The Rajpal Abeynayake's Column
By Rajpal Abeynayake
17th February 2002
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Deep South backtracking and lame ducks

If the LTTE has given up the demand for Eelam, perhaps Surya-thevan (sun god as LTTE literature refers to Prabhakaran) will rise from the East next week? With such thoughts on your mind, it is difficult to put conflict politics in perspective. This peace whirligig is in turbulence. Though a daily newspaper reported that Prabhakaran has given up the Eelam demand, there was no indication of it, and no official intimation that the Sri Lankans could act on.

It was a peace feeler of the particularly ticklish variety. There is daily sparring these days between the LTTE and the anti-negotiation caucus in the South led by the JVP. But, the JVP's performance was lackadaisical last week and when it was noted that the JVP had publicly supported talks with the Tigers, when it was in partnership with the PA in a probationary government the JVP had to quickly fold its tent. This kind of politics gives anti-talks politics of the genuine variety a bad name.

But, as the peace talkathon meanders, perhaps it is best to lower the canvas and take a peek at some of the other issues that have been overshadowed by the peace that is currently threatening to dawn.

On three current issues:

(1) The Mahinda Rajapakse issue: Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed leader of the Opposition, and this is taken to mean that dynastic succession in the SLFP has been disturbed. But, this is not necessarily the situation, considering that appointing the leader of the opposition is not the be-all and-end-all of a leadership crisis.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was leader of the opposition for a long time, and in fact the Prime Minister, when Gamini Dissanayake made an emergence from the blue, and took over the leadership of the UNP. Then he anointed himself Presidential candidate.

The move to project the PA as democratic political party was excellent but , when it comes to the crunch, it would give the party leader the chance to say 'look, Mahinda underperformed as leader of the opposition.' Viola, it makes room for Anura Bandarnaike to run for President when Chandrika's term is up.

Of course it's unfair to read politics as all expediency. Therefore, at least on the record, it needs to be said that the appointment of Mahinda ( as Lanka Page says the 'arrival of Mahinda') is something of a watershed in centrist politics. Centrist politics in Sri Lanka has always been more partial to the cult of personality. The UNP being capitalist, has to a large extent sacrificed elitism and replaced it with crass competition. But, the SLFP has believed in keeping it running in the family, because centrist politics in Sri Lanka largely came to be identified with the Bandaranaike family after the death of the party founder, and succession by the widow by default. 

Rajapakse fits the bill, even though he is not a Bandaranaike, because he does next-best, being from a political family in the deep South. He is also a labourite, and is fond of pie in the sky politics sometimes which the SLFP, being an antidote to the UNP, is known for at least some of the time.

(2) The issue of the UNP's non-fulfilled good governance campaign: The issue of the Chief Justice has Rajitha Senaratne saying that he is definite that something will be done about it soon. But, there seems to be no agenda other than the peace agenda at the moment, and the UNP government is not too perturbed that the International Bar Association issued a report entitled Sri Lanka "failing to protect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary."

If the UNP backtracks on good governance issues, the government will be guilty of pursuing policies of bad governance. Lawyers who campaigned vehemently against the continuation of the Chief Justice, such as Ranjith Abeysuriya, see that his holding office will exacerbate the ethnic conflict." But, the question is why the UNP is not good at parallel processing. If all other issues are put in the back burner, while the ethnic issues continues to occupy the front burner, the UNP will be guilty of half-baked governance.

All speakers, bar perhaps one, at a seminar organized by the Centre for Policy alternatives stressed this issue recently. But, all Rajitha Senaratne could do was to agree and pledge his support for the cause of the lawyers. There wasn't a sufficient explanation as to why the UNP has still not taken up the issue. More on this on a later date.

(3) The issue of the media: the opposition media is non existent, it has been said, after the advent of the UNP. But, whether journalists are nattering nabobs or otherwise, they seem to be getting testy. A few newspapers hitherto partial to the UNP, seem to be bringing up the issues of governance, and questioning the bona fides of the UNP. This the UNP can ignore for the moment, but perhaps not for too long.

The UNP's policy will have to be whether to fight the press, or fight the issues, with tangible policy measures designed to nab culprits, offenders in both the highest echelons of state, and lower down the totem. The UNP will probably prefer not to do either, and pretend as if nothing has happened, but this will make the government look ineffectual, and open it to criticisms of hypocrisy. The UNP might still lose the peace in the sense that the talks still might breakdown. But, the UNP cannot 'lose' the issues in the center, for the sake of a 'peace' that is after all, sought to be established in the periphery. Definitely, it's an important peace. But, if the UNP loses the peace, as well as the 'war on the issues', it will go down in history as the government that acquired lame-duck status fastest in post independence history.


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