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Politics


Mahinda talks to Prabha via ‘Uthayan’
  • Unhappy days are here again
  • Mayoral saga continues
  • JVP’s secret talks with UNP
  • Van Dijk to tour Pesalai

Difficult times are ahead for the people and the government with the sky rocketing cost of living and peace moves being stagnant despite efforts by the Norwegians to salvage it.
A move by the Norwegians to broker a fresh bid for a cessation of hostilities was aborted by the LTTE itself, when they attacked the Pesalai naval base in the early hours of last Saturday.
Initially both the government and the LTTE agreed to a cessation of hostilities after a fresh spate of violence resulted in the killing of more than 60 people by the LTTE, including women and children in Kebethigollewa.
However, the LTTE decided otherwise and launched a massive attack on the Pesalai Naval base which came as a surprise to the government. The Norwegians had a ready answer for the fallout by the LTTE. They told the government that it was because of the aerial attacks carried out by the government on selected LTTE targets in the east that the LTTE decided to retaliate. This apparently irked the government and the Norwegian efforts to salvage the ceasefire came a cropper.
Accompanying all this was a grand design by the LTTE to attack ships on the western coast. This plan was revealed following the detection of sea mines along the coast of Pamunugama and subsequent explosions in the mid seas off Negombo.
Sea Tigers, who were arrested by the navy following these detections, confessed their plan to the authorities and this compelled the government to tell the Norwegians that the LTTE is not sincere in word or deed.
At the same time, political circles in Colombo discussed the current ground situation and the LTTE’s plan to proceed with an UDI (Unilateral Declaration Of Independence) and draft a new constitution for the Eelam state, which they hope to create within the territory of Sri Lanka.
This task has been assigned to a former Attorney General of Sri Lanka, Siva Pasupati and several other lawyers who were with the LTTE in Oslo during their recent visit.
The pertinent question raised is that who would recognise such a state other than the LTTE themselves? The EU ban was the worst of its kind the LTTE has gone through during its protracted war with the government of Sri Lanka.
In these circumstances, the government has a lesson to learn; that is not to play into the hands of the LTTE by way of military excesses and various other forms of human rights violations which would leave room for the LTTE to make a case against the government before the world community.
This does not mean that the government should tolerate every heinous crime perpetrated by the LTTE on innocent people whether it be Sinhalese or Tamils. The government should certainly strike back, but at the correct target, without making innocent Tamil civilians destitute in the process.
The state of Tamil Nadu has already made a case against Sri Lanka, calling upon the centre to take appropriate action to restore normalcy in the trouble torn north and east. The resolution passed by the political parties in Tamil Nadu is a matter of great political significance.
The Indian Congress is somewhat dependent on Karunanidhi and his party to maintain equilibrium at the centre and it would be natural if India expresses its concerns to the Sri Lankan government over the influx of refugees to the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Hence, appropriate political action should be taken to arrest this situation.
In this backdrop the current visit undertaken by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, to apprise the Indian leaders of the situation is timely..
It is known that what is happening in Sri Lanka is a matter of minuscule importance to the people of North India, but the South could bring pressure to the centre to act promptly.
This is what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is doing right now by sending a special envoy to Tamil Nadu in order to address their concerns.
The end result is yet to be seen, but the general perception among politicians and political analysts is that India will not get involved in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka since they themselves are saddled with much bigger problems such as the petroleum price hike and related issues.
According to reports, Prime Minister’s Security Advisor Mr. N.K.Narayanan will meet with the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister,M. Karunanidhi to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka.
It is important at this juncture, to take note of this situation, even if India does not want to interfere with Sri Lankan affairs as in the past
No doubt the President sighed with relief when he learned that Mangala Samaraweera who rushed to Delhi from London had accomplished his mission.
