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 Politics  

Setting the stage for an election


Basil Rajapakse, Mahinda Rajapakse, Karunanidhi, S. Jeyanandamoorthy
and Velupillai Pirapaharan

Govt. looks at general election before
economy nosedives

Basil talks to CWC and UNP defectors
for election alliance

TNA MPs in secret mission to Wanni visit the FDLs

Pirapaharan tells TNA MP, govt's war
failure will be exposed to south soon

Tamil Nadu's ceasefire call rejected by 
Mahinda in meeting with Manmohan

 

While Tamil Nadu turned the heat on New Delhi to push for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka in the lead up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse last week, the government was looking at its own options to diffuse the developing crisis including the submission of a political package and a snap general election before the economy hits rock bottom.

For all the rhetoric on capturing Kilinochchi and ending the war by December, the government now knows the ground realities are otherwise with the going becoming increasingly difficult and finds the pressure mounted in India somewhat of a blessing in disguise to justify seeking another extension to end the war.

Explanation

Having created the perception the end was nigh, come January, when the economic crisis also starts biting the people, the government would be hard put to explain why the Tigers are still standing and it is to overcome these challenges that the administration is seriously looking at the election option to seek a mandate for a new political agenda.

This agenda could include asking for a little more time to finish the LTTE thus concealing the ground realities on the military and economic fronts and paving the way for a campaign based on war hysteria.

It is to achieve this specific objective that President Rajapakse said Thursday after the meeting with Manmohan Singh that he told the Indian Premier there will be no let up on the military offensive and any talks or ceasefire will be only on the condition the Tigers lay down their weapons.

This message to a people fed with a regular diet of an imminent military victory would be extremely palatable and the best recipe the President could place before them to seek a fresh mandate and that is exactly what he did.

And if the government succeeds on this score, it has six more years to play around with before the next general election which of course would help it ride out the economic storm impacting the people in the few months ahead.

To this end, the government could well point to Indian pressure as justification for the delay in liberating Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu and tell the people it needs a little more time until the dust settles in New Delhi after their own general election by April next year at which time the Tamil Nadu factor may not be all that relevant.

Crisis

It is in the context of failure to deliver on the military front as per the deadlines given by Rajapakse that the economic crisis becomes significant since the government knows the longer it waits, the more disastrous the situation will become as revealed in a Bloomberg report, hence the decision to weigh the option of a general election to ride the crisis and survive politically.

This report filed by Johanna Dee Chua on Emerging Markets Trading Strategy for Citigroup Global Markets Asia states Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserves have fallen at an accelerated pace largely due to foreigners exiting the country's treasury bill and bond markets and the Central Bank intervening in the market to keep the rupee stable by selling about US$ 600 million to the market in the last few months.

Posing the question, whether Sri Lanka is an accident waiting to happen, the report, states the country is the most externally vulnerable in the region and that the recent announcement seeking proposals for a US$ 300mn syndicated loan looks very difficult under the current environment.

And with the country set to lose GSP Plus as well and the cost of living expected to soar even higher given the number of tax increases through the 2009 budget, short of delivering LTTE Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan to the people, President Rajapakse knows he will not be able to keep a lid on dissent for much longer and thus sees the developments in India in a positive light to play the victim and whip up national hysteria before announcing elections - hence his statement on talking tough to Manmohan Singh.

Interestingly, the President was to also speak with Hasan Ali, a Congress Party member of the Tamil Nadu state assembly recently and urged him to keep the pressure on Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi and his DMK on LTTE's atrocities with particular reference to the Rajiv Gandhi murder thereby keeping the issue on the boil.

Accusing finger

The question however is whether the government can point an accusing finger at India alone and escape blame if it fails to deliver on the military front especially considering the propaganda hype that Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse had won New Delhi's support for the war effort during his recent visit.

Indeed, India did not tell Sri Lanka to stop the war, going so far in fact in the joint statement to say terrorism must be combated with resolve to which ironically the President responded by stating in an interview with The Hindu days later there is no military solution to a political problem and that a settlement would be reached within an 'undivided Sri Lanka.'

It is in this overall backdrop, pressure was mounted again in Tamil Nadu demanding a ceasefire in Sri Lanka with the Communist Party of India's State Secretary, D. Pandian writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, November 10 calling on him to act swiftly to end the war.

