The Peace Cannot be Abandoned

                                          in Sri Lanka, Part 2




The factors that will result in a breakdown of Peace and  a return to conflict are:-


1. The lack of a sincere desire for Peace.


2. The ‘success’ of the political opportunists in the JVP and a section of President Kumaratunga’s SLFP led by her brother.


3. The support that the saboteurs of Peace get from the powerful Buddhist clergy who see Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.


4.  The unfettered executive powers of the Sri Lankan President who is in a position to block any peace agreement.


5. The failure of the Sri Lankan Government to address fundamental problems facing the Tamils.

    a) A centralisation of power in Colombo with the developmental neglect of the Tamil areas (N&E).

    b) Discrimination, domination and a violation of basic human rights at the hands of Sinhalese-dominated governments


6.  The weakness of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe in


a)      Controlling the Armed Forces

b)      Addressing the problems of poverty which increases the support for  political opportunists and disruptive elements in the Sinhala South.

c)      Controlling the disruptive activity of the Sri Lankan President.

d)      Failing to implement the Ceasefire Agreement, in particular the return to normalcy of the Tamil North and East.

e)      Trying to run the country without a clear majority in parliament.


7. The unseen activity of India, unwilling to accept the ground reality in Sri Lanka.





That the Tamil people living in the conflict zone (N&E) want peace is beyond doubt. They have had their lives shattered at the hands of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces over nearly two decades. They will do anything for peace, if only to survive.


The same does not necessarily hold for the Sinhala people who have not had a taste of what the Tamils have had. This is particularly so where the Sinhala elite are concerned since the on-going war has barely touched them. Colombo is almost on a different planet to Jaffna. The vast majority of the Sinhalese in the South do not know, and probably do not care, what goes on in the Tamil areas. It is outside their field of vision and their sphere of interest.


It may be somewhat different among the Sinhala rural masses who are beginning to feel the effect of economic deprivation, as a bankrupt Government goes on an extravagant spending spree to purchase more and more weapons for a demanding Army. They also realise that it is they (the rural poor), and not the war-mongers in Colombo, who pay the human price on the Government side of this war.


Looking at the totality of the picture in the Sinhala South, it is questionable whether the Sinhalese majority, especially those with no connection with the Tamils in the North and East, are particularly interested in a settlement, negotiated or otherwise. This is not just an academic point. It is a problem of utmost importance because until there is such a ‘demand for peace’ by the Sinhala majority, the necessary pressure will not be put on the Sri Lankan Government which, in effect, is a Sinhala government only amenable to pressure from the Sinhalese.


If I am to produce documentary evidence to support this thesis, I would point to the ever-increasing protests in Colombo (page 11), protesting against the current Peace Talks. What is so worrying about the Sinhalese, members of my ethnic group, is that they have not only become unquestioning but also seem to have lost their powers of reasoning.


I will reverse my conclusion and say that there is a genuine desire for Peace among  the Sinhala people if I see masses of spontaneous rallies for Peace in the Sinhalese South. Let alone “masses”, I have not heard of a single rally for peace.


If I have some reservations of the sincerity of the Sinhalese civilian population for peace, I have serious reservations about the sincerity of the combatants on both sides – the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers.


Men and Money

In the six years preceding the cease-fire, there had been a serious run on the GOSL coffers with a significant proportion of the Budget being spent on the war effort. There has also been a serious shortage of fighting men after some major military (mis)adventures and an understandable reluctance of the Sinhalese to get killed[1]. It has been the financial bankruptcy and escalating desertions from the Armed Forces[2] that forced the Sri Lankan Government, now under Ranil Wickremasinghe’s UNP (since 6 December 2001), to the negotiating table.  


Similar problems in the LTTE camp i.e. a shortage of funds and men (despite recruiting children) drove them to the negotiating table.


It is crucial to appreciate this since once problems of ‘money and fighting men’ are sorted out (as they have been), there will be no great “desire” to continue with peace. The motto seems to be “we talk when we must” (i.e when we are short of men and money), “we fight when we can” (i.e. when we have got enough men and weapons). The corollary is that once the Sri Lankan Government coffers are full e.g. the aid being pledged is given, the desire to deliver on Peace deals will decrease markedly.  Aid-givers please note - not that they have not done so.


