stakes and the war setting
a hung parliament the order of the day, back room political
manoeuvering by the major political parties is continuing
apace and Sri Lanka seems set for a roller coaster ride that
will land her in hot water sooner than later.
Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapakse,
Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero and R. Sampanthan
priority of business as far as the newly elected United People's
Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government is concerned is securing
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's political future, hence the
decision to rush through with a constituent assembly which will
provide for the abolition of the executive presidency and a change
in the present electoral system.
though this futile attempt is to be made outside the existing
constitution within a four month time frame, it would necessarily
have to be approved by the people at a referendum and that
requires a contented public, to achieve which the government must
deliver on the promises made.
promises made range from fertiliser subsidies, reduction in the
cost of living, a 70 percent salary hike and creation of 30,000
jobs within three months just for starters, which to fulfill will
cause a huge drain in the state's coffers and promises the IMF
Country Representative, Jeremy Carter is on record stating are not
if the President is to succeed in her endeavour to push through a
new constitution even by adopting extra-constitutional means,
public support is paramount and as such she will have no choice
but to deliver on the promises irrespective of the cost to the
nation in political, economic and security terms.
at the best of times, adopting extra-constitutional means to push
through a new constitution is a tough task and more so in today's
context of a hung parliament where the Freedom Alliance can only
count for 106 seats and 45 percent of the people's vote as opposed
to the 119 members arrayed against it, accounting for over 53
percent of the public vote.
there is no gainsaying, the UNP, CWC, SLMC, JHU, UPF and the TNA
are all opposed to any tinkering with the constitution and have
gone on record so stating.
far as the UNP, CWC, UPF, TNA and the SLMC are concerned, there is
total opposition to both the abolition of the executive presidency
as well as a change in the electoral system and will fight tooth
and nail to prevent such changes being enacted.
Muslim Congress for example has already come out strongly stating,
the party is of the "firm view" there is no adequate
mandate as required by the constitution to introduce any changes
as envisaged by pronouncements made by the President on behalf of
therefore call upon Her Excellency to abandon the idea of
piecemeal reform or total overhaul of the constitution outside the
existing legal framework and to reach political consensus with all
parties without recourse to ad hoc measures, having disastrous
consequences to the country and its people," the Congress had
vocal has been the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which though
opposed to the political parties based on ethnic minorities, has
found common cause on the issue of the constituent assembly move
albeit for different reasons.
JHU has also criticised the move as an attempt to cater to the
President's personal political ambitions as opposed to the overall
national interest and charged constitutions cannot be changed for
to say, the TNA has been equally critical, not prepared to so much
as look at the proposal until such time a solution to the ethnic
issue is also incorporated in the new constitution.
with President Kumaratunga stating in an address to the nation her
first order of business is the introduction of a new constitution
through a constituent assembly, the opposition has been pushed
into one corner, giving it a collective strength of 119 in
is important to note here that none of the parties in parliament
barring the UPFA want a change in the electoral system either
since it would be to the detriment of all smaller parties
including the CWC, SLMC, JHU, TNA and the UPF.
the President is fighting against time and having pushed the
country into an election for the very purpose of adopting a new
constitution, she is now adamant to go through with the process
come hell or high water.
is factors flowing from this very issue which nearly derailed the
Freedom Alliance hardly 48 hours after the election with the prime
ministerial stakes being a thorn in the flesh of the President.
President's mindset was that the executive presidency would be
abolished within four months and she would revert to parliament as
prime minister by getting one of the national list nominees to
step down for her and accordingly decided Mary Lucida, wife of
Colombo District candidate Mervyn Silva, will be appointed for
more important issue however was the appointment of the prime
minister, since she had to make sure the person named would resign
for her once the executive presidency is abolished, for otherwise
she would be out of a job.
the man she trusted to keep the seat warm for her was none other
than former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who was to be in
turn appointed the figure head president following the abolition
of the executive presidency.
the outgoing Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse who had stuck
with the party during good times and bad had other ideas and made
it known he was interested in the job.
first setback for the President in going through with her choice
of prime minister came no sooner the preference votes count came
in and it slowly but surely dawned on the SLFP that they have been
right royally suckered by the JVP with many a member out on the
SLFP which enjoyed 77 seats in parliament compared to the JVP's 16
while being in the opposition from 2002-2004 was in government
reduced to a mere 57 seats in comparison to the JVP's 39. The LSSP,
CP, MEP, NUA and the Athaullah group all ended up with 1, 2, 2, 2,
and 2 seats respectively making up the total of 105.
