Political Column
By our Political Correspondent
2nd December 2001
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Vote to solve ethnic conflict

With the election campaign coming to an end tomorrow midnight, election-eering for the December 5 polls reached fever pitch yesterday.

Though none of the main parties has come out with new proposals to address the country's burning problems, most analysts believe the elections will be a hotly contested one between the PA and the UNP with the JVP also making its presence felt in a big way.

The PA intensified its campaign last week with house-to-house canvassing in many areas to avert a situation where President Kumaratunga would be forced to work with a UNP regime in the event of a defeat.

The rivalry between the PA and the UNP assumed warring proportions. Even Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who earlier called people to vote for the UNP if they did not prefer the PA, had to change his policy. PA activists are now calling upon people to refrain from voting if they do not want to vote for their party. 

This was the message they gave voters in the Gampaha district and many people believe it was a subtle threat aimed to prevent them from going to polling booths on December 5 an effective method the PA allegedly resorted to at last year's elections to ensure its victory.

In short, the PA wants to win this election by hook or by crook to give President Kumaratunga a free hand to wield her executive powers.

If a UNP - led Parliament is elected, contrary to the wishes of the President, she would find it difficult to continue unless she mend fences with the UNP.

It is up to the politicians on both sides to show some sort of maturity and work together for the common good of the people in such a scenario without burdening them with elections over and over again as Anura Bandaranaike repeatedly said in his election campaign speeches.

Voters should be allowed to exercise their right on the 5th freely. When they exercise their voting right, they must do it wisely so that they could elect a government that would effectively solve the country's problems, chief among them being the ethnic conflict. 

Peace is the most expensive commodity that the people yearned for the last two decades, but none of the political parties showed a semblance of competence in finding a lasting solution to the most pressing problem, the ethnic question.

UNP, the main opposition, has proposed an interim administration until such time a permanent solution is found but the PA is trying to cash in on this with communal histrionics.

It is unfortunate that the two main contenders in the fray try to exploit this delicate issue in their favour.

The PA is spreading its claim largely through the state media that the UNP is in truck with the LTTE to divide the country. This is nothing but an election gimmick. What the people should understand is that no single party can give legal effect to such a division. Even to set up a fully-fledged federal state, the Constitution has to be amended with a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.

The UNP, though it says it is committed to solve the ethnic conflict and achieve peace, it does not say why it did not fully back the PA's constitutional process aimed at the same goal. 

It cited at that time transitional provisions in the draft constitution that provided the President to continue as the executive president for another five years though the new constitution itself abolished the executive presidency.

There was a stalemate situation thereafter which could not be resolved by way of negotiations. But today petty politics has forced the PA to play the communal card, claiming that the LTTE was trying to enter Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance. The PA's position is quite contrary to its earlier standpoint that the LTTE should enter the mainstream of politics.

However, it appears that the PA's present stance is only an election stunt to come back to power since it has nothing to crow about economically and otherwise a some kind of political bankruptcy. To bolster its position it is now desperately clinging on to the JVP. The return of JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe after 12 years of exile and state protection for him speak volumes of the PA's dependency on the JVP. 

Mr. Amarasinghe left the country at the height of a state crackdown on the JVP in the 1988-90 period, by illegally crossing over to India and from there to London. It was a violation of the country's emigration and immigration laws. 

The first question that flashes across the mind is as to how a fugitive could come back to the country as a free man. Has the President granted him a pardon by virtue of the powers vested in her?

It is needless to say that Mr. Amarasinghe is a prime suspect in many a criminal activity perpetrated by the JVP in the late 80s. He sounded sceptical over the prevailing political system when he, addressing his first political meeting in Kalutara, warned of an armed struggle.

Mr. Amarasinghe is prepared to tender an open apology to the people and to those who suffered at the hands of the JVP. But can the JVP repair the mental trauma that some people had to undergo at its hands?

For instance, how will the JVP compensate two little daughters of the principal of the junior school in Kelle in Embilipitiya, who was murdered in the presence of them.

The incident took place 14 years ago when the principal defied a JVP command to release his students for a JVP-sponsored demonstration.

A self-criticism of its own wrongdoing is good, but in many cases, the damage caused is beyond expiation. The JVP killed more than 6,000 grassroots level political supporters of other parties. Most of the victims were UNPers though some SLFP supporters were also eliminated.

President's husband Vijaya Kumaratunga, too, was a victim of the JVP. The President had admitted this on several occasions.

Wednesday's news conference by Mr. Amarasinghe is yet another example of his scepticism over the prevailing political system in the country.

But the manner in which the news conference was held has not helped the party's image. Some said it was a Gestapo style operation by the JVP or perhaps a glimpse to their horrid past.

