dead end government
With the JVP casting the die, it is
back to the drawing boards for President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, to map out strategy not just for the survival of
jumps ship as economy plummets
dead end government
Chandrika Kumaratunga - Back to the drawing boards
With the JVP casting the die, it is
back to the drawing boards for President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, to map out strategy not just for the survival of
her government but also the maintenance of law and order.
It was never a marriage made in heaven
and from the very inception the alliance between the SLFP and
JVP was beset with problems due to policy contradictions with
a break up inevitable sooner than later.
To the JVP, the UPFA was a marriage of
convenience consummated only for the purpose of destroying the
SLFP from within and emerging as the alternative to the UNP,
going so far as to tell their rank and file a truly Marxist
government will be formed in 2014.
Towards this end, the JVP
systematically crippled the workings of government whilst
infiltrating the SLFP grass-root base through the activities
of its ministries, particularly the 1,000 tank rehabilitation
project, with the intention of projecting the SLFP as an
incompetent and weak party even in government.
Sensing this developing, given the
reports reaching her from party organisers in several
districts, President Kumaratunga decided to take the Marxists
head on and over the passage of time, the battle intensified
with both parties publicly trading charges even as the
government came to a virtual standstill.
So much so, the JVP vetoed the
President's plans not just to revive the peace process but
also the economic reforms, thereby drying up the aid flow to
the country and with each passing day, the country was slowly
but surely sliding towards war, which the government was ill
equipped to fight not only for the want of manpower and funds
but also military hardware.
To make matters worse, the
international community was also getting impatient with the
indecisiveness on the part of Kumaratunga and strong messages
were sent asking her to decide the course of action she wants
to take with regard to the peace process one way or the other.
By this time the economy was taking a
severe beating too with the cost of living soaring and the JVP
began distancing itself from government, charting its own
course, using the issue of the joint mechanism as a platform.
But Kumaratunga realised, abandoning
the joint mechanism meant not only kissing good-bye to the
millions of dollars pledged by way of aid but also any support
to combat the LTTE in a war that would surely follow, where
once again it is the SLFP that would have to take the biggest
Taking the plunge
It was in this overall backdrop she
decided to take the plunge and in the nick of time too with
the four co chairs - USA, EU, Norway and Japan - urging
Kumaratunga on Monday, June 13 to sign the agreement for the
joint mechanism "immediately."
The no-nonsense statement, which rapped
both the LTTE and the government for political killings, also
adverted to the fact the spirit of the ceasefire agreement was
violated due to the "persistent violence including
assassinations of individuals affiliated with both
It was the first time the co chairs,
that usually passed strictures on the LTTE, was doing likewise
to the government in what was clearly a sign of their
Given this situation, Kumaratunga had
to decide between a backlash from the international community
and the JVP's threat to pull out of the government if a public
announcement was not made on the withdrawal of the joint
mechanism proposal by June 15 and a conscious decision was
taken to opt for funding and international support at the cost
of the Marxists.
Kumaratunga thus decided finally to ask
the JVP to take a hike but not before the SLFP, including
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse moved heaven and earth to
subdue the Marxists albeit with little success.
For the JVP, given the economic crisis
in government and the failure to fulfill the election pledges
made, time had come to jump ship and the joint mechanism
presented an ideal opportunity though the four members holding
ministerial office had other ideas.
Accordingly, the politburo of the JVP
met on Sunday, June 12, to take stock of the situation with
the consensus being the party should quit government by June
16 if the President did not announce the rejection of the
joint mechanism mooted by the international community.
It was in fact JVP Leader, Somawansa
Amarasinghe backed by General Secretary, Tilvin Silva who were
the most vociferous, claiming the UPFA had completely lost the
faith of the people given the rising cost of living and the
failure to fulfill the promises made, necessitating the
party's withdrawal from government.
"The problems will only intensify
in the months to follow with the crisis over jobs for
graduates also set to explode and we must act now to distance
ourselves from the government," Amarasinghe said.
Amarasinghe added that as long as
Chandrika Kumaratunga was president and leader of the SLFP,
the JVP could never hold a position of significance in the
alliance or the government.