So with the LTTE. The opening of the main road to and from Jaffna has been an absolute gold-mine (taxes levied by the LTTE). Money is not a problem. Nor are men, now that the LTTE has access to the government-controlled areas for supposed ‘political activity’.



There is the additional problem of stability. For any peace-deal to hold, the contracting parties must be stable so that they can deliver on the deal. This stability may be present on the LTTE side but certainly not on the Government side.


Whether one loves the LTTE or hates them, it is well-recognised that they have a tightly controlled, stable regime. How they achieved this is another story. The fact is that they are unchallengeable and are ‘in power’ for the foreseeable future.


This is far from being the case on the Government side. The Sri Lankan Government, especially over the past few years, has been a changing scene, here today, gone tomorrow. Negotiations with such an evanescent entity is, to say the least, difficult.


This is even more so with the current Sri Lankan government which clings to power by a thread. A couple of defections, and the current rulers will be on the Opposition benches and the war-mongering Kumaratunga-Marxist alliance will be in the driving seat, ready to tear-up any Pact agreed to by the current government. This is a point not lost on the LTTE, hence their extreme caution to see that the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted in any Peace deal.


It is also the reason why the LTTE would not (and should not) disarm since if they do and the warmongers in the South take over power, the entire Tamil resistance will be wiped out in a day.


Much has been written on the difficulty of a Peace deal because of the lack of trust between the two warring parties. What has not been stressed is the disastrous lack of stability in the South (and hence of the GOSL). The imperative in the Sinhala South is not peace and stability but populist politics and getting into the driving seat, to hell with the country and its future.



One of the most serious problems that the Sri Lankans have had, especially post-1956, is the conspicuous absence of statesmen. Let alone statesmen, there are not even leaders who are competent, honest, or have a vision for Sri Lanka. With the level of education that exists, and has existed, in the country, I do not for one moment believe that the necessary people are not there[3].  The problem is that they are not prepared to soil their hands by getting involved in politics. I also do not believe that even if they do come forward, they will be elected.


Another serious problem in Sri Lankan politics is, “family bandyism” – widows and children of dead leaders stepping into their shoes, whether or not they have the necessary ability. The Sinhalese, who suffer from this malady more than the Tamils[4], started early. The first Prime Minister in Independent Ceylon, D.S.Senanayake (UNP), fell off a horse and died (1952). From nowhere came his son (Dudley) who replaced him and then his nephew, Sir John Kotelawala, more British squire[5] than a serious politician[6]. Sirima, the politically unknown widow of assassinated Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike (SLFP)  went from being a housewife to Prime Minister without a days experience in politics. I can vouch for her inexperience since her husband was my uncle and I knew her well. Her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, replaced her assassinated husband who led a Sinhalese party, and son, Anura Bandaranaike, appointed Speaker, only because he threatened to get back on the booze if he was not. The unknown Srimani Athulathmudali, wife of the assassinated former National Security Minister and Dinesh Gunawardena, the current leader of the extremist MEP, replacing his father Marxist Philip Gunawardena. are prime examples. There are many more. The unique political philosophy in Sri Lanka seems to be “If you are gone, your wife will do. If she goes too, your children will do. Bring the family, brothers and all, sober or not, it does not matter”.


The country has paid a terrible price for dubious leadership. The indications are that the situation will get worse, not better, as people of absolute and indisputable incompetence and a total lack of integrity line up for positions of power. If the Sinhalese want to be ruled by such people, that is their choice. Why inflict them on the Tamils in the North and East? I am sure they can come up with something better since It cannot be worse. It is a powerful argument for a separate Tamil State.


If the status quo continues, the long-term outlook for Sri Lanka is poor, the current peace euphoria notwithstanding.




In the widespread peace euphoria, it is easy to underestimate the power and success of the saboteurs of peace. This is perhaps the most serious aspect of the current situation.


Is the JVP succeeding? It most certainly is. Here are the figures:-


August 1994    General Election                90,078 votes      1MP (member of parliament)

March  1997    Local Govt. Election        258,545 votes : 101 seats in local bodies

                                                                                                (including Colombo & its suburbs)

            1999    Provincial Council            417,168              25 seat

Oct 2000         General Election               518,477             10 MPs (8 elected, 2 nominated)

Dec 2001        General Election               815,353             16 MPs (13 seats, 3 bonus seats).


Is their anti-peace campaign succeeding? It most certainly is. Here is the evidence.