was significant in this development was not just the JVP snapping
at the SLFP's heels with 39 seats but relegating top SLFPers to
third and fourth slots in most districts in a clear indication,
the people's mandate was not for the SLFP but the JVP.
despite the juggernaut of the JVP in SLFP strongholds including
the Bandaranaike bastion of the Gampaha District, Mahinda
Rajapakse held his own in the JVP fortress of Hambantota emerging
number one and holding the SLFP lines in the district.
when it came to the prime ministerial stakes, SLFP stalwarts
realised the only option available to it to prevent complete
annihilation of the SLFP by the JVP at the next election and to
rebuild the party was by having a man of Rajapakse's calibre for
the top post notwithstanding JVP objections. It was a case of once
bitten twice shy and that message was made clear to Kumaratunga.
Kumaratunga had other ideas given her own agenda and called
Rajapakse for a meeting on Sunday, April 4, to discuss the prime
ministerial stakes and was told the President's choice for prime
minister is Lakshman Kadirgamar.
battle-hardened Rajapakse however was not prepared to take the
decision lying down and told the President he cannot accept such
an appointment since the post is rightfully his.
told the President he was the leader of the opposition, stood by
the party through thick and thin, held his own in Hambantota
despite attempts by the JVP to put him down on the preference vote
race and was therefore not prepared to concede the post to
Kadirgamar. Even Kadirgamar's threats to call it quits did not
sway Rajapakse. He had played second fiddle long enough.
not push the party into a crisis so soon after the election,
Rajapakse warned, taking confidence in the fact he had the
blessings of Indian High Commissioner Nirupam Sen as well.
President was equally adamant to have her way informing Rajapakse
she wanted Kadirgamar as prime minister to steer through the new
constitution through the constituent assembly.
Rajapakse, "I can do it too. I have experience in parliament
from 1970 and am also a lawyer and can handle it."
about to give in, the President told Rajapakse the problem with
him was the perception he was too close to the UNP.
back Rajapakse - "If that is the case, it is more the reason
to appoint me so that I can use my good offices to steer the
constitution through successfully."
came the President's real reason for holding out on Rajapakse.
Said she - "But what guarantee do I have that you will resign
in four months after the constitution is adopted?"
mean politician himself, Rajapakse told the President she should
take his word for it but if there was a lack of trust, a letter
could be given pledging to resign when the new constitution is
course Rajapakse, a lawyer by profession, knew only too well such
a letter will not have legal authority and that the President
herself had given many such letters including to the JVP on the
abolition of the executive presidency and the speaker on the
non-dissolution of parliament, all of which were not worth the
paper written on when it came to implementation.
too aware how ineffective these written assurances are given her
own tactics, the President told Rajapakse she was prepared to
consider his appointment if he could deliver seven more members of
parliament to give the government the required 113 for a stable
administration, a challenge he accepted.
in doing so Rajapakse made sure sufficient pressure was mounted on
the President to concede the post even without the numbers and
that job was spearheaded by SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala
Sirisena who went and impressed on Kumaratunga the importance of
appointing Rajapakse to avert an inevitable split.
the same time, Rajapakse lobbied CWC Leader, Armugam Thondaman for
his support while also calling on JHU Colombo District Leader, Ven.
Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero the very Sunday for the support of the nine
said there was a very real threat the President may appoint
Kadirgamar as prime minister of Sri Lanka unless the JHU helps the
UPFA form the government.
JHU, Ven. Dhammaloka Thero said, has decided not to join any side
but would endorse Rajapakse for prime minister as opposed to
Kadirgamar. The message received by Rajapakse was that the JHU
would not welcome the appointment of Kadirgamar as prime minister.
choice of a Tamil Christian as prime minister was anathema to the
JHU, though for the President it was the best choice to ensure he
would resign in four months to make way for her given those very
for his part said his party would prefer to adopt a wait-and-see
policy for the time being.
this time pressure was mounting on the President from all quarters
to appoint Rajapakse and was reluctantly compelled to do so after
obtaining assurances he would step down in four months. Rajapakse
was to also not move into Temple Trees since Kumaratunga would be
doing so after the executive presidency is abolished. At least for
now that is the agreement.
quite agitated Rajapakse was in writing given instructions on what
he should say on these matters, particularly about not shifting
into the Prime Minister's official residence, Temple Trees.
in the bid to get Rajapakse appointed as premier, people with
varied agendas were lobbying diverse groups and a case in point
was Milina Sumathipala, the mother of former Cricket Board Chief,
Thilanga currently in remand custody.