Journalists who were asked to gather at Hotel Nippon at Kompannaveediya were taken by surprise when the JVP hierarchy guided them into a luxury bus after carrying out security checks. They were then taken to a location in Mt. Lavinia where they held the news conference as though the JVP was still a proscribed party.

Some state media journalists who arrived late at Nippon were in for a shock. They immediately contacted the JVP media arm and were told that they could not do anything about it. But after much persuasion, they were asked to come near the Mt. Lavinia court complex. They complied obligingly and contacted the JVP media arm once again who in turn asked them to proceed further and turn right to a small lane leading towards the sea.

The media men were then instructed to be on the lookout for a man with a green T-shirt. Half way through the lane, they spotted the man and he led them to the news conference.

After going through security formalities, they were issued with cards bearing a number to go upstairs where the conference was held. Nobody was permitted to go out of the premises or answer any calls or use cellular phones during the time they spent in that sea-side motel.

Mr. Amarasinghe took the entire media corp on a long ride throughout a span of 30 years from 1971-2001 when he answered questions fired by the media. Mr. Amarasinghe is scheduled to leave the country just before the elections, to make sure of a safe journey for him. Mr. Amarasinghe seemed to be tired of politics. He vowed he would continue for at least seven more years until he reaches the age of 65.

The PA, too, is trying to impose the 65 year rule for the politicians. Young politicians of the calibre of Jeyaraj Fernandopulle also advocate this theory and hopes that Prime Minister Wickremanayake would give up politics soon.

What does this mean? Generally, it sounds alright. But could there be a hidden meaning to this? In the absence of many contenders to the premiership, is the President trying to groom her brother Anura Bandaranaike?

This would give heartburn to a few. But in a difficult political situation, they might agree to accommodate Mr. Bandaranaike as the second in command in the party.

As it is, there is no competition but with time, Mahinda Rajapakse, D. M. Jayaratne and Anuruddha Ratwatte will join the fray for prime ministerial stakes.

According to Minister Ratwatte, the party will decide at the right time who should take over. But for the last 50 years or so, the SLFP has failed to think of anybody other than a Bandaranaike. 

The tradition could continue for some time. This has led to a body of opinion which believes the party to be feudal and autocratic in nature though cloaked in a 'peoplised' garb.

Amidst all this hullabaloo, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran called on the Sinhala people to reject racism and come for peace.

Enunciating the LTTE policies in his heroes' day speech, the Tiger leader declared that the Tamil people wanted to live in their traditional lands with peace and dignity, determining their own political life.

"It is a basic aspiration of the Tamil people. This is neither separatism nor terrorism. It does not constitute a threat to the Sinhala people," Mr. Prabhakaran said.

Mr. Prabhakaran also said that unless the Sri Lanka government lifts the ban on the LTTE and accepts them as the authentic, legitimate representatives of the Tamil people, the LTTE would not participate in the peace negotiations.

"We are firmly committed to this position. We have also clearly stated our position to the Norwegian government. 

There is a possibility of peace in the island of Sri Lanka only when the LTTE is deproscribed. Under these circumstances, proscribing the LTTE by Western governments giving into diplomatic pressures from Sri Lanka will not pave the way for the peaceful diplomatic pressures from Sri Lanka will not pave the way for the negotiated settlement of the conflict. 

Rather it will further reinforce the collective demand of our people to lift the ban of the LTTE for the resumption of peace talks." The LTTE leader in his speech has unleashed wrath on President Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

It is distinctly clear that the LTTE is feeling the pinch of Sri Lanka's diplomatic war against them in the West. At the same time, Mr. Prabhakaran's statement had spontaneously spewed out venom against Mr. Kadirgamar.

Mr. Kadirgamar has done an extremely good job for Sri Lanka as its foreign minister.

The LTTE states it is not a terrorist group. How many thousands of innocent civilians have they killed during this protracted war? How many unarmed civilians suffered at the hands of LTTE marauders? Should any organisation fighting for freedom of its people unleash violence to achieve its own goals?

LTTE which is a ruthless terrorist outfit for the last two decades had unleashed a cycle of viole nce on the unarmed civilians, on countless occasions, which compelled the Sri Lankan government to lobby against it in the international arena.

Now the LTTE puts forward lifting of the ban as a pre-condition to hold peace talks. Is it trying to get the international ban lifted through talks with the Sri Lanka government?

Once Mr. Prabhakaran told an Indian journalist that the LTTE wanted to fight and win Eelam and it is understandable when the Sri Lankan government does not want to believe him any more as the LTTE had back tracked on several occasions in the past when peace talks were initiated.

We hope that the new government will not fall into the LTTE's peace trap.

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