Though the full benefits of
the programme for peace and economic revival of the Ranil Wickremesinghe
government had not filtered to the rural masses, the economy was showing
signs of healthy recovery with growth projected at near seven percent
and the LTTE also under pressure due to the international safety net put
in place by the UNF government when Kumaratunga decided to strike.
Further, with the scheduled
resumption of peace talks following the release of the LTTE's ISGA
proposals on October 3, 2003, the US$ 4.5 billion aid pledged would also
have not been long in coming, giving the economy an added impetus.
Thus, with time running out
fast for Kumaratunga, she with the help of the JVP used the negative
aspects of the peace process to foment dissent in the country and
capitalised on the failure of the Ranil Wickremesinghe government to
pass on a peace dividend to the people within that short period, leading
eventually to dissolution of parliament.
It is now self evident from
the conduct of the President and the UPFA that they acted purely for
selfish political reasons and not in the national interest since the
government is continuing with the very approach of the UNF towards the
LTTE, which they earlier not only criticised but used as justification
for the dissolution of parliament.
Tragically for the country
and sadly for Kumaratunga, the UPFA government now finds itself
circumscribed by its own pre-April 2004 rhetoric, which has not only
stalled the peace process but unleashed radical and extremist forces
that have taken the country from hope to the verge of despair.
Today, not only is the
country sharply divided on ethnic lines but also on religion, leading to
a possible situation where Sinhalese Buddhists will soon be pitted
against Sinhala Christians and Tamil Christians against Tamil Hindus.
The legal green light given
to the Anti Conversion Bill of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has now
set the stage for this future development and it won't be long before
the international repercussions of this move will be reverberating
through the country.
Fomenting religious dissent
was also part of the well orchestrated campaign of the then opposition,
but in government today, it is called upon to bell the cat with the JHU
demanding the Anti Conversion Bill be passed into law given the green
light of the Supreme Court. To top it all, with prices already
skyrocketing, the government last week asked the people to brace
themselves for further hikes.
And the irony of it all is
that the very reasons adduced by the President and the UPFA for the
ouster of the UNF such as the preparation to negotiate the ISGA with the
LTTE, allowing the Tigers to set up camps in Trincomalee such as at
Manirasakulam, providing duty free facilities to bring vehicles and
equipment to the country in addition to helicopter rides and other
violations of the ceasefire agreement, are all reenacted today, now with
the blessings of the very President and the UPFA.
True, the JVP is publicly
protesting by issuing statements at all these developments but only for
the purpose of creating public perception they are standing by their
principles whilst ensuring the apple cart of government is not upset.
In essence, the JVP by only
confining their opposition to words when they have means to prevent such
developments by exercising their parliamentary leverage has silently
acquiesced, becoming partners with the President in catering to the LTTE
- the very grounds they earlier cited for the ouster of the UNF.
It is in this same backdrop
the latest developments relating to the President's resignation as the
UPFA leader and the move to formulate a response to the LTTE's ISGA
proposals are unfolding, thereby catering to the JVP demand not to
negotiate only on the LTTE's ISGA proposals whilst also giving
Kumaratunga the manoeuverability of striking out on her own.
And with the UNP in deep
slumber, whilst all these developments are taking place under its very
nose, the opposition to the government is also seen in the public eye as
coming only from within government in the form of the JVP.
Accordingly, the President
had assigned her legal team comprising, President's Counsels Jayampathy
Wickremaratne, M.M. Zuhair, Nihal Jayamanne, Nigel Hatch and Attorney
R.K.W. Goonesekera and Dr. Ranjith Amarasinghe to formulate a set of
proposals for an interim authority as a counter proposal for submission
through the Norwegians to the LTTE.
This legal team of the
President had sat down for the task and worked round the clock over the
weekend and met again Thursday, August 12, to beat the proposals into
The proposals which were
finalised at the Peace Secretariat headquarters at the World Trade
Centre by this legal team on Thursday, August 12, were handed over to
Director General, Jayantha Dhanapala for presentation to the President.
The government's counter
proposal to the LTTE's ISGA provides for an interim authority which will
have a majority of LTTE nominees in addition to the representatives of
the government as well of the Muslim community.