Sumathipala, who called on Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero at the
Asapuwa down Sulaiman Terrace, Colombo, pleaded for the JHU's
backing of Rajapakse's candidature stating, "Mahinda
Rajapakse agamathi wunoth, mage kolla beraganna puluwan." (I
can save my boy if Mahinda Rajapakse becomes Prime Minister.)
venerable monk later communicated these sentiments to members of
the JHU, who took the view the party was formed not to cater to
individuals' personal agendas but the greater cause of the nation.
Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri also called on Ven. Dhammaloka Thero
stating he was a personal emissary of the President who had come
to solicit the support of the JHU for the Freedom Alliance.
pleading the case of the Freedom Alliance had asked the Thero
whether the JHU cannot at least give conditional support to form a
stable government but received no such assurances.
Navy Chief was told the JHU would support any government which
commits itself to a demerger of the north east, rejects federalism
and introduces anti religious conversion legislation amongst a
number of other issues.
the going thus getting tough, President Kumaratunga called UNP
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and asked whether he could meet with
indicated to the President he would be leaving Colombo by the
weekend and was available before that and Kumaratunga was to later
invite him for a meeting Wednesday evening at 5:30 p.m.
prior to ringing off Kumaratunga had inquired whether
Wickremesinghe could be present at Rajapakse's oath-taking
ceremony, which invitation the UNP Leader declined stating he
would be at the party's working committee meeting at the
being lied to at every turn, Wickremesinghe now fully realises
dealing with Kumaratunga will only be to his detriment and told
his working committee and MPs, there is no question of any
cohabitation with the new government and that the party would be
revamped by end April with a three month deadline to topple the
when Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe finally met, there was no
serious discussion on any particular issue though the UNP Leader
said he would support the peace process provided the agreements
hitherto reached including the Tokyo Declaration is honoured.
question however is whether the peace talks can even get started
and the executive presidency abolished using the constituent
assembly mechanism given this overall state of play with even
Rajapakse not too keen on it, wanting instead to run as the UPFA
candidate if the constituent assembly strategy collapses.
at the conditions imposed in giving him the premiership, Rajapakse
is not likely to let go and has already been advised by confidants
to dig his heels in and consolidate his position to deal
Kumaratunga a fait accompli.
given the divergent views emerging on the ethnic issue, the peace
process itself will be a non-starter with Kumaratunga unable to
even get the talks started in the foreseeable future.
the contrary, the events last week could well lead to a situation
of a severe backlash from the LTTE given the conduct of the
President and the security forces over the five TNA MPs from the
Batticaloa and Ampara Districts considered loyal to renegade
is now clear Army Commander Lionel
Balagalle in consultation with President Kumaratunga has
maintained links with Karuna, though the five MPs elected opted to
work with the rest of the TNA parliamentarians elected on April 2.
when the newly elected TNA parliamentarians met for the first time
after the election, the five MPs, T. Kanagasabei, K. Thangeswari,
K. Rasanayagam, S. Jeyanandamoorthy and K. Pathmanathan were
present and not only endorsed the appointment of R. Sampanthan as
the parliamentary group leader but also that the LTTE will be the
sole representatives of the Tamils.
was at the follow up meeting in Colombo on Wednesday, April 7,
held at Gajan Ponnambalam's residence down Queens Road that
trouble started brewing when the army forced the five Eastern
Province MPs to leave with them to Batticaloa.
the split in the LTTE, the army has provided security to the
Eastern Province members who were said to be Karuna loyalists and
the army security team headed by Major Tilak Sumanaratne
accompanied the five newly elected Eastern Province MPs to
Ponnambalam's house for Wednesday's meeting.
the major stood outside, the 20 TNA MPs elect discussed future
strategy and their decision to function as one cohesive unit in
parliament, thus giving the TNA a total strength of 22 MPs with
the two national list allocations.