The Indian government during the talks with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera reassured their commitment to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
The President who kept his options opened as far as the peace moves are concerned was exploring each and every avenue to bring the LTTE back to the negotiation process in a bid to improve the general conditions of the country. The President thought that it would be appropriate at this stage to try his luck through a journalist. By Tuesday last week he telephoned the Editor in Chief of the Uthayan and Sudaroli newspapers N. Vithyatharan and the Managing Director of the Uthayan Publications, V. Saravanabavan. When they met subsequently, the President had a long conversation with the duo which lasted for at least three hours. At the meeting the President expressed his concerns about the imminent dangers if the government troops had to clash with the LTTE, and asked these two gentlemen to strike a deal with the Tigers. The President said that initially it could be a two week moratorium and thereafter both sides could build on that.
The President’s move to call the Editor and the owner of the Uthayan was described by analysts as an erosion of confidence the government had placed in the Norwegian facilitators. The President told the journalists that the LTTE could put forward their requirements for such an unofficial ceasefire within the official ceasefire. Mr. Vithyatharan told the President that he could convey the President’s message to the LTTE leadership and told the President that he should get independent reports on what’s going on in the north and east so that he would not have to depend solely on Defence Ministry reports. He pointed out that none of the Tamil MPs representing the north and east are having a dialogue with the President which he said would make things worse for the government. He described the actual situation in the north and east which had not been reported in the media correctly. For instance the report that a policeman was killed in the premises of the Uthayan office was totally false he told the President. He was killed at least 150 yards away from the office when he was on the way to have moonshine after duty, Mr. Vithaytharan said.
Mr. Vidyatharan and Saravanabavan immediately contacted Political Wing Chief of the LTTE Thamilselvan to convey the President’s message. Mr. Vidyatharan thereafter called LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham who is a close friend of his to convey the President’s concerns on the ongoing conflict. This is not the first time that Mr. Vidyatharan and the President had a dialogue. Just before the Geneva talks, Mr. Vidyatharan informed the President of the LTTE’s intention to participate in peace talks even before Norwegian Minister Solheim arrived in the country and had a meeting with the LTTE.
Besides this the Dutch Ambassador in Sri Lanka ReynoutVan Dijk is to undertake a fact finding mission to Pesalai, Mannar where several civilians had been killed allegedly by the navy. It is in the wake of a 16 page document that the Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph had issued to the Holy See in Colombo condemning the attack on civilians at a church in Mannar. Mr. Dijk had a chat with Peace Secretariat Chief Dr. Palitha Kohona who said that it was only a fraction of the 200,000 strong security forces in Sri Lanka who were responsible for such attacks. Dr. Kohona said one soldier or two or even 20 could go berserk but the percentage could be insignificant when compared with incidents taking place in Iraq, where security forces are accused of blatantly violating human rights.
Meanwhile the British High Commissioner addressing a gathering at the 80th official birthday of the Queen pointed out:
“No country’s armed forces are perfect. We in Britain know that through bitter experience. But when serious lapses in discipline occur, the important thing is that they should be investigated and the perpetrators dealt with under the law. Indeed, we have higher expectations of the authorities and security forces of a democracy - because they represent a democracy,”
While the government is embroiled in resolving complex problems at hand, the main opposition UNP is trying to work on a programme to increase their vote base in the rural areas where they fared badly in the presidential elections and the local government poll.
The UNP’s political affairs committee met once again last week where the UNP Leader invited the other members of the committee to watch a documentary on a video screen where Dr. Harsha De Silva analysed the elections and election results from the 1970s.
The UNP Leader spoke at length on how the UNP should improve its vote base and on short term, mid term and long term programmes to achieve this objective. The members felt that it was a useful exercise and made many suggestions which they felt would be useful for the party in its future endeavours.
Former Minister and UNP stalwart S.B. Dissanayake, who remained silent all this while, came out with a strong suggestion that the party should change its outlook at village, electoral and national levels. He said that the support extended by the Sinhala Buddhist masses to the UNP is slowly diminishing and this is true where the SLFP too is concerned, because of the short-sighted policies of the party leaders. He said that though the vote base of the SLFP, JHU and JVP had eroded over the years, the UNP had not been able to muster that support. He warned that a powerful force could emerge as a result and the UNP also could face severe setbacks unless the party geared itself to face the new challenges.