On 20 April 2002, JVP MPs, the leader of the MEP (Dinesh Gunawardene) and an MP from the SLFP (Anura Yapa) formed an organization “The National Movement for Dignified Peace and Against the Partition of the Country”.  They decided to organise a series of protests against the peace negotiations.


The first was held on 23 April 2002 at Lipton Circus, Colombo followed by a protest rally at Hyde Park.  Some 10,000 JVP, SLFP, MEP,NUA and numbers of supporters participated in the protest rally that was addressed by Anura Bandaranaike (the President’s brother) for the SLFP, Dinesh Gunawardene (MEP), Wimal Weerawanse and (a Tamil) Chandrasegaran[7] for the JVP and a Buddhist monk, Venerable Kalawelgala Chandraloka (Secretary of the pro-JVP National Bikkhu Front[8]).


Since then, there have been several protest demonstrations and rallies in a number of provincial towns mainly in the Sinhalese South – in Kandy (10 May 2002), Matara (12 June 2002), Nugegoda (9 July 2002) and Amparai (20 July 2002). In March 2003, there was a massive protest in Colombo, reportedly of some 150,000 people, which is a reflection of the serious instability in the South.


Just a few weeks ago at the May-day rally, there were, according to the JVP web site, a million people. Even allowing for some exaggeration to claim popular opposition to the Government, and halving the claimed number, there still were a very large number of people (read votes) which cannot be discounted.


What is of concern is what they were protesting about. Was it about the conditions of the ‘workers’ which it should have been since it was May day? No, it was not. The theme picked by Comrade Wimal Weerawanse and his fellow Comrades was, I quote, “Lets build Peoples Power to defeat the division of the Motherland…….”.This attracted a million people  If the writing on the wall cannot be seen, it must surely be a serious degree of blindness. I might add that the main foreign contingent supporting this rally came from the Left-faction of the Australian Labor Party and the powerful Australian Trade Union, the ACTU.


Why are the JVP succeeding? Because the UNP has been unable to address the problem of rural poverty, the bed-rock of support for the JVP. From its very inception just before Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, got Independence (1948), the UNP has been unable, even conceptually, to address this problem. It has been, and it still is , a capitalist party, pandering to the big end of town. Nothing seems to have changed these past 50 years, no lessons have been learnt. The UNP could be looking at another prolonged period on the Opposition benches for which they can thank their shortsighted polices and their leader with whom the buck stops.


The country could be looking at another period under the Kumaratunga regime, the most corrupt, incompetent and violent government in Sri Lanka’s long history. This time round in coalition with the JVP who have a proven track record of extreme violence, indeed savagery, Sri Lanka could be in for a torrid time.


I have repeatedly referred to the earlier (1994-2001) Kumaratunga regime as the ‘most corrupt, incompetent and violent government that Sri Lanka has ever had.” Why? Because it is. Why is it being repeated? To drive in the point that a return to this regime will be an unmitigated disaster for Sri Lanka from which it might never be able to recover, Am I, by any chance, a UNP supporter? God forbid. As I have spelt out in my “Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka”, President J.R.Jayawardene (UNP) was the most unprincipled politician that Sri Lanka has ever had and his regime (1977-1994), of which kinsman Ranil Wickremasinghe was a Minister, brought Sri Lanka to the edge of a dictatorship, to say nothing of the gross violation of human rights[9]. 

The J.V.P in Government


It is worth considering this possibility, ?probability. Will it be the end of Sri Lanka? To suggest so would be to give this group an importance which it does not merit. Political violence is not a monopoly of the JVP. President J.R.Jayawardene’s hoodlums, the JSS of the 1977 UNP era, were nightmarish. President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Presidential Security Division (PSD) in the 1994-2001 were worse. Sri Lankans are a resilient lot. I think they will survive the JVP, should the necessity arise.

The advent of a government with the JVP will not be the end of Sri Lanka but will, most certainly, be the end of the Peace process and a return to war and the pursuit of a military ‘victory’. That this is out of the question is not something that would worry this group. The extensive damage which they did to public property in 1998-99 (Appendix 3) did not worry them. Why should it now? I might add that the politburo of the present set-up consists of several who were in the 1998 uprising.


What the JVP in government will do is to set the Sri Lankan clock back several years and also make a negotiated settlement to the ethnic problem impossible.  It is the rising tide of the JVP, the current UNP Government’s complete impotence at doing anything about it, and the eagerness of the alternative PA government of Kumaratunga to jump into bed with them, that should make us very cautious about being unduly optimistic about Sri Lanka’s future, the Peace notwithstanding.


