spanner in the
peace process and Hakeem's dilemma
the government planned in the upcoming budget to pass on the
economic benefits of stringent fiscal discipline practised by the
UNF since assuming office in December 2001 to the people and
resume peace talks for greater stability, President Chandrika
Kumaratunga threw a well calculated spanner in the works last week
to derail the entire process.
timing of President Kumaratunga in throwing her spanner could not
have come at a worse time politically for Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe and was aimed at attracting the maximum political
advantage in the short term for the PA but which could have
disastrous political consequences for the PA and the country in
the mid to long term.
the tense security situation in the east following the killing of four
Muslim youth in a matter of days, the President announced last week
through her spokesman she was considering the demerger of the north east
in view of the developments in the east, thereby adding a new dimension
to the crisis.
President's threat came the very day a team of LTTE delegates headed by
Political Wing Leader, S.P. Tamilselvan was leaving for Paris to
formulate the Tigers' response on the provisional administration
proposal the government forwarded, thus effectively casting a shadow
over the entire exercise.
any move by the President to demerge the north east at this stage would
make the entire process an exercise in futility since the LTTE will
under no circumstance sit down for talks on a provisional administration
proposal in a demerged north east - a merger which for all the upheavals
since the signing of the Indo-Lanka agreement in 1987 remained intact
through four presidencies.
the calculated statement by the President at a time the LTTE was sitting
down to formulate its response on the proposal had all the makings of a
Machiavellian move aimed at derailing the peace process, cater to
hardline Muslim and Sinhala opinion and throw the government into a
quandary in the lead up to the provincial council elections which
Kumaratunga is expected to call any time after the first week of
problem faced by the President is that the North Western (Wayamba)
Provincial Council election has to be held before January 2004 and
unless she goes for the dissolution of all councils earlier, then they
would come on a staggered basis, which the PA believes will be
disastrous fearing the use of strong arm tactics by the ruling coalition
at a concentrated election.
if the President loses the Wayamba poll, there will be a domino effect
in the other provinces, which would be interpreted as a fresh mandate
for the UNP's agenda on the economy as well as the peace process making
Kumaratunga's office impotent for the rest of her tenure.
the President needs a sound platform for the provincial elections to woo
not just the Sinhala votes but also the Muslims to stay in political
contention and the demerger issue is as powerful as any if projected
a move however would effectively alienate the Tamil people from the PA
and also any chances a Kumaratunga-led government will have in the
future of negotiating with the LTTE but for now Kumaratunga is looking
at the immediate gains to be accrued given the fact time is fast running
out for her Presidency.
at the provincial elections Kumaratunga knows only too well will make a
subsequent dissolution of parliament before the 2005 presidential
election almost impossible and with it any chances of her making a
comeback under a system where the executive presidency is abolished.
it was an all or nothing gambit for Kumaratunga with her personal
political fortunes taking precedence over the country's overall
start with, the Muslim representatives from the east have for sometime
now been calling for the demerger of the north east with the possibility
of a separate provisional administration in the Muslim majority areas in
the east also mooted and in that context the President's threat would
not only endear her to the Muslims in the short term but put Muslim
Congress Leader Rauf Hakeem under tremendous pressure.
such a situation Hakeem will have to decide whether he is to back the
President's call or continue to sail with the government each of which
is fraught with danger for the young SLMC Leader.
if he goes with the President's call, then his position in the
government becomes untenable and there would have to be parting of ways
and the Muslims would have to face open warfare with the LTTE,
consequences of which can be disastrous.
the other hand, if he sees the President's move as a short term
political gimmick and the serious impact it will have on the peace
process and overall national stability, then he would have to call the
President's bluff and face the short term political consequences of his
actions and oppose the demerger at this point of time given the very
real possibility of peace talks resuming shortly.
way, the government will be forced to face the capriciousness of the
President and the attendant consequences with the very real possibility
of the peace talks breaking down due to no fault of the Prime Minister.
in turn would lead to grave instability in the country, sending haywire
economic projections including a peak tourist season, propelling the
country back into a doomsday scenario.
scenarios becoming reality however are dependent on how serious the
President is in carrying out her threat, which having been made will
place her in a lose-lose situation if not proceeded with, given the fast
approaching D-day, November 17.
