala

Confusion worse confounded.

That just about sums up the outcome of the general election which has left a nation sharply divided and a parliament well hung for horse trading to take place apace.

There is no gainsaying given Sri Lanka’s political culture big money will be on offer for whoever wants to help one party form a government and justify the pole vault on some high sounding moral reasoning.

Within just two years a nation looked at as promising internationally that was capable of ushering in peace after 20 years of war and an economic upsurge was by Saturday teetering on the brink of chaos with no political party emerging a clear winner despite the newly formed United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) emerging as the single largest party by a fair margin.

Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe,

Armugam Thondaman, Rauf Hakeem

The masses it appears from the results were looking for quick fix economic relief rather than long-term stability with peace too taken for granted.

But the problem in forming a stable government for the UPFA despite winning a majority of districts is simply in the numbers and putting a coalition together to add up to 113 given the sharp policy differences between the parties available for negotiations.

The only parties that have got parliamentary representation at this election are the UPFA, UNF, SLMC, TNA, UPF, EPDP and the JHU.

The SLMC and the UPF are of course in coalition with the UNF in addition to the CWC which contested on the UNF ticket.

Thus, if the UPFA is to form a stable government by mustering 113 MPs, it must strike a deal with the JHU or the TNA, failing which it will be in a minority government and the Sword of Damocles perpetually hanging over it come voting time in parliament on all important issues.


And the irony is even if a newly formed UPFA government is defeated in a parliamentary vote, the President will not be constitutionally empowered to call for fresh elections at least for another year.

In such a situation, Kumaratunga will be compelled to call another party in parliament to form a government until such party is also defeated on a vote and the merry go round will continue at least for a year at which time the President will be in a position once again to dissolve parliament and go for fresh elections yet again looking for the elusive 113 seats.

The question then is how the President can muster 113 seats to form the semblance of a stable government and keep the economy afloat in addition to the peace process given the instability that will play on the minds of the foreign donors and investors, not to mention the international community as a whole.

The first option in this respect is to ask the TNA to either join a UPFA government or support it from the opposition, the former option of course being a non starter.

The TNA has in fact already rejected the option of forming a government with the UPFA given the sharp policy differences over the peace process and the JVP factor in the alliance.

On the contrary, they would look at the option of helping the UNF form a government to continue with the peace process, a move TNA’s Jaffna District member Gajendra Ponnambalam said he would strongly advocate.

In fact by Saturday morning, the UNF was already making informal contact with the TNA on the two parties working together to move the peace process forward whilst taking the Muslim Congress also on board.

Non starter

Thus, the question of the TNA helping the UPFA form a government is a non starter leaving open the possibility only for the UPFA to get the support of the Tiger-backed TNA to support it from the opposition benches.

In the first instance, if that were to happen, then any possibility of getting the JHU support will go out of the window.

Next comes the question, at what price the TNA support from the opposition benches will be forthcoming for the UPFA?

For starters, the TNA would use its parliamentary clout to get a commitment from the UPFA to continue with the peace process without any deviation and also a firm commitment to the north east merger, the interim administration proposals, federalism as agreed to in the Oslo Declaration and recognition of the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils for purposes of negotiations.

All these conditions are anathema as far as the JVP is concerned and will cause a serious rupture in the alliance if agreed to by Kumaratunga in an attempt to get TNA support.

The JVP will particularly be forced to take a tough stand on these issues given the emergence of the JHU as a formidable third force in its first outing, essentially stealing the JVP platform of the hardline Sinhala electorate.

Thus, short of splitting the alliance, there is no way Kumaratunga can even get the TNA’s support from the opposition benches to move the peace process forward. The TNA has made it clear it will not let up on the stated positions which were already in force under the UNF government.

The JHU option

Taking all these factors into consideration, there is no way the UPFA can count on the TNA to sustain it in government which then leads to the next option — the JHU.

Despite the bitter feud between the JHU and the JVP in the lead upto the April 2 election, the Buddhist monks may well consider an invitation by the UPFA to form a government but the price for such an adventure too will be very costly.

Just as much as the TNA would have bargained for its pound of flesh, so would the JHU, both in respect of the peace process as well as their declared policy of forming a dharmarajya, thus once again hoping to eclipse the JVP in the eyes of the masses as the saviour of the nation.

That would necessarily mean no peace talks on the LTTE’s ISGA proposals, no merger, no federalism, no Norwegians as facilitators but ensuring the establishment of a Buddhist state, once again conditions which Kumaratunga will be hard put to fulfill. These conditions the monks have already placed on record.

In such a situation, there is very little prospect of the UPFA joining hands with the JHU if it seeks to avert the imminent outbreak of war and the resultant economic chaos in the country.