Dealing with the JVP.


Dealing with the JVP is one of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s major  problems. Banning the party is without doubt the most stupid thing that can be done. It has been tried by Mrs Bandaranaike’s SLFP, and tried by J.R Jayawardene’s UNP, both attempts being disastrous failures. Indeed, their strength has increased!


You cannot deal with a political party, a political or religious problem, or any other problem, by banning it or attempting to smash it with military force. It has never worked nor will it ever. Aside from this, it is completely undemocratic.


The only way to decrease support for the JVP is to address the problems in the country that sustain and nourish it. As has been mentioned, this is rural poverty and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions and escalating cost of living of the Sinhalese civilians in the South, which is the bed-rock of JVP support. Unfortunately, the UNP government is not, and has never been from day one, good at this. It is this single factor that makes the prognosis for Sri Lanka so dismal, if the numbers attending the protest rallies are any indication.


I might add that if the JVP does not get into power via the ballot box, rigged or otherwise, it is not just possible, but probable, that they will organise another uprising which, as I have said, may well be ‘successful’. They certainly have the ability and the ‘expertise’ to do it. The Government, on the other hand, simply does not have the ability to do anything about it. To expect India to come rushing in (as it did in 1971 when Indira Gandhi was in power and her friend Sirima Bandaranaike’s regime was about to cave in), would be totally unrealistic, especially with current JVP-Indian love affair, now reaching alarming levels.




The Buddhist clergy are the undisputed leaders in this field. However, they cannot change a Government. Those who can are the Sinhalese (74% of the population). 


As has been stated, there is a widely held belief among the Sinhalese that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. It is this silent majority that can make or break Governments and which the political opportunists have manipulated over the past 50 years. Sri Lanka has learnt nothing from the chaos that this disastrous belief has caused.


What will have to be conveyed to this chauvinist majority is that if they believe that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist State, there will be no option other than to establish a Tamil-Hindu State. The Sinhalese cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation and then expect an undivided nation in a multiethnic multireligious country. The Tamil Tigers and the Tamil people are accused of trying to divide the country. The reality is that it is the Sinhalese belief that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation that will be the prime cause of such a division should it come to that.




Thanks to J.R.Jayawardene (UNP), Sri Lanka’s most unprincipled politician, the Sri Lankan President has almost the powers of a dictator. The current incumbent, Chandrika Kumaratunga (SLFP) is more than ready to use these powers if they will further her political future, to hell with the future of the country. So, no amount of negotiations between the LTTE and the government of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe will do the least bit of good as long as an obstructionist President is there, and she is till 2005. She has the Constitutional ability to do as she pleases, and if this means dissolving Parliament or even changing the Government, she has the authority to do it. She can pull the rug from under Wickremasinghe’s feet (and the peace process) any time she chooses. This is precisely what she is doing right now in her most recent act of taking over the lucrative National Lotteries Board (NLB), without even a courtesy call to the Prime Minister. Wickremasinghe can do no more than get into a tail spin.


This absurd NLB affair, unleashed by Kumaratunga, at a time when the Government was struggling with the major problem of getting the stalled Peace talks restarted, is a typical example of the President’s disruptive and irresponsible behaviour. It was also to send a blunt message to the Wickremasinghe that he may be the Prime Minister, but she was the boss and in a position to call the tune.


The entirely justifiable reaction of the LTTE to this farce could be to point out to Wickremasinghe that if he cannot control the President in as simple a matter as who runs the NLB, what hope is there that he will be able to implement a fundamental change of governance of the Tamil North and East, which is what these current peace talks are all about?


It is not an unreasonable question. Indeed it is absurd if it is not asked. If the peace negotiations result in a separate administrative arrangement for the N&E (which it must, if it is to be acceptable to the LTTE), the President has the Constitutional ability to refuse to sign off on it, effectively making the Agreement a useless bit of paper. That will, of course, be the end of the Peace and probably of the Government.


What then? A dissolution of Parliament and a fresh Election? Not necessarily. The paper-thin majority by which the Government clings  to power is such that all that Kumaratunga has to do is to buy a few MP’s, a relatively simple problem in that ‘Democracy’, and the job is done. The President can then claim, quite rightly, that the Government has no majority in parliament and has thus no right to govern. She then has the Constitutional power to invite the opposition to form Government. Given that the Opposition is the President’s party, I cannot see that she will be reluctant to do so.