Backdrop

This letter of course has to be viewed in the backdrop of the LTTE announcing through its Political Wing Leader B. Nadesan the Tigers were ready for a ceasefire.

It is apparent on reading  Pandian's missive, there is some coordination between various parties in Tamil Nadu and the LTTE which Colombo has failed to counter effectively using other groups who find the Tigers anathema and this letter set the stage for events to follow.

Just 24 hours earlier, the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, K. V. Thangabalu, handing over an Indian Rs. 500,000 cheque to Karunanidhi to provide aid for Sri Lankan Tamils also called for a ceasefire citing the LTTE's readiness to do so.

Accord

"The only solution to the long-pending Sri Lankan Tamil people's issues can be through the implementation of the accord signed between former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former President J.R. Jayewardene in 1987. And this will be possible only after the warring sides cease fighting," Thangabalu said.

Thus, while the Congress led government in the centre was pressuring President Rajapakse to submit a political package and combat terrorism with resolve, at Tamil Nadu level, the Congress Party was joining hands with the Communist Party and Karunanidhi to push for a ceasefire.

It is in this light, Pandian's letter to Prime Minister Singh the following day makes interesting reading and was as follows:

Communist Party Of India Tamil Nadu State Council

D. Pandian M.A., B.L., (Ex. M.P) State Secretary

Dr. Manmohan Singh Hon'ble Prime Minister, New Delhi

Date: Nov. 10, 2008

Respected Prime Minister,

I am writing this letter to draw your attention to the latest developments in Sri Lanka.

All the political Parties in Tamil Nadu demand in one voice to stop the war against the civilians in Sri Lanka, which is causing great concern in Tamil Nadu.

You are aware that the ceasefire arrived at the initiative of the Norwegian govt.'s representatives in 2002 had been unilaterally abrogated by the Sri Lankan govt. in 2008, Feb. Many countries disapproved of this unilateral decision and requested the Sri Lankan govt. to pursue the path of negotiation to arrive at a political settlement.

But the Sri Lankan govt. aggravated the situation by resorting to aerial bombing and also all-around attack by artillery. Lakhs of innocent people had been uprooted from their habitats and rendered homeless. Many innocent people were killed.

As their misery rose and their cries of sorrows also increased, the Tamil Nadu people of their own accord and instinctively reacted to the human tragedy and hence demanded an end to the war.

Any war however bitter it might be, should end one day as the first and second world wars have ended. Hence, on behalf of the State Council of the CPI, I request you to use your good offices to impress upon the Sri Lankan President to stop the war and agree for a ceasefire.

One pertinent question was raised about the attitude of the LTTE, which is spearheading the Tamils' movement, regarding such ceasefire efforts.

Hence, our party issued a public statement, requesting the fighting Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka, to spell out their stand, to ceasefire attempts, in unambiguous terms.

They have responded immediately in a positive manner. I am enclosing the statement of the LTTE's Political Advisor B. Nadesan's message.

Hence, as the assurance for ceasefire has been obtained from the LTTE, the Sri Lankan govt. must be persuaded to reciprocate positively for ending the war.

Delaying and dodging to resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, will lead to fissiparous tendencies to grow in various parts of India.

As Indians, we feel, that the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict should he resolved amicably or else, the negative impact on India will have long term repercussions.

Hence, our party appeals to you, to treat it as important and act swiftly to end the war in Sri Lanka.

Yours sincerely,

D. Pandian

With the stage thus set and President Rajapakse due to meet Prime Minister Singh on Thursday, November 13, the Tamil Nadu State Assembly met 24 hours earlier, and unanimously approved a resolution calling for a ceasefire and negotiated settlement to the issue in Sri Lanka.

This move of course placed the President in a precarious position at his meeting with the Indian Premier having already committed to a negotiated settlement within an 'undivided Sri Lanka' in The Hindu interview, a point Singh was to put to good use in making his case for a speedy solution.

Be that as it may, at the State Assembly on Wednesday, with the Leader of the House, K. Anbhazhagan introducing the resolution, Chief Minister Karunanidhi moved it on behalf of the state government and carried it unanimously.

