Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Your Move, Mr President

by V Gunaratnam, April 4, 2006

When all the cheering has died down about the boost the peace process is getting after the election, it would be prudent for the Tamils to take pause and reflect on what the President is doing, and should be doing, about reaching an accord with the LTTE. It’s time for some real action.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of a seismic shift in political power signaled by the landslide victory of President Rajapakse’s UPFA in the just concluded local government election, which saw the rout of the JVP and JHU, who contested on their own, convinced they would sweep the polls and show the people that they were the real power behind Rajapakse’s ascendancy to the presidential seat.

The media reaction to the victory was euphoric and unmistakable, with words like ‘overwhelming victory’, ‘mandate for peace’, and ‘coalition sweeps polls.’ Though the election did not focus directly on the peace process it was still a remarkable victory, with analysts saying the magnitude of the victory clearly signified strong approval of the way the President was conducting the peace process.

What has happened is a sea-change from just a few days ago. Rajapakse will no longer have to pay pooja to the JVP or JHU before launching his policy initiatives. Up to now the peace process was like a twisting story plot without an ending in sight, because he was stymied at every turn by these terrible twins, who were living off the misery of the Tamils and the woes of the peace process.

There can be no dispute that the JVP and JHU gambled and lost badly, because the people had had enough of their empty rhetoric, opposing everything from the CFA to the Norwegians, creating a fear psychosis, and instability in the country. There is a new awareness that without the peace process to facilitate a dialogue with the LTTE, and finding a way out of the conflict that has raged on for two decades, nothing is going to materialize.

People also seem to have gained in confidence, with India, the US, EU, Japan, and others standing behind the peace moves and knowing the CFA, after more than four years, is continuing to serve the country well. The CFA has given nearly five years of relative peace, allowed the economy to grow and brought a measure of prosperity to the people, but that any breakdown seriously risks war.

It is too much to hope, however, that the JVP is going to withdraw into its shell and become a silent player on the political scene after this. More likely, they would wind down their rhetoric and play along with Rajapakse for a time, while they devise a fresh strategy to account for the new realities. They are a resilient and pragmatic lot, sustained by the extraordinary experience of two failed insurgencies and successfully transforming from their Marxist roots to a powerful player in national politics.

The JVP's big mistake was going against their ‘own man,’ using the same tactic that had worked with Kumaratunga, a blunder that has lost them credibility with the people. If they persist in withholding support for Rajapakse, he could turn to the UNP, reducing the JVP to an ineffectual political side show. In another likely scenario, an early general election could ruin their big clout in parliament. For now, they must be worrying about how the ground has shifted in favour of the UPFA and the UNP.

The UNP has again suffered at the polls, but they could still play a crucial role in national politics by being a part of the unfolding peace process. But Ranil Wicremesinghe has to come down to earth and give up his presidential ambitions to clear the path, because come hell or high water, Rajapakse will be unshakable for the next six years, and, if he manages to forge a permanent peace with the LTTE, he could be warming the presidential seat for a long, long time.

The UNP, possibly the single biggest political force in the country, has to quickly refocus on some realistic near-term goals like supplanting the JVP, using its big block of votes in parliament to bring stability to Rajapakse’s government and becoming a part of the peace process originated by the UNP itself. There is a word being bandied about for such a development: grand coalition. It would make absolute sense for the UNP to be doing this, and getting a piece of the big peace dividend which could result from an accord with the LTTE, without languishing on the outside.

When all the cheering has died down about the boost the peace process is getting after the election, it would be prudent for the Tamils to take pause and reflect on what the President is doing, and should be doing, about reaching an accord with the LTTE. It’s time for some real action.

Rajapakse has so far not retreated publicly from his hard-line unitary state position and the rejection of a Tamil homeland. Given that he went to extremes to win power, it is time he started spelling out a flexible political perspective for reaching an accord with the LTTE. Beyond talking about his good intentions, he has done pretty little so far to raise the confidence of the Tamils. His post-Geneva performance has been pathetic. The paramilitary is still running loose, provoking the people and the LTTE. The President has to act to get the military situation under control.

The SLA high command is doing nothing about implementing the government’s directives. They are even denying any knowledge of the existence of the paramilitary or what they are doing. It is completely at odds with what was accepted by the government in Geneva, because they could not have agreed to do something about nothing!

By courting Pakistan and China as a knee jerk reaction to the unfavourable reception he got from India, to shore up Sri Lanka’s military capability, Rajapakse is making a grave mistake. Any military adventure against the Tamils would most likely be strenuously opposed by India and the other international powers, with intervention if needed. It might be reassuring to the Sinhalese public, but so much more important is to get on with the peace process in earnest.

Perhaps with the balance of power shifting in President Rajapakse’s favour, Sri Lanka would now move with purpose and concentrate all its energies on working with the international powers to take more meaningful steps to implement the peace process and reach an accord.
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