What of a legal challenge to this Presidential hi-jack of the Government? With Chief Justice Sanath Silva, a Kumaratunga appointee, whom the Wickremasinghe Government promised to impeach for very good reasons, but failed to do so, the chance that the legal challenge going against the President is small, very small. A legal challenge will be an exercise in futility.


What if the President does dissolve parliament? Prime Minister Wickremasinghe and others think that they will get back to power, perhaps with even an enhanced majority and thus be able even to change the Constitution and clip the President’s wings. Judging from the size of the protests that are currently occurring (at the cost of living etc), this may be nothing but wishful thinking.


This is a problem that Wickremasinghe created for himself. It was quite clear from day one (6 December 2001) that the Government could not run with a hostile President. There were many ways of dealing with this. Co-habitation was not one. This is what he chose to do, despite a near-revolt among his Ministers. He is about to learn it the hard way. Unfortunately the country might have to pay the price for this lesson in elementary politics.




The two basic problems are:-


1.      A centralisation of power in Colombo – a direct consequence of the Colebrooke- Cameron “Reforms”” of the British in 1850.

2.      The Sinhalese belief that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese-Buddhist nation. 


To deal with the latter problem first, this Sinhalese ethno-religious chauvinism has been exploited by a succession of unscrupulous Sinhalese politicians for electoral gain in a country where 74% of the population are Sinhalese. The result has been systematic discrimination against the Tamil minority in language, education and employment (Appendix 4). Peaceful protests by the Tamils have been responded to by violence unleashed by the Sinhalese-dominated State. This has resulted in the Tamil youths resorting to an armed struggle and a massive military response by the Sri Lankan Government, which has resulted in serious loss of Tamil civilian life and extensive destruction of Tamil property in the Tamil North and East. It is probably too late now to reverse all this. There has been too much bitterness and destruction.


It would be more pragmatic and realistic to focus on reversing the disastrous effects of a centralisation of power in Colombo (in Sinhalese hands) and the developmental neglect of the periphery, which included the whole of the Tamil areas in the North and East and some of the Sinhala areas in the South. It is not a coincidence that it is in these very areas that militancy has arisen – the Tamil militants in the North and East and the Sinhalese militants (the JVP) in the South.


Decentralisation of developmental power is essential. It is a mandatory requirement in the North and East if fighting is not to resume. It is a highly desirable requirement in the South if further uprisings like that of 1971 and 1988 are not to recur.


Devolution of power to the Tamil areas.


Whether one calls it a Federation, Confederation or a Separate State is not important. What is important is what it means in practice. What is needed is for the key to the development of the Tamil areas to be taken out of the hands of Sinhalese politicians in Colombo and given to the Tamils in the North and East. If the Sinhala Government has the ability to interfere with the development of the North and East, the Peace will break down.


What is so worrying about the current Peace is that this crucial issue has not been honestly and adequately addressed despite some  six rounds of talks.


For years I have argued that what is needed in Sri Lanka is five Federal States (one in the North, one in the East, one in the centre around Kandy, one in the South centred on Galle and one in the South West). The central Government must have minimal powers, if that, to interfere with the functioning of the States. Any other arrangement will not work. Perhaps a Confederation would better describe what is needed.


This multi-state power sharing arrangement, such as exists in Australia (which incidentally has the same number of people as Sri Lanka) or the excellent arrangement that exists in the Benelux countries, is the one solution which can be ‘sold’ to the Sinhala people and which will prevent the Sinhalese chauvinists, especially the Buddhist clergy and now, the new breed of Sinhala chauvinists, the JVP, from claiming that the solution is a “sell-out of the North and East to the Tamils” – something they have done with monotonous regularity and which has prevented every Sri Lankan Government in the past half century from coming up with an acceptable solution that will address the fears and concerns of the Tamil minority.


Self-determination for the Tamils is not an option, it is a mandatory requirement if Sri Lanka is to survive. I will deal with this important problem in a separate article. Here I will only point out that there are two issues.


1.      The right of self-determination.

2.      The need to exert that right.

The right of self-determination for a nation and for a people has been accepted for the past half century, It is this acceptance that was responsible for the breakup of colonial empires (decolonisation), a process from which Sri Lanka was a beneficiary.


