The talks end in a stalemate - polls next?
By Our Political Editor
The talks between President
Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yielded
nothing in terms of settling the so called constitutional crisis
that erupted after President Kumaratunga took over three Ministries
It looks now that the talks in fact made the crisis worse. Prime
Minister Wickremesinghe offered to hand over the ''leadership of
the peace process" to the President, but the President was
not biting. Instead she made an offer for the creation of a portfolio
of Deputy Minister of Defence, but the Prime Minister was not listening.
Instead of any
resolution on the immediate national crisis, there was a venting
of general feelings, about how badly the state media treated the
President (her version) and how the media is very independent and
operates on its own (his version.)
So, even though there was no resolution of the national crisis,
it appeared that the general shape of how things happened in the
last few weeks when the President made her moves, was beginning
to clearly unravel.
was apparently under the impression that her supporters had tapped
the vast reservoir of UNP back bench MPs. But this was not to be.
She was unable to form a government of her own, and she is now also
unable to reverse the moves that she made by taking over three key
portfolios without adding to the confusion.
Those who goaded her on to stage her takeover bid of the three key
Ministries, were therefore now already operating on PLAN #2 - the
alternate plan. Plan #2 was to form a quick alliance with the JVP,
dissolve parliament, and go for elections.
end, at least a certain coterie of her parliamentary group are pushing
her to dissolve parliament on the 19th when Parliamentary sessions
are scheduled to recommence. This is also with a view of the possibility
that the UNF will table an impeachment motion against her, which
of course will effectively tie her hands and make it impossible
for her to dissolve parliament.
But Ranil Wickremesinghe's
options are limited - - and he knows that elections are among the
best of his options. True, he will never be able to gather the kind
of majority that will solve all his problems and make the President
irrelevant. But it will at least give him a mandate -- a fresh mandate
- - that will give him some legitimacy to form a government that
can call most if not all of the shots. But in the meantime Ranil
Wickremesinghe was playing some of the other cards at his disposal.
are a sampling:
Play dead, and get the international community firmly on his side
Ranil Wickremesinghe was looking for all the constitutional options.
By doing that, he is courting the moral high ground. By pulling
out of the peace process, he is also canvassing the moral high ground.
This is why it appeared quite curious to many people that the Norwegians
were pulling out of the peace process at the same time that Wickremesinghe
was pulling out of the peace process. To some it appeared that this
was quite a synchronised move, to attempt to marginalise the President
and make her realise that she had painted herself into a corner,
because she would be unable to pursue any peace process on her own.
off the President's National government proposal
The Prime Minister said that anyone is free to enter into a national
government with him as the leader, because he commands the majority
in parliament. This he said, when he met the President. So far he
has been able to keep his parliamentary group quite loyal, and he
has been able to keep his options open by not caving in to the cry
for a "National government.''
But the President
-- who has lost a good deal of the moral high ground due to her
pre-emptive move to topple the Wickremesinghe regime, is now deftly
making some attempt to recover the moral high ground by pushing
for a national government.
her ablest lieutenant is Mano Tittawella, who is Senior Presidential
A word about Tittawella here. He was the man who in many ways was
closest to the President in her taking over of three Ministries,
whereas Presidential hopefuls such as Anura Bandaranaike and Mahinda
Rajapakse were out of the loop when the President made this move.
Mano Tittawella was definitely in the loop.
By the end
of this week, he was in fact making statements to the effect that
the ceasefire will be honoured etc., As a champion of business,
he was leading the call for a national government -- a call that
has always been popular with a business community that is sick and
tired of bickering between the two major national political contenders.
The UNF was
therefore careful not to lose the moral high ground to the President.
This is for instance why the UNF stalled a move to reconvene parliament
by asking the Speaker to do so. It was of course technically the
Speaker who had to make that decision about reconvening parliament
on a request from its majority. But before matters went to the Speaker
for consideration, Rauff Hakeem, the SLMC leader for instance took
the very clear stand that it is unwise to pursue something that
was clearly unconstitutional ie: asking the Speaker to reconvene
parliament when that was clearly the President's prerogative.
opposition (JVP and PA) in fact labelled the party leader's meeting
summoned by the Speaker to discuss this situation ''unconstitutional.''
However, Messrs Karu Jayasuriya W. J. M Loku Bandara, Rauf Hakeem,
R. Sambandan Chandrasekeran etc., met the Speaker to discuss the
possibility of his being able to reconvene parliament.
Justice Minister Loku Bandara adduced a rather tortured argument,
which was that the parliament was enabled constitutionally as per
article 42 to convene as a judicial body, and that the current situation
calls for that kind of ''judicial intervention.'' However, the majority
of those present, headed by lawyer Sambandan said that this provision
was available only when parliament was already in session and not
when it was prorogued for some reason.
In the larger
calculation meanwhile, the unpopularity of an election at this time
was also not lost on Chandrika Kumaratunga. Among those who advised
her against a quick-fire election with the much ballyhooed JVP backing
was -- guess who? Mano Tittawella of course. Tittawella was only
too well aware of the repercussions to the economy as a result of
an election, all of which eventually will be laid at the door of
the PA and the President.
The World Bank's
Peter Harrolds and the IMF's Jeremy Carter, among other top foreign
potentates were already cautioning the President against prolonging
the current crisis, and in this backdrop it appeared that though
an election seemed to be the most attractive way out of the quagmire,
it was not the best suited for the President at the current hour.