D-day of November 17 is of course the date by which she would have to
call for a referendum in the east or decide whether or not the people of
that province want the merger to continue.
merger was brought into force following the Indo-Lanka Agreement by
President J.R. Jayewardene in terms of Section 37(1)(a) of the
Provincial Councils Act No. 42 of 1987. The 13th Amendment to the
Constitution was what paved the way for the Provincial Councils Act.
section states - "The President may by proclamation declare that
the provinces of this subsection shall apply to any two or three
adjoining provinces specified in such proclamation and thereupon such
provinces shall form one administrative unit, having one elected
provincial council, one governor, one chief minister and one board of
ministers for the period commencing from the date of the first election
to such provincial council and ending on the date of the poll referred
to in subsection (2) of this section, or if there is more than one date
fixed for such poll, the last of such dates."
the same time, Section 37(2)(b) states - "The President may, from
time to time, at his discretion, by subsequent orders published in the
gazette postpone the date or dates of such poll."
is in terms of this latter section the holding of the referendum has
been postponed every year from 1988 to date by Presidents J.R.
Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunge and Chandrika
Kumaratunga, through gazette notification.
last gazette notification issued by Kumaratunga postponing the
referendum in the Eastern Province expires on November 17 and unless
President Kumaratunga issues another gazette postponing the referendum
by another year, the Elections Department will be legally bound to
proceed with the conduct of a referendum posing the question to the
people whether or not they want the merger to continue.
the President has no inherent power to demerge the north east
arbitrarily but can only facilitate the process by not issuing a further
gazette postponing the referendum in the east. And having threatened to
demerge the north and east, Kumaratunga will now have to decide by
November 16 whether or not she wants the merger to continue.
that context, having upped the stakes on this issue, with the threat of
a demerger and bringing it as a major factor in the overall political
equation the President will be courting political disaster both with the
Sinhala constituency as well as the Muslims if she now has to by her own
action postpone the referendum with the issuance of another gazette
notification. And the Tamil community she has already lost for the PA
given her stance on the peace process. Hence the lose-lose scenario.
the other hand, if she does allow the referendum to proceed by not
issuing a fresh gazette providing for a further postponement by a year,
then both Hakeem and the government will be forced to take a stand on
the issue and face the referendum. The PA would obviously campaign for
the demerger in that eventuality.
such a situation, the government will be compelled to oppose the
demerger and explain to the south as well as the Muslim community that
tampering with the present status quo would permanently seal the fate of
the peace process and plunge the country back into war and also lose
international support at a time a consensus had been reached for a
federal solution in terms of the Oslo Declaration.
if the government thus decides to call Kumaratunga's bluff, it is the PA
that will face the political fallout of the President's actions for
narrow political gain at the cost of the country's stability.
such a move at this juncture will also strengthen considerably LTTE's
position with the international community which at the moment is
dismally low given the developments in the east as well as other
political killings and abductions. For, in such a scenario, the LTTE
will be in a position to tell the international community quite
convincingly, the divisive politics of the south will never allow a
negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis.
is no gainsaying of course the LTTE itself has precipitated this crisis
and given the President a handle to, under the guise of national
security, sabotage the process through its conduct in the north east.
the President's bona fides in making this move will also be in the
public domain given her own approach in the past having offered LTTE
Leader Pirapaharan free rein of the north east for 10 years without
elections using the Tiger police force to boot as revealed in an
interview with Time magazine in 1998 and subsequent discussions with the
the overall context therefore, the President through her threat may have
well opened a new front which could seal the fate of her presidency
unless steps are taken pronto to resile from the stated position which
in any event would then leave her bruised with the hardline Sinhala and
Muslim constituencies, thereby taking the bottom off her provincial
council election platform.
the same time, pushing the government towards a confrontation with the
LTTE, the President also detonated another landmine by requesting the
government to exercise its authority and have the LTTE camp at
Manirasakulam withdrawn immediately.