He, however, said that that the forces opposing the UNP could get together at some point when there is an election to see that the UNP is defeated. This is likely to happen despite the sharp differences that had surfaced in the Sri Lankan polity now, he added.
Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed but the fact remains that there is still no political solution in sight.
Party members are apparently disgusted over the manner in which the leader is poised to protract the proposed party reforms. Some say it is useless to participate in the political affairs committee meeting since there are no signs of party reforms being discussed.
One member of the political affairs committee told this column that the leader should either go ahead with the reforms or tell the party that he opposed such moves. “Then we will know where we stand,” he said. “He is keeping the whole party in suspense without taking a decision,” he alleged.
Kurunegala District Parliamentarian, Jayawickrama Perera, appealed to the party leader to go ahead with the party reforms without dragging it any further and told Wickremesinghe that the party should work according to an agenda. “I hope you wouldn’t make it a mockery,” Perera said.
Sajit Premadasa also spoke but he was not as vociferous as the others.Colombo District Parliamentarian, Ravi Karunanayake and Kalutara District Parliamentarian, Rajitha Senaratne, also spoke at length at this meeting. Both these members criticised the party leadership for the ongoing crisis in the Colombo Municipal Council.
“You have put the entire CMC in an awkward position and shattered the hopes of the voters who voted for us,” they said.
Wickremesinghe at this stage made an attempt to apportion the blame on the Deputy Leader of the party, Karu Jayasuriya, who also came under fire by the members.
Then came the suggestion by Ravi Karunanayake to hand over the affairs of the CMC to them so that they could resolve it, once and for all. However, Wickremesinghe, the shrewd politician, dodged the issue using his diplomatic skills and proceeded to the next item on the agenda.
At this stage, Dissanayake once again chipped in to say that what they should do under the circumstances is to go ahead with the present set of councillors and enroll them to the UNP.
“We can have a big ceremony to welcome them,” he added. Party Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema, also approved this suggestion.
It has now been revealed that Rajendran, the leader of the independent group, has taken his oath before government parliamentarian, Wijedasa Rajapakse, as the new Deputy Mayor of Colombo.
UNP insiders believe that this has been orchestrated by some party men in connivance with the government in order to keep Sirisena Cooray out of the mayoralty. “This is a conspiracy where some party men are involved,” an insider told this column.
However, the story is that the leader of the independent group, Rajendran has taken the oath after having nominated Stanley Janz for the position of Deputy Mayor.
The UNP feels that the Election Commissioner erred in law when he admitted Rajendran as the Deputy Mayor since he had already nominated Stanley Janz for this position. The UNP feels that the Election Commissioner should have had an inquiry before deciding on the second nominee of the independent group for the position of Deputy Mayor. Now it appears that another legal battle is in the offing to determine the legitimate heir to the post of Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council.
More than anything, what baffles the UNP top brass is the unusual behaviour of Wickremesinghe, when it comes to party reforms, but some suspect there could be something up his sleeve which he doesn’t want to come out with openly right now.
If the UNP’s aspiration is to form a government, and if this could be achieved by some way or the other, it doesn’t bother the UNPers too much as to how he is going to do it. What they want Wickremesinghe to do is to form a government as soon as possible.
However, the unresolved issue here is whether this is a part of his ploy to keep the UNPers at bay since he is ostensibly inimical to proposed party reforms.
Does Wickremesinghe have a definite plan for this? The answer could be “yes” and “no.” Certainly he is trying something to appease the partymen who otherwise would turn hostile towards him.
Reports indicate that Wickremesinghe is having a secret dialogue with the JVP at present. The JVP’s interest lies with the Western Provincial Council and the Chief Minister whom they want to get rid of as soon as possible, but is it the same with Wickremesinghe? His interest lies elsewhere, certainly not in the Provincial Council. Wickremesinghe wants to explore the possibility of toppling the ruling party with the help of the JVP.
The JVP’s position is very clear that they will not backtrack when it comes to the issue of the Chief Minister and while trying their luck with President Rajapakse, they want to explore all possible avenues to see that Reginald Cooray is ousted.