Article 1 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights states “All Peoples have the right of self-determination”. International lawyers have argued that ”Peoples” – the plural – refers to all the people in the Nation. In the Sri Lankan context – all the people in the country are Sinhalese, Tamils Muslims etc. The Tamil minority  is not a “Peoples”. However their argument is not convincing.


Take East Timor. If “Peoples” refer to all the people, then the Referendum should have not been restricted to East Timor but should have covered all of Timor, which was quite unjustifiably carved up into East and West. The fact that it was not i.e. the Referendum was held only in East Timor must mean the East Timorese are a “peoples”. If that is so, then the Tamils in the N&E of Sri Lanka are also a “peoples”.


While international lawyers can argue about this and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) can talk with a forked tongue on the subject, in Sri Lanka, as in other theatres of conflict, we are trying to settle practical problems - not make a legal case. While Geoffrey Robertson QC in his “Crimes Against Humanity. The struggle for Global Justice” says that what these conflicts need are armies of lawyers who are cheaper than armies of fighters (and don’t kill each other!), lawyers can argue till they are blue in the face but racist and bigoted regimes will not be persuaded to change their crazy ideas. It is often economic and manpower factors that do the necessary ‘persuasion’.


This is where Sri Lanka may be on a winning wicket. Neither the Sri Lankan Government nor the Tamil Tigers have the capacity to continue this war indefinitely. They will sooner or later run out of fighting men and money. I believe that this above all has been the driving force in bringing the two parties to the negotiating table. However if negotiations fail, Sri Lanka will be looking at what is termed a “low-intensity” war. I have never been able to understand this concept. To me, war is war. There is nothing “low-intensity” in having one’s head blown off. What it might turn out to be is a grinding war of attrition which gradually destroys the country, such as has happened in so many African countries whose highly destructive internal conflicts are no longer of interest to other countries.


I have always argued that the most powerful “weapon” that could be unleashed on Sri Lanka is a massive publicity campaign, especially in the Sinhala South, that this 20 year war with the Tamils is not a winnable war and that those who advocate such a suicidal course should be isolated and politically rejected. Unfortunately this has not been done and the result – a rise of the JVP and other war-mongers. It is a matter of utmost urgency to inform the Sinhala people that a realistic and substantial devolution of power to the Tamil areas will not destroy Sri Lanka but might have the opposite effect. As the Tamil areas are allowed to make a greater contribution to the GDP than they have done in the past, the country will move forward. This must be done with urgency before the Saboteurs of Peace get going and wreck the peace.


The question is “who will do it?”. As my former colleague and close friend, Dr Victor Benjamin points out, “it is like the Rats trying to find out which Rat will bell the Cat”. The elusive ‘Rat’ may be civil society, public spirited people, the MARGA Institute in Colombo, the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality (MIRJE), numerous NGO’s and do-gooders that are proliferating – like rats(!) – who seem to spend their time writing endless Reports (in English, I might add, which 90% of the population do not, or cannot read, and those who can, discard as trash).




The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s resolve to take the Peace process forward is not in doubt. Indeed his very political survival will depend on it. What is in doubt is his ability to do so, especially with a hostile President and a ruthless Opposition (the JVP in particular) that can unleash massive violence, as they did in 1971(which nearly toppled Sirima Bandaranaike’s SLFP-dominated government and in 1998-99 Ranasinghe Premadasa’s UNP government.


In the run up to the December 2001 Elections, Wickremasinghe made several welcome promises – ending the ongoing civil war, holding President Kumaratunga accountable for her gross abuse of power and investigating the serious charges of corruption with which her name has been linked, standing down the Chief Justice against whom some serious charges had been made, addressing the mounting problems of corruption in Government Ministries, addressing rural poverty, and returning the North and East to normalcy.


With the exception of a cease fire, Wickremasinghe has failed to deliver on the rest.


Let us look at this disastrous failure since it may turn out to be a crucial factor in the breakdown of the Peace Process which will set the stage for a return to war and the eventual destruction of Sri Lanka.


The inability to control the Armed Forces


Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s inability to control the Armed Forces will be a major factor in the breakdown of the peace process. This is especially so with the Sri Lankan Navy whose Commander was given an unjustifiable extension of employment by the President and is therefore beholden to her.