Unresolved

The resolution stated the Sri Lankan Tamil issue remains unresolved for over four decades. It further said several political parties and Tamil organisations have voiced support for the cause and the only way to wipe out the suffering of the Tamil people was by ensuring a ceasefire.

Calling on the Sri Lankan government to subscribe to a ceasefire and pull back its troops, the resolution also asked of the Indian government to take appropriate steps to ensure a political solution through a dialogue between the two adversaries.

Interestingly before the resolution was passed, Karunanidhi said all political parties should sink their differences and not indulge in a blame game over the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils.

"Let us be united at least on this issue as it concerns the Tamil community as a whole. I ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi to take note of this resolution and ensure that the demand for a ceasefire does not remain a dream," Karunanidhi further said.

Added Karunanidhi in moving the resolution - "It is the unanimous wish of Tamils living the world over that a ceasefire be immediately put in place to ensure that the hardships of Tamils come to an end in Sri Lanka."

But President Rajapakse would have none of it having decided to go for snap polls and told the Indian Premier he needed a little more time to proceed with a political solution.

Meeting

The President who also had a closed door meeting with Indian's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was to say it would be politically suicidal for him  at this point to concede a ceasefire short of the LTTE laying down arms since the opposition could capitalise on it at an upcoming election.

However, the President did assure the Indians, he will address the political issues of the minorities no sooner he weakens the LTTE militarily and receive a fresh mandate.

Indeed, even as the President was holding talks with India, his brother Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse in the company of SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, Treasurer Dulles Alahapperuma and Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva were meeting with the coalition parties in the government thrashing out a possible alliance for the election.

In this respect, the SLFP  team met with both the CWC and the UNP defectors and said the government intends going for early elections and asked these parties to contest in alliance with the SLFP.

Elections

Projecting the Western and Central Provincial Council elections first, Basil Rajapakse said what the government was looking for was firming up an alliance agreement for a general election as well at the same time, thereby indicating either election may come first.

Indeed, he was to say, the full impact of the economic crisis will hit the country by June and it was prudent to go before the people well before that time, no doubt using the war platform to divert attention from the cost of living, corruption and other political issues.

This move towards an early general election will also give the government the opportunity of doing so without having the Constitutional Council or the independent commissions in place which fact too was hinted at by Rajapakse.

But what the government has not taken into account, when making its calculations is the LTTE factor and the possible damage the Tigers can inflict in the run up to the elections which can impact on a campaign run on a war strategy.

A hint of this possibility came when two TNA MPs from the Eastern Province, Chandrakantha Chandra Nehru and S. Jeyanandamoorthy the previous week crossed over to Tiger territory and had a series of meetings including a visit to the forward defence lines.

While both MPs met with LTTE Political Wing Leader B. Nadesan and toured the FDLs including Kilinochchi, where they were given a briefing on the status of the war, which of course was altogether different to the one projected by Colombo, Jeyanandamoorthy alone met with LTTE Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan separately.

Discussions

On their return to Colombo the MPs were to brief their TNA colleagues and some opposition members on the discussions had and the heavy fighting in store in the months ahead.

Jeyanandamoorthy was to say the LTTE Leader was extremely confident and indicated the government's 'bluff' of military victory will be exposed to the people in the south within the next three months and that the people will then turn on the Rajapakses.

The LTTE he added made it known they will withdraw from Pooneryn and hold only strategic points to further their own military strategy which will be seen in the months ahead.

The MPs had further said the LTTE indicated they were prepared to resume negotiations provided the government placed a genuine federal package on the table albeit Rajapakse was unlikely to do so.

Said Jeyanandamoorthy - "Pirapaharan said if the government wants to continue with the war, the LTTE will fight to the last man to prove the futility of a military solution."

Whether they are simply rhetorical and bare words or a desperate cry for a ceasefire remain to be seen but for now the battle is on and the Tigers have been able to resist capitulating according the deadline given by the  government.

Of course from the government's standpoint, with the stage being set for a general election there is not a snowball's chance in hell of any federal solution coming from Rajapakse and this was amply reflected at the last APRC sessions.

It was the Muslim Congress representative at the APRC, Nizam Kariappar who cited President Rajapakse's interview to The Hindu on the 'Undivided Sri Lanka' concept and said the issue can now be resolved without further ado and the proposals finalised, only to see SLFP representative Minister Viswa Warnapala shooting it down.

