Only option for UNP
is to bury the hatchet
What are the political implications of last week in the South?
This is much more predictable and less complicated than the scenario in
the North. And, bearing the brunt of it would be the United National
Party (UNP) and it’s leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The spontaneous
outpouring of public support for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the
aftermath of the military victory, makes the results of the next
Presidential polls and maybe even the next General election a foregone
Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead. So are all his top lieutenants in the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tigers can no longer be
considered a fighting force that matter. These are epoch making events.
This week, history was being made at such a rapid pace that, even
with all the modern day communication gadgetry at their disposal, the
masses were finding it difficult to keep pace with the unfolding drama.
The celebrations have yet to die down. That is excusable, given that,
Sri Lankans were struggling under the yoke of terrorism for the past 30
years. We do not speak ill of the dead, let alone celebrate deaths.
But, on Monday afternoon, the nation did so for Velupillai
Prabhakaran, as news broke of the Tiger supremo’s demise, and that is an
indication of the stranglehold of fear he had on the Sri Lankan mindset.
But where to, from here? That must be a question that we must
necessarily examine. War is always too serious a matter to be left to
the Generals alone, even if President Mahinda Rajapaksa did exactly
that, over the past three years.
For nearly three decades, the LTTE, and Velupillai Prabhakaran in
particular, claimed to be the ‘sole representatives’ of what he called
the ‘Tamil speaking people’, and this was a clever ruse to include
Muslims as well.
It was no idle boast. Prabhakaran, systematically, eliminated many Tamil
militant groups that flourished in the ’80s, under Indira Gandhi’s
benevolence, in India. A few, such as Douglas Devananda’s Eelam Peoples’
Democratic Party (EPDP) survived, but barely.
Also, the Tigers gained credence, every time they negotiated with the
Sri Lankan Government and J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika
Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe and even Mahinda Rajapaksa, all
accommodated them at some point.
Now, the LTTE has essentially ceased to exist. In a scenario where
the entire nation, as well as the international community, is yearning
for a reasonable and long lasting settlement to ethnic grievances, who
then represents the Tamil community?
At the height of the LTTE’s terror campaign, this role was played by the
Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), formed with the amalgamation of
the Federal party (FP) and the Tamil United Front (TUF), which included
the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC).
The TULF did have a separatist ideology, believing that, Tamil
aspirations could be met only by a separate State, but they consistently
eschewed violence and, as a result, were constantly at loggerheads with
Velupillai Prabhakaran was determined to usurp the TULF’s role as
representatives of the Tamils. This, he did with a series of
assassinations in the ’80s and ’90s, the most notable victims being
Appapillai Amirthalingam and Neelan Thiruchelvam.
By 2001, it was clear, that any Tamil representation in Parliament,
had to have the sanction of the Tigers. Thus, the Tamil National
Alliance (TNA) was formed, and wittingly or unwittingly, they often
acted as the LTTE’s mouthpiece in Parliament.
Veerasingham Anandasangaree was the only exception from the TULF,
refusing to join the TNA and remaining with the Front. Anandasangaree is
much respected and held in high esteem, but, whether he has the
political clout to match, is uncertain.
As the Tigers are a virtual non-entity now, it is decision time for
the TNA. They have to revert to being the voice of moderate Tamils, or
risk political oblivion, by trying to echo the separatist sentiments
voiced by the LTTE. The former is definitely more desirable.
If they choose the latter, the new kids on the block will be ever
willing to take over: the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) of
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias ‘Pillayan’ have a steady foothold in
the East, and would covet a slice of the North as well.
Then, there is Douglas Devananda and his EPDP, which has braved bombs
and bullets, to act in concert with the government, against the LTTE. He
must feel, that now is the time to cash in on all those past favours,
perhaps with power in the North as a reward.
Compounding the political equation is Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan
alias ‘Karuna, whose knack seems to be knowing when to get out of a
tight corner - he first left the LTTE, then got out of a British jail
and recently, left the TMVP, all in the nick of a time.
Muralitharan is now a Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP),
and this should give an indication as to how high he is valued by the
government. Yet, he is of eastern stock, and would have difficulty in
entrenching himself as a leader of the North.
Therefore, there is still a huge political vacuum to fill in the
North. It is crucial that, this is done in the most democratic manner
possible, for these representatives will be the stakeholders of any
political solution to emerge in the post-LTTE era.
A rehearsal for this purpose will be the Provincial polls in the
North. It is now almost government policy to dissolve one or two
Councils at a time, and there is no doubt that, the ruling party will be
keen to test the waters with a Provincial poll in the North.
While such an election will gauge the political winds of the region,
it will also send an important signal to the outside world, that
President Rajapaksa is indeed honouring his pledge of restoring
democracy and, law and order to the war torn province.
What are the political implications of last week in the South? This is
much more predictable and less complicated than the scenario in the
North. And, bearing the brunt of it would be the United National Party (UNP)
and its’ leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The spontaneous outpouring of public support for President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, in the aftermath of the military victory, makes the results
of the next Presidential polls - and maybe even the next General
election - a foregone conclusion.
At a Presidential poll, anyone contesting Rajapaksa will be an ‘also
ran’. Sections of the UNP, most notably S.B. Dissanayake’s supporters,
will be keen for Wickremesinghe to contest, so that, he could be got rid
of, but Wickremesinghe is unlikely to fall for that.
The most sensible option for the UNP - as drastic as it may seem -
would be to give the Presidential poll a miss. By so doing, they are
only avoiding an election that they are bound to lose anyway, and could
also escape the ignominy of a full scale rout.
Indeed, it would be in the UNP’s interests, as well as in the interests
of the nation, if the party decides to bury the hatchet with the ruling
United Freedom Peoples’ Alliance (UPFA), on the issue of forging a
national consensus on evolving a political solution.
Then, the UNP could claim moral high ground and say it supported the
government in the nation’s hour of need, while at the same time,
avoiding embarrassing electoral defeats at the hands of a somewhat
popular government and a very popular President.
Thus, the events of the past week have changed the contours of Sri
Lanka’s political map considerably. The shape and climate of the new
landscape cannot be clearly predicted just yet, but hopefully, it would
be less difficult terrain than what exists now.