I have already referred to the Army declaring large areas of the North as “High Security Zones” and Wickremasinghe weakly indicating that the Armed Forces are under the Commander-in-Chief, President Kumaratunga.


Wickremasinghe’s claimed weakness is nonsense. The Constitution gives the President the power to appoint the Prime Minister, all Cabinet Ministers and many others. However when Wickremasinghe appointed his Cabinet and there was some question as to whether the President would accept the submitted list, Wickremasinghe threatened that if she did not do so, he would mobilize a million people to surround the President’s House until she did so. These same strong-arm tactics could have been used as to who the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces would be. If there was the will to do it, could have been done. I suspect that the will was not there. I submit that this is not weakness but stupidity.

I might add that before the General Election Kumaratunga declared that if “by some fluke” the UNP was to win, she would still be the Defence Minister. Wickremasinghe refused to allow her to retain that portfolio, and Kumaratunga backed down. All of this goes to show that this perception of an all-powerful President with sweeping powers, although correct on paper (the Constitution), is in practice nonsense. Wickremasinghe could have called her bluff but was too weak or too stupid to do so. He might pay a terrible price, having the rug pulled from under his feet and with it, his political career, the future of the Peace Process and that of the country.


Co-habiting with the President


This peculiar Sri Lankan usage of a term which, in the rest of the world has a very different meaning(!), is the adoption of a live-and-let-live policy. In an article I published soon after Wickremasinghe became Prime Minister, I said that it was not a strategy but a joke. You cannot ‘co-habit’ with someone like Chandrika Kumaratunga. Wickremasinghe who has known her since childhood, and the many years he has been in politics, should have known that. Some would call this “political expediency”. I would call it stupidity.


Belatedly, with the writing on the wall for even the politically blind to see, Wickremasinghe is setting the Presidential impeachment process in motion. I think it is a fraction too late. For a start, it will take at least two years for it to worm its way through the Courts. He does not have the numbers in Parliament to do so. So, it is a win-win for the President, and I am sure she knows it.


Despite the Electorate throwing out the Kumaratunga Government in December 2001, at a personal level, President Kumaratunga still has enormous support among the Sinhala masses, which has not been lost on Wickremasinghe. Taking on the President in a head-on confrontation or impeaching her, richly though she deserves both, could result in a major civil disturbance in the South. The ‘window of opportunity’ was soon after the 2001 Election when Wickremasinghe was riding on ‘a high’ and people were fed up with the Kumaratunga regime, which I have repeatedly said[10] is unquestionably the most corrupt, violent and incompetent that Sri Lanka has ever had. Now that the Wickremasinghe regime is proving to be not much better, perhaps barring violence, it is a bit too late. The ‘window of opportunity’ has closed.


The problem with the President is that where the Peace process is concerned, she talks with a forked (some would say a three pronged) tongue. She is all for peace on one day (especially when foreigners are around), attacks the peace process on another day, and on yet another day is encouraging her brother and her so-called Marxist friends in the JVP, to sabotage the Peace. She has recently stated (no doubt for the benefit of the international community, especially the crucial aid-donors) that if her party gets back into power the peace process will continue. I cannot see how it can since her party can get into power only with the help of the JVP. The JVP are totally against any devolution of power to the Tamil areas. In fact, this is the sticking point that has, up to now, prevented an alliance between the JVP and the SLFP. At the time of writing they are in a huddle trying to stick together some sort of an alliance to topple the Wickremasinghe government and get into power. The claim is that “differences can be sorted out later”(read “once in power the JVP hard line stance will prevail”). This is the type of political dishonesty that has plagued Sri Lankan politics over the past 50 years, and more.)


Ministerial corruption and the “high life”


Unlike Kumaratunga, Wickremasinghe is “Mr Clean”. Unfortunately he has been unable to control his Ministers. Today, the Wickremasinghe Government, after just one and a half years in power, is almost as corrupt as was Kumaratunga’s corrupt and incompetent government. This has made the populace cynical.


With the entire political spectrum in Sri Lanka reeking with corruption and “Mr Clean” being unable to do anything about it,  the prognosis for the country seems poor. This is not a Challenge for us but it is certainly a Challenge for Sri Lankans in general, and civil society in particular.


