It could turn out to be the finest na tional new year gift ever given to the people of Sri Lanka. The two major parties - the ruling Peoples Alliance and the opposition United National Party - on Thursday signed a unique agreement heralding their willingness to rise above party or personal differences in finding a solution to the virtual civil war in this land of ours.
In recent years and months this civil war had got no better but worse despite all the pleas and the prayers for peace. Things had got so bad that many were losing faith and hope as politicians went after their opponents with a vengeance and there was so much bad blood amongst them and their followers.
After the convincing victory of the PA at the local council elections, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga - noted for her scathing attacks on the UNP - appeared to have called a truce and maintained a significant silence regarding her main opponent. Besides thanking the voters in a post-election speech she said nothing about or against the UNP. Many political analysts believed something important was happening behind the scenes. Now we know. It was the Kumaratunga - Wickremesinghe agreement on bipartisanship in efforts to find a solution to the civil war.
A key player in bringing about this new chapter if not new era in Sri Lankan politics is the widely respected Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. For some time he has strongly advocated bipartisanship on vital national issues especially in dealings with the LTTE. He told editors of national newspapers on Friday that he had often read editorials, articles and letters where ordinary people were crying out for unity among the national parties especially in handling the conflict.
Another person playing a vital role in bringing about the PA-UNP agreement was Britains young Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Dr. Liam Fox.
It is ironic however that on the eve of our 50th anniversary of Independence from the British, a 33-year-old doctor from Somerset had to broker Sri Lankas two leading political parties on how to speak in one voice and march to the beat of a single drum. Sad but true. It shows how petty and divisive Sri Lankas party politics has become 50 years after Independence and on the eve of a new millennium when technology is bringing the world closer together.
National governments may be a pipe- dream with so much ill will still flowing between rival parties all of them staking a claim for a mess of pottage in governing the country. Still, it is not an impossible dream if attitudes are changed to give every man or woman the right to have their own political convictions and be equal before the law whatever race or religion they belong to.
Thus it has become clear that the two major parties needed to come together and rise above self-interest as a first important step towards restoring peace and harmony with justice.
In the 1960s we saw one great example of bipartisanship when Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike telephoned Opposition Leader Dudley Senanayake before signing the historic Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement on repatriation when she was in New Delhi. Then again in 1971 we saw bipartisanship when Opposition Leader J. R. Jayewardene gave full cooperation to the government in fighting the insurrection. Since then we have seen little if any bipartisanship. Thus it is indeed inspiring that at this late and dark hour President Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe, along with many others we hope, have decided to rise from politics to statesmanship.
The LTTE will be disappointed to know that the two parties will join hands in the national interest. And the underlying theme of this national interest is to work towards the principle; One Country; One People.
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