The JVP Leader was also of the opinion
that for their party, which had lost face before the people in
the last year it was still part of the UPFA and a battle to
save the motherland was by far the best path to recovery and
regain public support.
Silva added the JHU was currently
making a tremendous effort to win back the Sinhala-Buddhist
vote. Silva said that Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero's fast unto
death had diverted a great deal of media and public attention
on to the JHU again.
According to Silva, if this were to
continue, the JVP would lose its vote base and therefore all
these factors need to be taken into account before a final
decision was made.
It was then that Amarasinghe turned to
JVP Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa and inquired
whether the President was definitely going to sign the joint
mechanism agreement within the next few days.
Weerawansa dutifully responded that
according to the reports he was getting, the President was
definitely going to sign the agreement before June 17.
"Mangala and many other ministers
give me details about the President's decisions. According to
this information, the President is going to sign this on or
before June 17," he said. Weerawansa then went on to
enlighten the members gathered about the hardline stance the
President was adopting with regard to the JVP.
Having listened to Weerawansa's input,
Amarasinghe pointed out, if the President signed the mechanism
on June 17 and the JVP moved to leave the alliance after that
date, they would look like fools before the rest of the
country. "If she is going to sign on June 17, we should
leave on June 16 and start our fight against the
mechanism," said Amarasinghe.
That way, the country may begin to have
some faith in the JVP again, he added.
However, Cultural Affairs and National
Heritage Minister, Vijitha Herath was of a different mindset.
He felt that it was more prudent to hold on to the ministerial
portfolios and attend cabinet while simultaneously working to
defeat the P-TOMS agreement.
"This is a good strategy. Leaving
the government and battling this will prove difficult,"
Herath pointed out.
Fisheries Minister, Chandrasena
Wijesinghe was of the same opinion. "The JVP has been
able to do a lot of good work for our supporters via the four
ministries. If we leave the government, all this comes to an
end instantly. The battle we take on from that point will also
be crucial. We will have to attack both sides. Our greatest
disadvantage is that we will be leaving ourselves open for
attack from the President as and when she pleases," he
Added Wijesinghe, "We have given
our supporters many unofficial positions in our ministries by
now. They do our work in their villages in return. If we leave
the government now, all the work we have been doing in the
past year will come to an abrupt halt."
But Amarasinghe and Silva were adamant
and of the opinion the JVP should clearly state dates and
times and quit not just the government but also the alliance.
UPFA Co-Convener, Nandana Gunatilleke
also agreed with this position. He said that unless such an
ultimatum was issued to the President, even at the last
minute, it would deter her from going ahead and that would
prevent her from going ahead with the joint mechanism.
Finally, when the meeting ended that
evening, the JVP leadership had decided to quit the UPFA at
midnight on June 15.
Interestingly, while the JVP was
mapping out its exit strategy, the President was meeting with
a TNA delegation comprising R. Sampanthan, Joseph
Pararajasingham, Gajan Ponnambalam, K. Sivajilingam, Suresh
Premachandran and Mavai Senathirajah at President's House to
solicit support for the joint mechanism.
Giving details of the proposed
mechanism, the President told the TNA she was not concerned
about the protests launched by the JVP or the JHU and would
proceed with it if TNA support was forthcoming.
The TNA for its part while welcoming
the joint mechanism pointed out it was only a first step
towards reviving talks and for the party to extend its support
to the government much more must be done in furtherance of the
However, the TNA did say it would stand
by the government on the issue of the joint mechanism and
ensure the JVP's exist will not hinder the implementation of
And the following day, Monday, June 13,
the SLFP parliamentary group meeting took place at the
President's House for which Kumaratunga walked in 45 minutes
late, providing an opportunity for national list MP, Mervyn
Silva to keep the members entertained with his own brand of
Silva also used the occasion to pass
around a list among the MPs requesting them to put down how
many monks they could bring to the Viharamahadevi Park for an
Adhistana Pooja as directed by the President with the aim of
countering the JVP and JHU.