such a situation, given the fact the UPFA has only 105 plus one
with Douglas Devananda, the combined opposition of the UNF and the
TNA without the JHU counts for 110 and if these two parties were
to combine in parliament, the UPFA would be perpetually
outnumbered given that the JHU is to steer an independent course.
the strategy of the President is to either lure the Karuna group
MPs to her camp or keep them out of the way when it comes to
voting time, particularly the speaker's post which comes up for
decision on April 22. But this plan was coming acropper with all
22 MPs deciding to stick together.
only did they decide to stick together but issued a joint
statement wherein it was stated inter alia - "In view of the
speculative reports in the media, all members of parliament
elected from the north eastern region in the name of Ilankai
Thamil Arasu Katchchi emphatically state that we are unequivocally
and irrevocably committed to the political aspirations of the
Tamil people for over the past 50 years for self rule in a unified
north eastern region, which has been the acknowledged historical
habitation of the Tamil speaking people."
statement not only cut across the UPFA manifesto policy for
negotiations with the LTTE but also ran counter to Karuna's own
statements of demerging the northeast.
having approved the statement, the five MPs from Batticaloa and
Ampara said their movements were restricted by the army and would
prefer to stay at a location found by the TNA since deliberations
had to continue for at least a couple more days. The army pressure
was all the more evident with the major coming in at regular
intervals and informing the five MPs it was time to leave.
that said, Sampanthan called the major who was waiting outside and
said the five MPs prefer to stay in terms of arrangements made by
the TNA to which the officer did not agree.
army officer said his instructions are otherwise and unless he
receives orders from the top, he would be compelled to take them
back to Batticaloa after the meeting.
disturbed at this turn of events, Sampanthan spoke to Defence
Secretary Cyril Herath and said the MPs should be free to make
their own decisions and not be compelled to leave for Batticaloa.
also told Herath he would call back in 15 minutes for clearance
but could not thereafter reach the Defence Secretary.
the meantime, Major Sumanaratne came in again and told the MPs he
had instructions from the brigade commander at Welikanda to escort
them back to Batticaloa and could not delay any longer.
relenting however, Sampanthan thereafter spoke to the brigade
commander in Welikanda and explained the need for the five MPs to
stay in Colombo for a few more days.
Sampanthan - "I am the parliamentary group leader. The five
MPs have to stay for further consultations. If the army wants,
they can stay with the MPs but they have to be in Colombo.
Otherwise the army can withdraw and come back after our
consultations are over in a few days."
minutes thereafter Major Sumanaratne came back in, shook hands and
said he would be leaving and would return when they are ready to
leave after their consultations in a couple of days.
the drama was far from over and not long after the major was back
again, stating he had received fresh instructions to take the five
MPs back to Batticaloa straightaway.
angry by this time, Sampanthan tried to reach Army Commander
Balagalle with little success, being told continuously he was not
led to more discussion among the TNA MPs, and Sampanthan called
back Balagalle but identified himself as Kanagasabei, one of the
Batticaloa district MPs and within seconds, the Army Commander was
got him on the line, Sampanthan identified himself and explained
once again why the MPs had to stay put in Colombo for a few more
Army Commander did not agree and told Sampanthan he had written
instructions to take the five MPs back to Batticaloa.
Sampanthan - "Written instructions from whom?"
Balagalle - "From the secretaries of the MPs."
at Balagalle's feeble excuse, Sampanthan asked whether the
secretaries can decide for the MPs, when the MPs themselves were
agreeable to stay for further consultations.
this conversation was going on, the five MPs got a call directly
from the east no less communicated through the security and the
panic stricken MPs said in the overall circumstances, they would
return to Batticaloa but come back by April 16.
that will now happen remains to be seen but for the LTTE
leadership in the Wanni, it was the surest proof Kumaratunga and
Balagalle were sowing the seeds of dissent in the organisation and
ruled out any dealings with the new government.
fact, just weeks before the April 2 elections, the Wanni
leadership communicated to the President's office through the
Norwegians that they suspected Balagalle of handling Karuna and it
could lead to a serious setback for the peace process in the event
of the UPFA being elected.
just 48 hours after the return of the eastern MPs to Batticaloa,
the LTTE started an all out offensive in the east against Karuna
and it is a matter of time before the Sri Lankan security forces
are drawn into battle.
then is what the President and her advisers have through this
election visited on this country.