There is a logical background to the whole episode. During the proceedings of the Provincial Council last week, Chief Opposition Whip, Lakshman Abeygunaratne, raised a pertinent query about an overseas trip by two ministers of the Provincial Council.
Mr. Abeygunaratne alleged that these two ministers had accompanied two characters who had close links with the underworld. At the same time, he queried as to whether acting appointments have been made to carry out their duties. With this there was pandemonium and chaos inside the council. Finally the council moved to get down the relevant fax copies from the Governor’s Office relating to the acting appointments which the members refused to believe.
It was a known fact that Reginald Cooray had a lease of life as the Chief Minister because the UNP refused to support a JVP-sponsored no-confidence motion against Reginald Cooray earlier during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure.
This was on the basis that the UNP did not want to support the JVP as and when they wanted, but at the last session of the Provincial Council, Lakshman Abeygunaratne told the Council that they would withdraw their support for the Chief Minister.
This means that the Chief Minister will be compelled to quit his office, paving the way for Lakshman Abeygunaratne of the UNP according to the understanding between the UNP and the JVP, after talks the JVP had with the President proved futile.
President Rajapakse had talks with the JVP on the CEB issue as well as on the issue relating to the Chief Minister. Both these matters ended up in a stalemate situation. The JVP position was that they would not support the CEB reforms bill planned by the UNP when they were holding office, even with amendments.
The President said that he would have to discuss with other parties if they are to bring in a new bill. When Minister John Seneviratne pointed out that the CEB is saddled with so many problems, JVP representative Lal Kantha said that it would not be possible to bring in a bill that would deepen the crisis further.
Though the President temporarily halted the CEB reforms bill under pressure from the JVP, the cabinet of ministers later on Wednesday decided to introduce CEB reforms as an urgent bill in Parliament.
The President, however, could not agree with the JVP on the issue relating to the Chief Minister. The JVP was not happy with the President but the party that always looks for the long term benefit rather than the short term benefit, was ready to talk even with the enemy, hence, the discussions with the UNP began to thaw the ice at the Western Provincial Council.
The announcement made by Lakshman Abeygunaratne was sequel to this understanding between the UNP and the JVP. The JVP is not happy with the government and the way they conduct themselves in the present political context. It is in this backdrop that Vijitha Herath, a member of the JVP hierarchy, met with the UNP leadership.
The UNP is now exploring the possibility of securing the government in the event the JVP withdraws their support to the government over the present misunderstanding with the ruling party.
The UNP is also having a dialogue with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as part of their plan to strengthen their forces in parliament.
President Kumaratunga who is in London now is reportedly perturbed over the moves by the party to oust her as the President of the SLFP. She feels that the party is not doing the right thing as far as the Bandaranaike family is concerned
However, it is learnt that she would not canvass among the party members to secure her position in the party if the party members could be so ungrateful to the Bandaranaikes given the sacrifices her family has made for the SLFP.
It appears now that moves to oust her could sharply divide the party, and the Bandaranaike loyalists could create problems for the Rajapakse Administration.
The Central Committee meeting of the SLFP is scheduled to take place on June 29. However, according to the plan, the Central Committee is likely to appoint President Rajapakse as the President of the party, while Chandrika Kumaratunga will be appointed as the patron. But it is widely believed that President Kumaratunga will not accept this position.
In the circumstances, the UNP is poised to exploit the situation to turn tables in parliament by securing a majority. At the party leaders’ meeting, various things ranging from salary increase for MPs to the 17th Amendment were discussed. The JVP opposed the proposed a salary hike for the parliamentarians while Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle said that the JVP say one thing for benefit of publicity, but do the exact opposite. When the party leaders’ attention was focused toward the proposed amendment to the 17th amendment to the constitution, TNA leader R. Sampanthan said that there is no point in trying to amend the 17th Amendment after having violated it. He said that the government should first rectify this problem before taking action to appoint a select committee to go into the matter in detail.
The UNP too expressed its displeasure over the manner in which the government had conducted itself by paying scant respect to the provisions of the constitution.