Whilst Silva was doing his rounds, the
President walked in and immediately got the proceedings
underway, holding forth for one hour and 45 minutes on the
difficulties of working with the JVP and the importance of the
joint mechanism to safeguard the SLFP's future.
Both the government and the country,
Kumaratunga said, were precariously placed and attributed this
status to a deliberate campaign by the JVP at destablisation.
"I was not happy at all with
forming an alliance with the JVP because of their racist
policies but some of our members were impatient to form a
government and we have to now pay a heavy price for that
folly," Kumaratunga said.
Continuing, the President said the JVP
had a murderous past during which thousands of SLFPers were
killed and added the Marxists were now attempting to destroy
the SLFP from within.
"They killed our people so
brutally. They are such animals that they killed my husband in
cold blood because he disagreed with their policies. I formed
an alliance with such a party despite the entire world
advising me against it because of pressure by some of our own
senior members. I was advised the JVP would swallow the SLFP
and ensure that their power base alone would grow but I joined
hands with the murderous JVP to save the country from ruin at
the hands of the UNP," Kumaratunga added.
Not stopping at that, the President
also told her MPs it was the JVP that came to the President's
House and harangued her to dissolve parliament and derail the
peace talks before negotiations commenced on the ISGA.
Added Kumaratunga, "These people
demanded that I dissolve parliament. Our people were also
backing them. I constantly told all of them that we should be
a little more patient. I told them that if we acted too fast,
we would soon get stuck somewhere down the line. But they
insisted that they wanted an election immediately. So I
accepted all this, took away the ministries and dissolved
President lashes out at JVP
Speaking of the joint mechanism, the
President said that the SLFP had never been a party with
racist principles and that she was not willing to allow it to
be dragged down as one.
"Today these JVPers are conspiring
against me and are going around condemning my family. I got a
mandate in 1999. I got that mandate to bring peace to the
country. I don't care who shouts and who protests, I am
definitely signing this agreement," she added.
By this time, Kumaratunga was visibly
angry and the SLFP MPs merely looked at one another. Everyone
was careful not to say a word contrary to what she was saying.
But the President's attention was focused on one of the chief
kapuwas of the UPFA marriage - her brother and Tourism
Minister, Anura Bandaranaike.
But during the President's entire
tirade, Bandaranaike was in a deep slumber. Even as Premier
Mahinda Rajapakse took the chair with the President,
Bandaranaike was yawning away. Ignoring this completely,
"From the day this government came
into power, the JVP's actions have ruined us. As far as I
know, this is the weakest government that has ever come to
power in this country. I say this with reasons. In the last
year, the JVP didn't let us do a single thing properly.
Staying inside the government, they were busy chasing off
investors coming into the country. If we try to do something,
they come to cabinet and hold protests and boycott and go out
and say various things to the newspapers and stir up the
masses. As a result, nothing has happened in the last
year," she continued.
Kumaratunga was also critical of the
four ministries the JVP were given. "They made tanks.
They said they made boats. I have studied all these matters
well. How they put JVPers in charge of the tank committees and
robbed left right and centre will soon come to light. I will
not put one step back in fear of them. I put this proposal for
the mechanism to the party at the SLFP convention and got its
approval. I held a special cabinet meeting and discussed it
and got approval. So none of us can go here and there and
conspire against the signing of the joint mechanism,"
said the President.
She then invited any of the MPs who
opposed the proposed structure to rise and speak. As expected,
none of them rose to the challenge. They knew that to accept
such a challenge was to effectively end their political
career, given the President's frame of mind.
The silence in her audience led the President to soften
her words somewhat.
"If there is anyone here who is
opposed to the mechanism, just say so. Then I will summon the
central committee again and take a decision," she said.
Still no one uttered a word. To conclude her statement,
Kumaratunga emphasised the need to conduct a public awareness
campaign on the mechanism.
Finally, one voice broke through the
silence that pervaded after the President's speech. "I
accept the mechanism proposal 100%. The North Central
Provincial Council extends its fullest support to this. We
will do everything we can for the party and the
President," announced Chief Minister, North Central
Province, Berty Premalal Dissanayake.