While the government
proposal falls short of the UNP draft presented in 2003, it provides a
list of subjects which the interim authority will have control over with
the inference that subjects not in the list will not come within the
purview of the interim authority.
Thus, the government
proposal does not provide for the north east interim authority to have
any control over land which is currently under government. This would
mean for example, until such time there is a final solution, the LTTE
will not have control over any land in which the security forces are
camped or government departments are established.
Further, the interim
authority will have no powers over defence or finance except in raising
taxes in stipulated areas.
The structure envisaged
itself is of a federal nature but within a constitutional framework that
would have to be implemented via a constitutional amendment. But the
authority will have powers for maintenance of law and order, giving the
LTTE the right to police the north east.
And with the formalisation
of the counter proposal, the President believes, the basis of the
negotiations will not only be the LTTE's ISGA proposals but her very
own, thereby giving not only the JVP a face saving way out of their
opposition but also the government as a whole given its earlier
position, the ISGA proposal laid the foundation for separation.
It will be recalled, the
former UNF regime submitted its own proposal for an interim authority
and the LTTE's ISGA proposal was a response to that, which prompted the
President, SLFP and the JVP at the time to claim the Wickremesinghe
regime was setting the stage for separation.
Today however the roles are
reversed with the UPFA government throwing out the UNF proposal and
submitting its own, in response to the LTTE's ISGA proposal, creating
the impression thereby it is rejecting the LTTE's proposal and offering
In that context, the ball
will then be in the LTTE's court to convince its people the
justification for the organisation to negotiate with the government on
the strength of both sets of proposals when the UPFA by submitting its
new set of proposals has implicitly rejected the LTTE's proposal even
before sitting down for talks.
It remains to be seen
whether the President's strategic move on this issue reaps dividends but
she is not leaving anything to chance, hoping to rope in UNP Leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe also into the game plan.
This the President hopes to
do by inviting Wickremesinghe for a discussion and soliciting his input
on the proposals, which the UNP Leader in those circumstances will be
hard put to refuse, unless of course he declines to meet with
Kumaratunga on a matter of principle given the concerted campaign
against his party and senior members by the UPFA government through a
specially assigned police squad.
Furthermore, to buttonhole
Wickremesinghe, the President also plans to invite the co-chairs Norway,
the EU, USA and Japan to formulate an agenda to move the peace process
forward and get the international community to persuade the UNP Leader
to support it, thereby projecting a broad southern consensus to
neutralise any opposition from the JVP.
Not stopping at that, the
President is also considering seriously the option of a referendum to
adopt a new constitution in the event the LTTE refuses to negotiate on
the strength of both its proposal and that of the government, pushing
through the abolition of the executive presidency and electoral reforms
as well in the process.
While the constitution
requires a two third majority in parliament plus approval by the people
at a referendum to do so, the President is hoping to adopt a reverse
strategy on this score by first getting the people's approval at a
nonbinding referendum to adopt the new constitution and then going to
parliament and urging it to honour the people's verdict.
But getting a referendum
through in these conditions is no easy task particularly with the
minorities arrayed against such a move and a recipe to soften that
impact too has been worked out.
This the government hopes to
do by getting parliament to approve as an urgent bill the mandatory
requirement of an identity card for purposes of voting at an election or
Towards this end, the
government called for an urgent party leaders' meeting in parliament for
Thursday, August 12, notwithstanding the fact, Speaker W.J.M.
Lokubandara, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe, Opposition Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe and Secretary
General of Parliament, Priyani Wijesekera being overseas. The meeting
was to be presided by Deputy Speaker Geethanjan Gunawardena who is a
UPFA member and the purpose of the meeting was to have the amending bill
fixed for debate at the next session on Wednesday, August 18.
Now the significance of the
timing is that in the event of a hurried referendum, with the identity
card being a pre requisite for voting, large numbers of the minority
communities will be disenfranchised, particularly in the LTTE controlled
areas and the hill country, since they do not possess valid identity
Thus in such a situation,
the government hopes it can ride the crest of a wave in the southern
electorates and move for the abolition of the executive presidency and a
change in the electoral system for starters.
