23rd January 2000

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Away from party politics

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in his letter to President Chadrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga states the UNP will support the constitutional initiatives of the government in view of the fact that "the government has not presented any alternative".

Ex-facie or on the face of the facts, it appears that Mr. Wickremesinghe's move is a crisis-management exercise to outfox UNP MPs who seemed to have queued up to desert the sinking ship.

The Crossover Bill, and the so-called referendum proposal to circumvent general elections seem to be now in abeyance. The move is strategic in that it has the double effect of preventing the PA from using the UNP for target practice. The PA will not be able to state at every turn that it's the UNP's obstructionist policies that are stopping the government from ushering in peace. The UNP has been a convenient punching bag inasmuch as the government has a convenient excuse for not being able to stop a terrorist war with the LTTE a war which is masquerading as an ethnic conflict.

Notwithstanding all of this, the missive from Ranil to Chadrika has allowed for at least a ray of hope, similar to the hope that was pervasive in the aftermath of the President's inaugural address.

This sort of hope that's sporadic but real, is like a draught of life giving breath to a nation that is desperately seeking unity in both the North and South.

The moves on the political chessboard should meanwhile not detract from the success of the forces resisting the LTTE's bid to overrun the Elephant Pass garrison. After the disastrous debacle of the Wanni, this is a tremendous comeback by the army which has acquitted itself well at Elephant Pass though not quite well enough to marginalise the LTTE, which has had a string of failures beginning from its botched assassination attempt on the President.

The politicians may talk, deliberate and procastinate until the cows come home in Colombo, but we should not be labouring under any illusion about the fact that it will be the army that will, on the final analysis, decide the destiny of the country in relation to the LTTE's terrorist threat. At the same time, there is the news that the Foreign Minister of Norway is waiting in the wings to involve himself in the Sri Lankan political crisis. But, the bona fides of the Norwegians are also suspect, as we painfully realized from the behavior of the Norwegians regarding the International Alert affair (in which the Times correspondent who wrote about Norwegian support for the LTTE was sacked by International Alert.)

The army's effort in the theatre of conflict should however be matched by innovative politics in the South, and insofar as political developments are concerned in this part of the country, we propose a revival of Executive Committee system which prevailed in the State Council days that preceded independence. The system, though it may be borrowed from a different era, was such that it operated without political parties as we know them today. Several professional bodies and responsible lobbyists, and reasonable politicians from both sides of the political divide in the House, accept this form of government (which is in essence an extension of the consultative committee system). But supporters of party politics have thwarted their moves for reasons that are obviously not co-terminus with the national good.

Party wallahs who seem to be the cause of half the damage that is inflicted on this country, should be marginalised in a national endeavour to evolve a political system that is benign, and that will at least see us past this immediate crisis. The nation needs to escape from the clutches of parochial adventurers and party rabble, and they need to be marginalised with the same resolve with which the LTTE should be marginalised.

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