Digressing somewhat soon after making
this statement he added, "Madam President, according to
my policies, I am totally against the JVP. I do politics in my
province going totally against the JVP. But one year ago,
whether we liked it or not, we allied with the JVP. That
alliance became a government. After a government is formed, we
can't be exchanging words and fighting each other. We can't
just split all of a sudden either. So I am asking that we try
to go the rest of this journey after discussing this with the
JVP and getting them involved."
Shot back the President, "How much
Mangala, Lakshman Kadirgamar and I told them to reach a
compromise. They are not interested in that. All they want is
to increase their vote base."
Undeterred by Kumaratunga's
belligerence, up went Minister Mangala Samaraweera. All eyes
were on the Minister, given his recent power struggle with the
President over his affiliations to the JVP.
Samaraweera maintained that he had no
objection to the joint mechanism, adding that he had always
supported the party and the President in efforts to bring
about peace. He also reminded all those gathered there that it
was he who had spearheaded the Sudu Nelum campaign as well.
Like Dissanayake, Samaraweera too changed tack halfway through
"Even if the joint mechanism is
essential for the country, if it means that it will cause the
collapse of the alliance, the mechanism is not necessary. We
walked the streets and shed our blood, sweat and tears to form
this alliance. Somehow we formed a government. If the
government is going to fall because of it, we don't need a
joint mechanism," said Samaraweera.
Even as he said this, the President
asked him, "Mangala, haven't you also now adopted a
racist and nationalist position?"
Responded Samaraweera, "See, this
is the problem. Nobody needs the situation that will arise
from signing this agreement. If we sign this agreement, the
UNP is going to win back everything in the upcoming pradeshiya
sabha polls. Not stopping at that, we will lose the
presidential election also. If by you signing this agreement,
Madam, a UNP president is born, a UNP government comes to
power and UNP pradeshiya sabhas are created, not a single Sri
Lankan will be in favour of the mechanism."
"I can't accept that position. If
we sign this, the money will come in. We will work with that
money. If we work for the people, we will win votes,"
This led to an exchange of heated words
between the two and Samaraweera finally said that he was not
ready to discuss the matter any further.
Said Samaraweera in conclusion,
"You are the party leader. You are the leader of this
country. You said that no matter who says what, you will go
ahead and sign the agreement. That is a statement you should
not make, Madam. It disappointed me. Before making any
decision, a head of state must think about the country, the
government and the party. This is the duty of a head of
At these words the President became
extremely angry and muttered something in her temper that
nobody present could quite catch on to.
Rising next was Governor Kingsley
Wickramaratne. "Isn't it wise to resolve this problem now
before it goes any further?" he asked.
Furious by this time the President
snapped, "Kingsley, are you mad? Just sit down!"
Taken aback, Wickramaratne quickly took his seat.
Next came Western Province Governor,
Alawi Moulana followed by SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala
Sirisena. He reminded the members of the decisions the party
made in support of the joint mechanism. Sirisena also told
them the President had decided to conduct a campaign to
support the mechanism throughout the country.
Backing him up was Deputy Minister
Dilan Perera. "A few of my deputy ministerial colleagues
and myself are publicly supportive of the President and the
joint mechanism. We are in no way ready to back down from this
position either. If the President makes a decision not to sign
the agreement, I will stop supporting the mechanism. Ever
since I joined this party, I have not gone against its
leadership. That is how I will be in the future as well. The
President just said that if someone here opposed the
structure, she would put it back to the central committee. But
I am against this," Perera said.
Turning to Mervyn Silva at this point,
President Kumaratunga asked how the plans for the Poojawa were
"Now Mervyn, how many monks can
you bring to Viharamahadevi Park for the ceremony?" she
Rising from his seat and pausing
painstakingly over his words, Silva replied, "Madam
President, by now according to the list not even 1,000."
"But how can we have this ceremony
without even a 1,000 priests?" retorted the President.