With that in mind, at
Thursday's party leaders' meeting, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle pushed
for the bill to be taken up on Wednesday, August 18, but was resisted by
UNP Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya who asked for time to study the bill
especially since the CWC and the TNA were also not represented at the
Jayasuriya also pointed out
there was no urgency in the bill since no elections were scheduled in
the foreseeable future and accordingly, in the interest of all
concerned, a little more time should be given for study. He said the UNP
was in principle supportive of introducing the use of identity cards but
that it had to be done in a systematic manner without rushing it.
But with Fernandopulle
insisting, the UNP duo of Karu Jayasuriya and Joseph Michael Perera
staged a walk out of the meeting.
In the meantime, the JVP too
took stock of the overall situation after the President's resignation as
UPFA leader on Monday, August 2, and decided on a strategy of their own
to hold the upper hand.
The JVP game plan is to stay
in the UPFA and ride the storm until such time it is in a position to
marginalise the SLFP and emerge as the alternate government.
But to achieve this
objective the Marxists have to be within the UPFA fold at least in the
short term and this they are well on the road to achieving given their
showing both at the parliamentary elections as well as the provincial
The JVP also realises only
too well, they were able to secure the large numbers in representation
by riding on the SLFP vote bank and it was far too early to part ways
and attract the same numbers on their own steam. It is also equally
important for the JVP to stay the course and have the executive
presidency abolished so that they can be the deciding factor in
government or for that matter opposition within an exclusively
Thus while staying in
government and eroding the SLFP base, the JVP is also providing
opposition from within to capture the imagination of the people by
seeing to be fighting their cause especially in the face of total
impotency on the part of the UNP which has reduced itself to issuing the
Hence, on the one hand the
JVP caters to Sinhala hardline opinion by opposing negotiations based on
the ISGA whilst on the other taking up the issue of rising prices with
the government and Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama, thus distancing
themselves from the hardships imposed on the people by the government of
which they are an integral part.
Given these factors, it is
following the Presidential pique over the JVP's public opposition to
resuming negotiations on the basis of the ISGA proposals and resigning
as UPFA leader the previous week that the politburo of the Marxists met
Wednesday, August 4, to take stock of the situation.
And the clear signal which
emerged was that the party should not rock the government boat at this
point and force the President to look for a deal with the UNP.
In fact the likes of Wimal
Weerawansa and Tilvin Silva went to the extent of reasoning out the
President's actions by stating it was due to a second level team of the
party being represented at the UPFA executive committee meeting. The JVP
was represented at the controversial meeting by Nandana Gunatilleke,
Vijitha Herath, K.D. Lalkantha and Bimal Ratnayake.
Weerawansa spoke with
authority on the issue having already been told by Media Minister
Mangala Samaraweera, the JVP representation was low key at the executive
committee considering the Presidential presence.
Accordingly, it was decided
for future meetings, the JVP top quartet, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Tilvin
Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and Nandana Gunatilleke will be in attendance.
At the same time, the
politburo also focused on the ISGA controversy and once again Weerawansa
explained that Samaraweera informed him, the government had found a way
out by deciding to submit a separate set of proposals for LTTE's
consideration and that negotiations will be based on both sets of
proposals and not only LTTE's ISGA proposal.
Thus, the politburo decided
they should ask the government to incorporate some of their own
proposals to the draft, giving the party an opportunity of justifying
before the people the decision to agree for negotiations based on both
sets of proposals.
The thinking of the JVP was
that once the decision is taken to negotiate on the strength of both
sets of proposals, it will give them much needed time to consolidate and
come out smelling of roses by opposing any far reaching concessions to
the LTTE down the road.
President Kumaratunga for
her part is not oblivious to the JVP strategy and knows only too well a
long term relationship with the JVP is not viable but at the same time
realises she needs the reds to fulfil her objective of abolishing the
executive presidency first and has decided to play along whilst also
asserting her authority where necessary.