The problem for the Tamils with this corruption at Ministerial levels is that the crucial Ministry of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, which is supposed to be getting the North and the East ‘restored and rehabilitated’, is stalling. Worse, what money has been allocated is going down the drain in some highly questionable deals done by Minister Dr Jayalath Jayawardene. I do have the details. There is neither the space to go into these nor is it likely to be of any value. All I can say is that if the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of the N&E are left in the Minister’s hand, we might as well bid good-bye to the area. The Prime Minister will have to wake up to the well-recognised fact that some of his Ministers are no better than those of the previous regime which, as I have said, has been labeled the most corrupt, incompetent and irresponsible government that Sri Lanka has ever had.


Rural poverty


The Government has been completely unable to address this crucial problem, which is sustaining and enhancing the popularity of the JVP and simultaneously weakening public support for the Government. Although Peace was important, people cannot eat Peace. The alleviation of rural poverty should have been given the highest priority, as high as the pursuit of Peace. This has certainly not been done and I am sure the Government will pay for this by a return to the Opposition benches.




One of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s main problems is that he has surrounded himself with some of the most lethargic bureaucrats in the business. The combined ‘efficiency’ and work output of his three top bureaucrats is about one tenth (or less) than that of one of the Tiger leader’s men. There is no doubt that it is this factor that has frustrated the LTTE to the point that they have opted out of further negotiations until they see something tangible being done. Wickremasinghe’s ‘recycled’ bureaucrats, one of whom was in school with me, are ‘yesterdays’ men who have lost their drive. They have set up a ‘black hole’ into which proposals, plans etc go but from which nothing come out. Unless Wickremasinghe changes this, and does so urgently, he will get into the ‘black hole’ himself and not emerge. If the Kumaratunga regime was the most corrupt and incompetent regime Sri Lanka has ever had, the Wickremasinghe regime is the most inefficient. If the Sinhalese want such a regime to govern them, that is their problem. Why inflict it on the Tamils? This  long-standing Sinhalese problem is yet another reason for a separate administration for the Tamil areas. The ‘problem’ might be that the Tamils might run a much more efficient State and do much better!    


In summary, the situation in the South is not looking terribly rosy. It is not something that the Tamils can do anything about. It is for the Sinhalese and civil society (which hardly exists) in the South to act.

[to be continued]


The Peace Cannot be Abandoned, Part 3


[1] As I have repeatedly said, the Tamil militants are prepared to die because they are fighting for a cause they believe in. The Sinhalese are prepared to kill (because that is what they are paid to do) but are unprepared to die. They do not have a need to do so.


[2] With some 120,000 men in uniform unable to match some 5000-10,000 LTTE cadre, the GOSL went on a recruitment drive in the Sinhalese South. The response was abysmal.


[3] This is entirely different from countries like the Solomon Islands which I have just returned from, where educated people capable of addressing the mounting problems simply do not exist. What exist are machete-wielding thugs, one of whom chopped off the head of a fellow Australian, just a few hundred yards from where I was. Let us hope Sri Lanka is not going down that road. I fear it is. (My wife who moderates what I write, suggested that the last sentence be deleted. Sorry, I will not. I think it should be in block capitals. In fact, Sri Lanka is far worse than the Solomons. The recent ‘degutting’ of the entire Hamer family in Colombo is proof. At least in the Solomons it is a quick decapitation. Also on a per capita basis, the incidence violence in Sri Lanka is far higher.


[4] Tamils are not immune. G.G.Ponnambalam, the Tamil Congress leader, followed by son, Kumar, followed by son Gajan, a current M.P. M.Tiruchelvam followed by son Neelan.


[5] He did, in fact, have an Estate in Britain, complete with butler, horses, riding boys, et al.


[6] Bandyism in the UNP was so bad that it was named the ”Uncle Nephew Party’. I might add that the current P.M. Wickremasinghe was appointed to kinsman President J.R.Jayawardene’s Cabinet in 1977 at the ripe old age of 29, on ‘relative merits’!


[7] A Tamil from the Plantations


[8] Jatika Bikkhu Peramuna


[9] The cold-blooded massacre of some 3000 Tamil civilians in the South in 1983 was organised and conducted by the ‘gentlemen’ and our present Prime Minister, a Minister in that Government, even tried to justify it on TV when what was needed was an apology to the Tamil people. This footnote is “lest we forget”.


[10] This repetition is necessary if only to stress that a return to the Kumaratunga regime will be an absolute disaster for Sri Lanka. Am I, by any chance, a UNP supporter? God forbid.