"This won't work. Bring the monks to the BMICH and give
them a dhana and give a speech," she added. Silva readily
Concluding the session thereafter the
President rose to leave only to be surrounded by the MPs who
were firing a volley of questions.
With an emotion filled voice the
President said the correctness of her decision would be seen
by the members before long but that she may not be around to
see their regrets.
"These are my last days"
And turning to Samurdhi Minister,
Pavithra Wanniarachchi, the President said, "Pavithra,
these are my last days. These fools don't understand that. If
I don't sign this agreement, the SLFP is finished. These
JVPers are swallowing up our people. Our people can't
understand what I am saying. One of these days I will tell
them to do whatever they want and leave all this and go."
What the President did not realise was
that some senior SLFPers were banking on just such a scenario,
leaving Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to strike a deal with
the JVP and continue in government after Kumaratunga's exit.
One strategy worked out in this regard
was to get the joint mechanism proposal presented in
parliament and have it defeated, thus compelling the President
to call it quits. (See Pot Shots on page 14)
Thus, while cloak and dagger politics
continue in the SLFP, the government for all purposes is a
lame duck and with the exit of the JVP is now not in a
position to even pass a simple piece of legislation without
the support of the UNP.
And being at the mercy of the UNP is
not something Kumaratunga will relish, which would necessarily
mean a general election sooner than later.
jumps ship as economy plummets
of the economic uncertainty, President Chandrika Kumaratunga
and Somawansa Amarasinghe
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The impact of the current political
uncertainties and a minority government ruling the country, is
reverberating in the country's economy with the immediate
signing of the joint mechanism being the only saving grace.
The withdrawal of the UPFA government's
main coalition partner - the JVP-showed an instant impact on
the Colombo bourse, as its turnover dipped to a six month low
of Rs. 71.4 million. Inactivity in the market was due to
investors staying away from the market due to the chaotic
The UPFA honeymoon, which began with
much pomp and pageantry and lasted for over 14 months, came to
an abrupt end, when the JVP walked out of the government last
The JVP's opposition to the proposed
joint mechanism between the government and the LTTE, has also
resulted in a number of protest campaigns taking place all
over the island. The JVP backedInter-University Students'
Union and trade unions staged protest campaigns against the
joint mechanism last week, creating an air of uncertainty in
Now, with the JVP sitting in the
opposition as an independent party, the chances are that
protests against the joint mechanism would be intensified. The
adverse impact on the economy due to such protests, would be
unrest created by the agitating trade unions, which would
result in the crippling of state activities.
Protests and agitations
Protests and agitations over the last
two weeks saw the police riot squads taking to the streets,
firing tear gas and closing roads in the heart of the city.
The result - disorganisation of the life of the people
and the economy, and the country virtually
coming to a standstill.
The country's already skewed economy
seems to be the last thing on the JVP's mind. JVP Leader
Somawansa Amarasinghe addressing a media conference last
Thursday, speaking of the plight of the economy due to the
political unrest created by his party's defection from the
government,as ironic as it is said, that one has to first
think of the country before the economy. "An economy can
be there only if there is a country, and if the country is
divided there can be no economy as there will be two economies
to look into," he said.
Peace for stability
Amarasinghe also stressed
the need for peace, to bring about prosperity.
"There should be peace for prosperity, and for that the
LTTE has to enter the democratic mainstream," he said,
adding "If there is democracy, equality and peace, there
could be prosperity."
According to President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, the joint mechanism is a first step towards
restarting the peace process, which is in a stalemate.
Although the JVP is no longer a part of the alliance
government, the government has expressed confidence in signing
the joint mechanism.
However, amidst chaos, the only sign of
business confidence came with the President's resolve to sign
the joint mechanism at any cost. This hope has strengthened
the confidence of the business community, as
demonstrated by the market
reaction, and volatility.
HNB Stock Analyst, Hasitha Premaratne observed that the
President's positive message of signing the joint mechanism
has left some investor confidence amidst political
Although the signing of the agreement
has been pushed back a week or two , the President's
determination has a positive outcome and in the end
would help the economy get back on track.