The President, he said called and informed him to stick to the Unitary State (See box for minutes of meeting).

Thus, it looked like the President had pulled a fast one on India with regard to a political solution and set the stage for an election campaign based on a war platform, but Tamil Nadu was to strike back within 24 hours with Karunanidhi's MPs once again threatening to resign en masse. With that it was back to square one.

Tell tale APRC minutes

Mr Nizam Kariapper: Now that we have decided to proceed without MEP and JHU and with this President's remark on Undivided Sri Lanka I thought, we can get over the biggest hurdle.

The Hon. (Prof.) W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: What?

Mr. Nizam Kariapper: That is the thing. Once we start discussing then as SLFP representative it becomes incumbent on you to go to the party and ask, 'This opinion has been brought up on the statement made by His Excellency, that there is a change of attitude from your unitary.' Then this becomes easy. That is what I am insisting. It has given a big hope among the minorities. Sir.

Mr. Raja Collure: In my opinion, it is premature to raise a question about the President's position as reflected in this interview with The Hindu. The other point is, we should not engage in any semantics or whatever on a sensitive issue like this in the background of an attempt to have a consensus. This will impede a consensus, putting one position against another. It is really not a case of words.

The Hon. (Prof) W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: The same day on which he spoke to you over the phone, he spoke to me over the phone and he wanted me to remain committed to the concept of the unitary.

Mr. Nizam Kariapper: Recently?

The Hon. (Prof) W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: Yes. About a week or two weeks back

The Chairman: That was before this statement.

Mr. Nizam Kariapper: Now, you must understand whatever the political differences, our party is not part of the government. When there is an opportunity to push through a peaceful political solution, bona fide I try to make use of the opportunity not in a notorious way or in order to upset the whole thing. You would have seen that every time that we got blocked, I look it in a realistic point of view - What I am trying to say is I even do not know whether that reflected a change of attitude from the unitary. I do not know that personally.

The Hon. (Prof). W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: No. I do not think so.

Mr. Nizam Kariapper: I do not know. But what I am saying is, in the same way we are not insisting, 'Ah, now that he has said undivided,' he is committed. The problem is let us come with the concepts, which we have so far come, where we have come to a certain consensus which we can present. We even went to the extent of not having the united or unitary for that matter. Then came an insistence on the part of the President and his party that they wanted the unitary and without which he does not want a proposal. That was the next biggest stumbling block for us.

All I am now saying is the pronouncement by the President to an important newspaper  The Hindu  where he clearly said that he stands for four Ds - 'Demilitarisation,' 'Democracy' 'Development' and for the first time, he clearly spelt out, 'Devolution.' He said the word, 'Devolution.' Having said that, he would like to have an undivided Sri Lanka. Not that we are trying to say, 'Ah, he said that, so , therefore, it is so.' What I am saying any way we have to discuss this matter. Can we have this wording, 'Undivided Sri Lanka' as an alternative for unitary - I am not even saying an alternative for united, unitary - and if that point could be brought out officially in the form of a clarification by either the chairman or the party representative, 99 per cent of our work on this will be cleared in this respect.

The Hon. (Prof) W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: I am sure, we can seek a clarification. But, as far as I am concerned, going on the basis of the discussion which I had with him over the phone, the same day on which he spoke to him, he wanted me to tell the committee that the party position is that the party is still committed to the concept of a unitary state. He did not want me to deviate from that position and he wanted me to convey this message to the chairman which I did the same morning or evening. Therefore, since this particular statement has been made to The Hindu on a subsequent date, I think, both of us might be able to see him and seek a clarification and in my own thinking. I am sure by 'undivided' he meant that it is a unitary system.

Mr Nizam Kariapper: Very well. That is fine. That is what we exactly wanted. If he means 'unitary' is 'undivided' - Because, these are all political terms and inasmuch if he can convince his people which he is capable of - as substitute for 'unitary,' then that solves the problem of most of us.

The Hon. (Prof). W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: But, I do not think you would have taken up.

Mr. Nizam Kariapper: No, that is why, it is for you to seek clarification.

The Hon. (Prof) W.A. Wiswa Warnapala: That we can do.

 


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