In fact, she
fired this question to those of her parliamentary group who met
her early in the week at the President's house. Can we win an election,
There were enough to say yes, but at week's end, most in her inner
sanctum seemed to have arrived at the position that the provisions
of the J. R,. Jayewardene constitution should be used to the maximum
to destabilise the UNF without going for an election. In this sense,
it was an ongoing constitutional coup, and not a direct showdown
by way of polls.
The UNF also
in the long run seemed to have scored by this turn of events. In
sum, the UNF was in a position to blame the President for the breakdown
of the peace process, and the sudden brakes on the economy (not
to mention the budget) which means the UNF scored a double whammy.
Even though he now looked a lame duck and a head of a lame duck
government, Ranil Wickremesinghe was still happy to appear to make
something better out of the situation than her opponent.
hours that shook Lanka
By Harinda Ranura Vidanage
"It will be a tragic day in the political history of Sri Lanka",
an aide at the Presidents house heard Wimal Weerwansa uttering.
This is the real "Twenty Four" drama series. The unfolding
events took place exactly within 24 hours of 13 November 2003.
As the so close yet too far syndrome had struck the PA-JVP alliance
effort again. While the hoodoo couldn't be broken the agony of separation
struck the parties, that were desperately trying to seal a vital
link. The only link that both parties knew would give them hope
of installing an alternative government.
After preparing the
MOU, drafting a new constitution for the alliance with commitments
being made by both parties, it looked like the Blue Sea would be
blended with the Red Sun. As both parties held post mortems of each
round of talks they had in the last few months, the SLFP guillotined
its own negotiating players. The crime was attempt of sabotage,
the justification the survival of the process.
Nimal Siripala Silva was the first to taste the blade while the
ever confident Dr Sarath Amunugama followed a little later. Maithripala
Sirisena survived because of technical reasons. He was the General
Secretary of the SLFP.
"Why are we in
hurry to do all this?" erupted Sirisena, "We have to put
these to the SLFP central committee", "I must tell these
to D.M Jayaratne and the other senior leaders of our party"
What ever prompted the out burst from the secretary found its mark.
Sirisena who never favoured
an SLFP-JVP alliance nor a great fan of the reds fired a single
sniper round in the crucial final meeting with the JVP. It was directed
not at the heart but at the spirit of union. In a meeting which
was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. but which kicked off two hours
later and which went into the midnight a tired and besieged Kumaratunga
took the side of her general secretary.
The decision shocked
not only the JVP delegation but also the chief component behind
the alliance effort Mangala Samaraweera. Though being the target
of multiple attacks from both within and outside the party he managed
to keep the momentum going by sticking with the JVP always in line
to forge an alliance.
Earlier in the day CBK
phoned Mangala Samaraweera and asked him to prepare the final documents
that would seal the alliance for good. She even asked him to draft
a Joint Press release to be sent to all media later in the night
after concluding the talks. " Bring me all the proofs of posters
and banners that you prepared to demonstrate after signing the alliance",
she told him.
Kumaratunga was like a battered destroyer as she felt the pressure
from mounting barrages of fire from all directions. The President
who addressed the nation confidently a week ago looked a totally
different person in the second week. World Bank representatives
who met the President earlier in the day pressurized her to keep
the peace process on track to ensure further aid. She agreed to
this and also she had to agree to further structural adjustment
policies that the World Bank was preparing to introduce to Sri Lanka.
As psychoanalysis points
out to the dualistic mind a person can possess, Kumaratunga’s
dualism began to emerge. As she promised the Prime Minister that
she would not dissolve parliament, he guaranteed the non-implementation
of impeachment against her.
This understanding became
the foundation for the two political rivals to see a common path
as a way out from the already volatile situation. But President
Kumaratunga continued talks with the JVP to form an alliance which
she expressed was critical in the near future for the PA.
JVP took a few steps
back by shedding its resistance to form an alliance with the SLFP.
The party agreed to tackle the issue of devolution of power as a
solution to the ethnic question later on and sign the MOU with the
SLFP. But the Red faction had a trick under its sleeve, as it made
an outright denunciation to take part in a government the UNF was
also a part of.
While the President
was under pressure for taking over three ministries her hope of
securing fifteen UNF dissident votes to form a government was torpedoed.
The SLFP think tank got a message from the UNF dissidents only ten
will cross over! As the number strategists began to process the
information CBK was five seats short.
The breakdown came as
seventy five from the PA. The crossover of Puthrasigamani reduced
the PA parliamentarians to seventy six. But the PA was expecting
another power SLFP member who was severely ill-treated by the leadership
to break ranks and jump overboard. The inclusion of the JVP would
make it 91, 2 EPDP members would make them 93 strong while Five
from SLMC anti-Hakeem league would still make them fifteen short
of the target. With the ten UNF dissidents it would be five short
at the end.
As the SLFP core began
to melt away from the heat of its internal power struggles, President
Kumaratunga begins to see the catastrophe that was unfolding because
of her foul play. It seems that help is coming from the most unexpected
corner in the political equation. The Green leader seems to be hauling
her to keep her drift.
overlooks the red buoy that is floating as she clings to the more
stable green craft. The 24 hours and intense drama from scene one
World Bank to meeting with the Norwegian delegation, the LSSP, MEP
and finally the JVP in the final scene it indeed was a decisive
day for all factions in politics of Sri Lanka.