Premaratne noted that signing the
agreement played a key role in the country's economy on the
long term, as the joint mechanism was the stepping stone to
bringing about a permanent solution to the ethnic crisis and
the resultant aid flow, would strengthen the country's macro
He explained that there would not be a
change in government if the UPFA could muster the support of
the main opposition, the UNP and the TNA.
Premaratne felt that the withdrawal of
the JVP would have a salutary effect on the economy, as the
Marxists were anyway opposed to the joint mechanism which was
intended to bring in peace and stability to the country, and
the government's plan to restructure public enterprises.
"JVP's defection doesn't mean much
as they were anyway against the joint mechanism and the
restructuring of the CEB and the CPC," he said.
The signing of the joint mechanism,
according to Premaratne would be the first step in building
investor confidence as it would be a clear indication of the
government's commitment to a lasting peace.
However, Premaratne said the economic
woes of the government would not end there.
the government would have to pay attention to
strengthening therupee and address the issue of the escalating
level of inflation, which by end June is expected to reach a
12 month average of 12.9%.
The exchange rate experienced some
volatility mid last week, and to address the issue, the
Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) had to intervene and buy
dollars through state banks to contain the situation.
Although the increasing global fuel
prices have been the key contributory factor in the rising
level of inflation, the government is in a position to take
several remedial steps to arrest this situation.
According to Premaratne, the state
could retire Treasury bonds and absorb the excess liquidity
and also control credit growth.
The CBSL last week increased its
interest rates by 50 basis points in keeping with the rising
level of inflation.
Premaratne pointed out that with a 100
basis point increase in interest rates within the next three
months, the exchange rate against the dollar would be
strengthened between 99-100, and keeping the key monetary
indicators inthe black, would drive the economy on a positive
However, long term peace would be the
only chance for economic growth.
The donors have also expressed concern
over the delay in signing the joint mechanism, which is
expected to launch
tsunami rehabilitation work in the north and east.
They have also stated that the foreign
aid flow to the country would depend on the finalisation of
the joint mechanism between the government and the LTTE (See
Withdrawal of the joint mechanism
proposal or the no-signing of it, will result in the country
losing the much needed aid for the development of tsunami
devastated areas as well as other development projects.
The much talked of
US$ 3 billion donor aid pledged at the Kandy donor
parley last month would then remain unrealied pledges.
The coming three months are expected to
be ruled by political uncertainty, a volatile stock market and
investors on an unsure footing, but the right decisions at the
right time could help pull the country from falling into a
deeper economic abyss.
statement of the co-chairs
The co-chairs in a statement released
last week stated that they support the commitment of the
President for trying to implement a structure to provide
relief for the north and east.
Following is an excerpt of the
communiqu‚ released last week.
"The co-chairs support the
commitment by the President, her government and the LTTE
to rapidly implement the structure to administer tsunami
assistance in the north and east. The co-chairs
recognise the importance of the Muslim community in the
functioning of this structure. We believe such a
structure will facilitate effectiveness and equity in
tsunami assistance, and can help build confidence
between the two sides.
"We urge the immediate signing of
the agreement in order to ensure proper flow of
reconstruction aid to tsunami victims in the north and
"The co-chairs call on all donors,
private and public, to tailor their reconstruction
activities in the north and east to the specific
humanitarian situation, particularly the need to observe
a balance between the victims of the conflict and those
of the tsunami."
The country though currently ruled by a
is not expected to have a drastic impact on the
economy as long as the government could garner the
support of the opposition and the right decisions made.
HNB Stock Analyst, Hasitha Premaratne
said that as the President still holds the executive
powers the JVP's walk out is not expected to have any
ill effects on the economy.
He explained that the JVP, even while
in government maintained views contradictory to that of
the SLFP with regard to the peace process and
restructuring programmes. "The JVP was against most
policies and they were of no use anyway," he said.
Premaratne observed that the government
should approach the main opposition, the UNP, to receive
its support to proceed with the peace process and the
restructuring process. According to Premaratne, there
would be no serious issues on the short run. However, he
pointed out that as in any developing country, unpopular
decisions would have to be made for the greater good of