Formidable third force

More importantly, the JHU has now emerged as a formidable third force that can play the role of king and queen maker, a position the party asked the electorate to put them in to break the minority parties stranglehold on such placement and is not likely to barter away the newly acquired status without extracting the maximum mileage for its cause.

And that would necessarily mean opposing any change to the present electoral system, without which the party would not be in the strong position the JHU finds itself in presently.

Thus, the question of Kumaratunga obtaining the support of the JHU for constitutional reforms is zero as well unless she agrees to satisfy their demands.

Likewise, the question of the TNA supporting the formation of a constituent assembly to change the constitution and abolish the executive presidency will also not arise without a solution in place for the ethnic issue first.

That necessarily means the President in any event will not have the 113 MPs she was aspiring to get for purposes of constitutional reform even if the numbers were obtained to put together a hodge podge government.

In these circumstances, the President will be left with the option of either wooing the CWC of Armugam Thondaman or the SLMC of Rauf Hakeem.

The question then arises what the basis would be for such a formation given the fact the SLMC and CWC have already gone on record stating they will not be party to a government in which the JVP is a constituent.


And even as the results started coming in Saturday morning, CWC Leader, Armugam Thondaman was to speak with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and give an assurance he will not abandon ship.

In any event, the President’s objective of reforming the constitution to abolish the executive presidency and changing the electoral system will also never see the light of day considering the CWC’s bargaining power stemming from these two very systems.

Thus, if the intention of wooing Thondaman is to simply form a government, while it can succeed in the very short term, it cannot help achieve the objective of abolishing the executive presidency or the electoral system, thus placing the President in a catch 22 situation.

For in such a scenario, the Presidential election will have to be held in 2005 or if Kumaratunga arrogates to herself another year by virtue of the second swearing in, in 2006, forcing the party to look for a candidate hereon.

Serious challenge

This, to Kumaratunga, will defeat the entire purpose of the election since all she has then achieved is helped the JVP increase its numbers and pose a serious challenge to the SLFP base in the long-term.

As far as Kumaratunga’s personal political fortunes and future are concerned, the election has not achieved the desired objectives and the full realisation of this fact was slowly but surely sinking into her Saturday morning.

At the same time, she is also left with the option of wooing the SLMC despite Rauf Hakeem stating he will have no truck with the JVP.

This again raises questions with regard to the Ferial Ashraff factor in the UPFA as well as Hakeem insisting the SLMC be recognised as the representative of the Muslims in the peace process.

And as in the case of Thondaman, the Muslim Congress too will not be party to a piecemeal amendment to the constitution where the SLMC will sacrifice its leverage by agreeing to change the electoral systems or abolish the executive presidency.

In the ultimate analysis therefore, what the President has achieved by going for a snap general election before the fruits of the peace process and the economic reforms reached the people is create conditions for chaos and instability in the country.

Unstable government

Further, having dissolved a parliament in which the UNF had a clear majority just two years into its term, Kumaratunga has paved the way for the birth of an unstable government which will now have to grapple with the peace process and the economy.

In these circumstances, if and when a new government resumes the peace talks with the LTTE, it will be doing so from a much weaker position than April 2, 2004 with the LTTE considerably strengthened by the strong showing of the TNA at the election.

And ironically, it is the SLFP and JVP which justified the dissolution of parliament on the basis the UNF was compromising national security and sovereignty in negotiations with the LTTE.

The question then arises whether a much weaker government can now negotiate with the LTTE without caving in completely to the Tiger demands, if a return to war is to be avoided.

It is also pertinent to note that Kumaratunga and the UPFA promised the people a host of goodies in the election manifesto including fertiliser subsidies and 50,000 jobs in a matter of months.

Where are all the monies coming in to fullfil these promises? The donor agencies will certainly not provide any economic support to a government that continues with welfare measures without proceeding with strict economic reforms and privatisation, both of which the JVP are vehemently opposed to.

Hard put

The JVP will be hard put to stay in a government that does not provide the welfare measures promised and Kumaratunga will be equally hard put to provide them without donor support.

And the peace process is also unlikely to get started under a UPFA government due to its steadfast refusal to recognise the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamils, which would necessarily mean the US$ 4.5 billion pledged will also be not forthcoming.

But of course the President could just cobble a government together by offering big bucks to some UNF members to cross over and bide her time for one year before dissolution and try her hand again at getting a simple majority to abolish the executive presidency.

That then is what President Chandrika Kumaratunga has cooked up for the country by her sudden dissolution of parliament — chaos and confusion.

And the UNF for its part will rue the day they decided to go soft on the President after the 2001 election victory in the name of cohabitation and thereby aided and abetted Kumaratunga to make Sri Lanka a basket case.

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