Business gets jittery over uncertainty
Dark clouds of uncertainty are once again looming on the horizon just as the country was feeling good about itself and settling down to the prospect of a lasting peace following the seeming success of the talks between the government and the Tigers in Thailand.

The crisis of cohabitation between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the United National Front government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be getting worse. The repeated incidents of violence in the east - the killings, the kidnappings, the extortion - are the most serious threat to the peace process since the truce came into effect.

Of course, these irritants were not entirely unexpected. To the credit of the UNF government, it could be said that it had the foresight to anticipate problems in the peace effort, especially in the light of the experience of past negotiations, and the courage to be honest about it in warning the people to expect setbacks. Government spokesmen have gone to great lengths to repeatedly appeal to the public not to get discouraged when things go wrong.

Given the increasingly bold and blatant manner in which the Tigers seem to be taking the law into their own hands, it is only natural that the rest of the country, and especially the business community, are feeling jittery. After all, it is the business community that is being called upon to put their money in rebuilding a shattered economy and to bear the risks of doing so even before the last shot has been fired in the Eelam war.

The political posturing and the violence in the east and the uncertainty they generate naturally have a ripple effect across the entire economy. The stock market has crashed, with the All Share Price Index diving below the 800-point level. Tourists who flocked to resorts in the east are leaving. Foreign investors, who the government was trying to attract into places like Trincomalee, would undoubtedly have second thoughts about putting their money into such a volatile environment.

Despite all the brave talk of the government it now seems clear that the UNF will not be able to muster the required numbers in parliament to get approval for the 19th amendment to the Constitution to curb the president's power to dissolve parliament.
The UNF leadership is reportedly under growing pressure to go for a general election which its proponents say would give them a stronger mandate and a stable majority in parliament. This seems unlikely given the prevailing electoral arithmetic. By most accounts, another election would only result in another hung parliament.

The economy too has not taken off as anticipated. The euphoria that followed the United National Party's victory has long since evaporated. The rosy forecasts of a 'peace dividend' and of an economic boom under such a pro-business government have proved to be premature.

The government has even revised downward the forecast growth rate for this year.
The petty and unseemly squabbling between the prime minister and his cabinet and the president, the kind of behaviour that betrays the kindergarten mentality of some of our political leaders, only adds to the prevailing uncertainty.

The conduct of affairs of state has degenerated into political farce with threats by the president not to heed parliament's call for another poll and counter-threats by parliament to cut off her funds.

What is required is more mature conduct on the part of our political leaders and for clear signals from the government that it has the ability to maintain law and order, revive the economy, and plod on with the peace process despite all efforts to derail it.

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