Is there really a glimmer of hope for a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka now than ever before as some of us think?
Another Presidential election marred by
violence, rigging and failed assassination attempt is over and a
physically crippled President, Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga, has
managed to secure another and her last term in office as President of
the country. President
reacted to the failed attempt on her life, first like an "injured
lion" attempting to hide the lost pride, with her verbal attacks
and warnings against her Thamil enemies, and in some cases to the extent
that those warnings could be interpreted even as death threats.
Then she took an about turn when she was in England for medical
treatment, under political persuasion and advice probably from foreign
elements, and declared in public through the interview she gave to BBC,
that she was willing to negotiate a political settlement with LTTE.
On her return from England, by her 3-hour marathon speech she
made over the TV under the disguise of an interview, she made even some
people to wonder whether she has lost her mind.
The main and the ugly outcome of all these rhetoric is the
emergence of a " National Movement Against Tigers" (NMAT) and
the great loss to mother Lanka in the form of Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam's
While the victors were busy consolidating their victory by attempting to silence the resenting independent media, threatening to penalise those who financially supported the main opposition candidate and even identifying people for NMAT to get into action, the losers were watching every move of the victors in order to initiate counter measures to enhance their chances of a victory in the widely anticipated parliamentary elections to be held very soon.
The President, who was elected in 1994 to her
first term as a deliverer of peace, succeeded in hoodwinking the
international Community by proclaiming that she was conducting only a
"war for peace". She
was ably aided and abetted by the late Dr. Neelan Thiruchchelvam and
Foreign Minister Kadirgamar in this process.
By carrying on with her "War for Peace" strategy, she
permitted her armed forces to commit countless atrocities against the
Thamil community. The
President, realising now that she can't continue the same trick during
this new term, in the absence of Neelan and with the help of a
Kadirgamar without his political Guru, have no choice other than,
ostensibly or not, to attract the attention of the International
Community by declaring her commitment for initiating a solution at a
hurricane speed. Country's
economy was already in shambles before the presidential election and has
been further affected by the decline in tourism from last December after
many countries issued travel directives to their citizens about the
possible dangers during and after elections. Therefore, President
Chandrika needed badly the liberal financial support she received from
the International Community during her last term, to kick start the
country's economy in her new term if she has to spend the same as in the
past or more for her war efforts. This
is the main reason why President Chandrika has suddenly stopped her
usual rhetoric like crushing the back of the tigers, eradication of the
tigers etc. after she regained her senses after that fateful night at
Town Hall. To succeed in
this endeavour, she had to resurrect the stalled, old, already watered
down "Devolution Proposal" (DP) and pretend to the world as
she is going to install it with in a short period as opposed to what she
did with it in her last term. To
change the constitution and install this DP she needs a two third
majority to vote in the parliament for the change.
She thought she could beef up the UNP defection group by
attracting more disgruntled UNP MPs to the already defected Sarath
Amunugama group and hence get this two third majority.
She was ready to table the so called "Conscience Bill"
in parliament to facilitate and legitimise this one way crossover in the
same way JR did during his time.
All this rang the alarm bells in Mr.
Wickramasingha's camp and he swung into action immediately.
The same Wickramasingha who refused to give the two third
majority vote for the change during the whole last term, suddenly took
an about turn and declared to give full support to the change in the
constitution, quoting the defunct Lyam Fox agreement signed during
President Chandrika's last term between her and the opposition leader.
He did this to achieve three things.
First, to put the UNP defectors in a quandary and to put a stop
to further defections. Second, to get rid of the executive presidency (change in the
constitution includes this) so that the rigged election victory becomes
insignificant. Third, to
prevent the anticipated extension of the life of the parliament by the
president, if the two third majority was to be achieved through
defections, and to delay the general elections (Wickramasingha is not
ready for an election now) to the schedule time of late August or early
September 2000. Mr. Wickramasingha knows very well that when it comes to the
stage when President Chandrika has to sit and talk to LTTE, the same
people who got rid of Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam, identifying him as a
traitor, will identify President Chandrika also as a traitor and he also
remembers well what happened to President Chandrika's father Prime
Minister Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake.
In effect, Mr. Wickramasingha hopes to reduce President
Chandrika's second term from 6 years to a mere few months and to grab
the Premiership after the general elections in August or early
September. For this reason
and only for this reason, in Victor Ivan's words, Mr. Wickramasingha has
bowled this googly and waiting to see how President Chandrika is going
to play. If President
Chandrika plays Mr. Wickramasingha’s googly safely without getting
out, then Mr. Wickramasingha has to try some other trick to de-stabilize
President Chandrika’s position. President
seems to be taking a cautious approach in playing this googly.
Although the President is yet to respond to Mr.
Wickramasingha’s offer, she has left the Sarath Amunugama group of UNP
defectors in cold and seems to have given up the idea of tabling the
proposed Conscience Bill that could facilitate the one way cross-overs.
President seems to be using to the maximum, the Norwegian’s
effort (they are taking a keen interest on the ethnic problem to secure
a place for their country in the UN Security Council) to broker a peace
deal between the two warring sides, in creating an impression in the
international community that she means business this time around.
President is left with two options to play this game. One is to
change her strokes to play Mr. Wickramasingha’s googly, by making
changes in the draft constitution to retain some form of Executive
Presidency and give a hard time to Mr. Wickramasinha to continue to bowl
googlies and create an impression to the observers that he is the
stumbling block to find a solution.
Other option to the President is to play carelessly and get out
quickly and let Mr. Wickramaingha handle the crisis.
What ever the choice she may prefer, it looks like both the
leaders are still playing the same old cat and mouse game to hold on to
However, the recent news reports revealing the
US agreement to sell a large consignment of military hardware to Sri
Lanka after Britain banning the sale of military hardware to Sri Lanka
and the new recruitment program SL armed forces are embarking on, make
any observer to question the integrity of both the President and the
opposition leader with regard to their desire in finding a genuine
peaceful negotiated solution to the ethnic problem.
A desperate plea made by a senior minister few days ago to the
foreign diplomats, asking them to inform their countries that the
situation in Sri Lanka is safe for the tourist to visit and change their
earlier directives gien to their countrymen advising them against
visiting Sri Lanka, underlines the importance for the Sri Lankan
government to create an impression among the international community
that the country is on a peace footing.
As Nadesan Sathienthra wrote about 15 years back in the then
“Tamil Times” in comparing the Kurds and the Tamils being used as
pawns in the game between two parties, Tamils are not fools to be used
like the Kurds were used by US and the then USSR.
I am confident that Nadesan’s statement will prevail at the
Dr. Victor Rajakulendran