This she did the previous
week as well by pulling out of an elaborate ceremony organised for
August 19 by the JVP's Agriculture Minister, Anura Dissanayake in the
Kurunegala District to launch what the party has termed the biggest
development project of the government - the 1,000 irrigation tank
It was for 10 a.m. Thursday,
August 5, that Minister Dissanayake had summoned a meeting of his
officials and the President's Security Division Director to discuss
arrangements for the function at which Kumaratunga was to be the chief
The event was to herald not
only the revival of the 1,000 tanks but also the cultural values of the
country and a huge tamasha including a parade of 25,000 dancers and 500
drummers was planned for the occasion.
However just minutes before
the meeting was to commence, the PSD sent word to the Ministry the
director will not be attending it, prompting Minister Dissanayake to
instruct his secretary to ascertain from the President's secretary
whether she will be attending the ceremony.
On speaking to the
President's Secretary, W.J.S. Karunaratne, it was indicated that the
President's response will be made known by 10 p.m. Friday, August 6.
And by 7 p.m. Friday,
Dissanayake's secretary was informed the President will not attend the
ceremony since she had a prior engagement and the Minister was visibly
upset when Kumaratunga's decision was communicated to him.
However, putting up a brave
front Minister Dissanayake directed all government ministers including
the Prime Minister be invited for the ceremony but that there will be no
Having snubbed the JVP on
the launch of its water project, the President cut the grass under their
feet by opening the Greater Kandy drinking water supply project at
Kandadeniya in Katugastota on Monday, August 9 and stating at the
ceremony the government was working towards formulating a wide and
integrated national plan to fulfill the water needs of the country.
Thus, when the JVP Minister
does launch his project on August 19, it will be seen only as a follow
up to the President's initiative and not one by the Marxists.
"If we can restore and
maintain thousands of tanks inherited from our past, we do not have to
construct new tanks," Kumaratunga had also said in her speech in a
That apart, the previous
week, the President also had a dinner meeting with Indian High
Commissioner, Nirupan Sen and his Political Affairs Officer, Taranjith
Singh Sandhu at the Rosmead Place residence of host Anura Bandaranaike
with Mangala Samarawera also in attendance.
The occasion was ostensibly
a farewell dinner for the outgoing High Commissioner who played a
pivotal role in lulling UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe into a false
sense of complacency during his premiership not to act against
Kumaratunga on the assurance there will be no dissolution of parliament.
The President in fact even
had it officially communicated to Wickremesinghe through Japan's Special
Envoy, Yasushi Akashi she will not dissolve parliament, an assurance
which the then Premier acted on to hold at bay his members who were
calling for the impeachment of Kumaratunga.
The downside of all this
lying through diplomatic channels of course is the loss of credibility,
for now what credence can the LTTE place on assurances given by the
President through the international community when it is established
nothing is sacred to the President? Can Akashi for example ever
communicate any message from the President to the LTTE knowing she lied
to him and lost credibility with Wickremesinghe?
Then again given India's
reservations about the involvement of Japan in the Sri Lankan peace
process, Kumaratunga could well have been Machiavellian to dent Japan's
credibility in the process.
Be that as it may, over
dinner at Bandaranaike's residence, the idea was floated to the Indian
High Commissioner that the government would be grateful for an extended
credit facility to tide over the coming year in view of the US$ 4.5
billion pledged in Tokyo not forthcoming due to the stalemate in the
That Sen and Sandhu have
been dabbling in the internal politics of Sri Lanka is now well known
and their response to the request made was encouraging with the Treasury
now expected to do the follow up.
But the failure of the
government to get the show back on the road has been of concern to the
Indians who are now once again promoting the concept of the two major
parties working together, a factor impressed upon Muslim Congress
Leader, Rauf Hakeem as well during his recent visit to India.
However, given the
volatility of the UPFA-UNP relationship, it is unlikely to bear fruit,
especially with Wickremesinghe being clearly told by party seniors, any
move by the President for discussions for a national government should
be viewed purely as a tactical ploy to keep the JVP in line. To make
matters worse, the LTTE has decided it will not agree to resume talks if
the government insists on its proposals also being taken up for
The bottom line is, the
government has no clear strategy to take the country out of the social,
economic, and political mess it has reduced it to with only tactics at
play for surviving in government and politics at any cost.
And thanks to an opposition
that is a resounding success when it comes to lacklustre performance,
the President might still just about pull it off.
to the Page