LTTE had earlier informed the government it was disputing the SLMM
finding and any effort to remove it forcibly until such time the issue
is resolved would be considered an act of war.
thus appeared while the government was striving to maintain the peace,
both the LTTE and the President were spoiling for a fight. (See box for
full text of President's letter which speaks for itself)
is also pertinent to note that the President, though Commander-in-Chief
of the armed forces, has chosen not to issue a directive to the Army
Commander for the withdrawal of the camp but opted to cast the burden on
this strategy the President is also building up a file on the Prime
Minister to make a case out to justify any decision to remove him and
appoint a puppet premier.
while the President thus made her latest manoeuvre, Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe in contrast was preparing to provide a package of relief
for the people as a dividend for grinning and bearing during a 18 month
period of fiscal discipline following the negative growth he inherited
from the PA administration.
to his cabinet of ministers on Wednesday, August 20, Wickremesinghe said
the government has now obtained monies from several lines of credit to
provide not only employment but infrastructure projects at electoral
level commencing September.
Premier said 1,300 electrification projects will commence in September
for which Rs. 10 billion was available and that it would increase the
percentage of electricity from 63% to 72% in the country.
money, he said is for all districts other than Colombo and Gampaha which
districts he said will be compensated through the Chinese line of
went on to say the government would also be launching a roadweek in
September with Rs. 2 million allocated to each electorate in addition to
another Rs. 15 million allocated for each electorate to carry out
addition 1000 families from each electorate will be given roofing sheets
and provided self employment facilities with agricultural implements,
tractors and other equipment on offer," he added.
Wickremesinghe said Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe will on
September 4 announce 5000 jobs for graduates in the private sector in
addition to another 1500-2000 jobs in the public sector.
have already spoken with the Treasury on this matter and the allocations
arranged. Then Minister Ravi Karunanayake has suggested the creation of
another 3000 jobs in weights and measures which he will be discussing
with the Labour Minister," the Premier said.
he, "Further, another 15,000 will be enlisted to the youth corps
and salary hikes and brighter prospects will also be announced in the
at this point, Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne said he too has
provision to recruit graduates under the new land policy thus adding to
the number of jobs proposed.
to the people
held out the economic benefits and employment opportunities to be made
available from September, the Premier asked his ministers to take that
message to the electorate, a message he gave the UNP MPs as well the
following day at the parliamentary group.
said it was important the UNP wins all seven provincial councils to push
forward with the government's economic and political agenda and urged
the members to work unitedly to achieve that objective.
the tensions in cabinet the previous week, the Prime Minister said UNP
governments have always lost elections not due to failure of its
policies but infighting.
examples from the 1950s to date with references to Sir John Kotelawela,
Dudley Senanayake, J.R. Jayewardene and senior ministers of the
Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa eras, the Premier said it was those
factors that impacted on the government.
people are asking me if the UNP is coming apart at the seams. That is
not a good perception. At one point, when Dudley Senanayake spoke in
cabinet, J.R. Jayewardene used to read the Readers Digest. The party
eventually paid for those divisions. So let us move forward as one
team," the Premier said.
before the Premier spoke, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Tilak Marapone
bandied words over the MoU with Emirates and the Bushmaster deal with
Israel, both of which issues the Prime Minister said can be discussed at
length since the ministers had every right to know what they approve.
the stage seems to be set for a heated provincial councils election
campaign with the President bracing for a showdown on the provisional
administration and the north east merger, while the government plans to
project the benefits of the peace process and the economic revival with
the bottom line being winner takes all.
camp in Manirasakulam
is more than two months since the LTTE established their camp at
Manirasakulam. As you are aware this camp is within the area
controlled by the GOSL. Since this was disputed, SLMM examined it.
They confirm that it is within the area of GOSL control and that
it is a violation of the MoU. Consequently the SLMM ruled that the
LTTE should withdraw this camp.
up to now the LTTE has failed to withdraw the camp. The SLMM had
admitted its incapacity to enforce their decision. Beyond
persuasion, the SLMM also does not seem to have any other
mechanism of enforcement of a decision. This is a very serious
flaw in the heavily flawed MoU, a matter to which your attention
was drawn at the very beginning of this process. You will
understand that the non withdrawal of this camp creates the most
abominable precedent to encourage the LTTE (in addition to a large
number of other incidents) to continue with their high handed
activities with such impunity.
situation should not be condoned by the government any more. It is
therefore suggested that the authority of the government be
exercised immediately to have this camp withdrawn.
the circumstances I wish to have a report from you within a week
of receipt of this letter as to the course of action that you
propose to take to get this camp withdrawn forthwith from the area
of government control.