Political Column

Opposition says 'we are the peacemakers, look at our (draft) constitution'
By our Political Editor
The opposition is by and large both opposing and hedging its bets with the current peace thrust of the UNF.

A SLFP document proceeded to take on the UNF government on several fronts with regard to the peace moves, starting from Prabhakaran's Heroes' Day speech.

First was on the homeland issue. The SLFP quoted Prabhakaran verbatim from his heroes' day address, as follows:

A number of questions arise from the sentiments expressed in Mr. Pirapaharan's speech and the Oslo statement. These questions have to be asked, and the people are entitled to receive answers from the UNF government and the LTTE.

What does "political status" mean? What, indeed, does " self-determination" mean? What is "complete self-rule?" We have to ask: who are these "outsiders" that Mr.Pirapaharan referred to? - are they the Sinhala and Muslim people who have lived in the North and East from time immemorial; are they the residents of the other parts of Sri Lanka who are being told not to interfere in the Tamil homeland? Is the homeland to be an exclusive preserve for some, not open to all the people of Sri Lanka?

The reference to outsiders is from Prabhakaran's reference in the speech to 'interference', when he says "The Tamil people aspire to live in the traditional homeland where they have been living without interference from outsiders."

The SLFP then takes on the Federal idea, and proceeds to demolish that too. The gravaean as it were of the SLFP's take on the federal option is that what is in the offing is not a federal solution but a separate state -- and that the Prabhakaran Balasingham duo have simply found an easier way of getting there. Does the UNF government know where it is going? Does it know the destination? And when we reach the destination what will we find-and so-called federal state with a standing Army, a standing Navy, a permanent administration, an independent judicial system, a tax structure, a banking system- what would this mean other than a separate state by a friendlier name? The SLFP statement asks.

The SLFP also made it clear that being left out of the loop is not something that it will take kindly to. The SLFP makes no bones about its resentment at having to 'make a decision' only when the matter comes to the House for a two thirds majority. We were informed that a solution would be brought to the House and a 2/3rds majority sought only then. Will the Opposition have a chance of participating in the final solution.

As Mr Kadigarmar has been saying repeatedly, the SLFP statement ends with a condition which is that there can be no ' federal' solution without a concomitant pledge on the part of the LTTE to lay down arms. This is made clear in one paragraph in the latter part of the statement.

(The SLFP) calls upon the government to insist that talks regarding the decommissioning of arms by the LTTE commence and proceed in parallel with other negotiations and not be delayed until after a final agreement is signed. The examples of Northern Ireland and El. Salvador should be heeded.

The SLFP then scores its own points by saying that the solution lies in the constitutional principles that were presented by it in the year 2000. It is stated, emphatically as follows that this draft needs to be followed as a basis for a solution:

These proposals set out clear solutions, acceptable to all communities, for the resolution of the core issues of the ethnic question. These drafts were formulated after thorough discussions and agreement with all parliamentary representatives of the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala peoples. Only the UNP withheld approval. The confusion that seems to reign at present regarding the possible political and constitutional alternatives to Eelam may be cleared if these proposals are closely studied.

This SLFP statement can now be compared and contrasted with the one issued by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) the constituent member of the People's Alliance.

The statement seems to take head-on the SLFP's attitude to the Prabhakran Heroes' Day speech. Any negative attitude in the speech should not be allowed to interfere with the peace process, it is said. What is important to realise is that not Prabhakran himself could with impunity sabotage the peace process even if it his intention.

The LSSP statement then makes a point that any anxiety arising post - Oslo can be laid to rest because the concept of internal self determination is in itself self limiting. Citing the Supreme Court of Canada judgement, the LSSP document states: "The various international documents that support the existence of a people's right to self determination, also contains parallel statements supportive of the conclusion that the exercise of such rights must be sufficiently limited to prevent threats to an existing states territorial integrity or the stability of relations between sovereign states.''

On other points the LSSP does not call for a decommissioning of weapons but states at the end of its communiqué that 'preconditions for negotiations are not helpful' -- but states the 'process' of peace can be made meaningful only if the LTTE is progressively and effectively weaned away from terrorism.

The difference in the LSSP and SLFP positions lies mainly in the fact that the SLFP sees certain LTTE positions as being incompatible with the peace process, while the LSSP sees that there is room for the LTTE to work within the peace process, while improving its record in other areas.

The statement adds: The LSSP urges the LTTE that it is necessary to clean up its act in the North East if it wishes to gain credibility for its protestations on the nature of its political objectives and related activity in the region. The UTHR Jaffna shows it in a very poor light as concerned respect for democratic and human rights. The political thuggery that it encourages against the EPDP cannot be condoned in a democratic society. It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka monitoring mission to ensure that the LTTE cannot either by itself or by proxy interfere with the democratic rights of other parties both in the North and the East.

There is at least one point at which the LSSP and the SLFP positions concur, and this is that the 2000 constitutional draft projected the PA positions on the current peace process and its positions on the unity of the Sri Lankan nation.

Mr Batty Weerakoon has also said that he did not sign the previous statement issued by the People's Alliance in November, and has made it clear that hereinafter, he will not sign any statements as member of the People's Alliance bearing in mind the different positions of the two parties, the SLFP and the LSSP, on the peace process. His strongest salvo was reserved for the Kadirgamar call to lay down arms. He said Kadrigamar 'does not represent the voice of the People's Alliance.' Mr. Batty Weerakoon, totally distanced the LSSP from the announcement made by Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar, who is seen as the fremost advisor to President Kumaratunga.

Divided party calls for united Sri Lanka
While fairly screaming for a united Sri Lanka in its statement ( at least the SLFP statement) the opposition People's Alliance could not preserve the unity within its own coalition in any way. This seemed to be the bitterest week in the winter of their discontent.
One faction of the SLFP accused the leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapakse of plotting the assassination of the party leader Chandrika Kumartunga, and matters have indeed led to a CID investigation, ordered by the President to determine the veracity of these assassination threats.

There was also the case of the President's order that the Dinakara, the party newspaper' office and press be sealed shut due to various difficulties that also involve a financial scandal.

But it was not as if there weren't any areas in which the PA could feel upbeat. The PA insiders were feeling a little heady about the feeble noises that were being made by Minister G. L. Peiris. Peiris who has been shouting from any given rooftop in the past year calling the President an obstinate obstacle that needs to be removed, suddenly changed course last week and called for accommodation with the PA President and said that her support is necessary.

This call had the President in a good mood, and by week's end her party cadre had regained enough stamina despite the internal dissension that seemed to be splitting it down the middle, to ask the UNF to produce the LTTE application for a licence for a radio station. Such a licence is an imperative, the statement said.

The political strategy of the People's Alliance was to call Ranil Wikremesinghe's peace strategy a bluff, and then say on top of that that he has neglected the poor.

The UNF has -- on the second front - - been painted as a Christmas grinch by the PA. There has been a full frontal attack by several PA frontbenchers who have said at various public venues that the UNF has systematically taken away the safety net that is meant to cushion the poor from economic malaise.

Welfare measures such as Samurdhi continue to be slashed, and this is the worst sign that the UNF is insensitive to the plight of the poor, according to the PA frontline.

The PA is also seeking to undermine UNF rule by making sure that development and infrastructure building which has been pushed into the backburner by a peace - possessed government will be taken over by some of the PA controlled provincial councils. If such undermining of the UNF is properly carried out , Mahinda Rajapakse has said ' it will be a matter of time before a PA government is formed.''

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