Sound and fury and little else
By The SundayTimes Political Editor
The LTTE's political land-mine suspending
peace talks with the Government was unmistakenly the news of the
week, even though, in a sense, it failed to generate either shock
or awe. Nothing
the LTTE does surprises anyone anymore -the least being an announcment
saying they refuse to talk.
The only difference
this time was that they said they were still committed to a political
solution to end the 20-year insurgency, but then, one would imagine
that one cannot take them for their word, yet. Political analysts
in Colombo seem to believe that the LTTE was only engaged in brinkmanship,
and that the decision to suspend talks at this stage was but a tactical
ploy. It was time they upped the ante, so to say, because they felt
it was time to apply some pressure on the vulnerable UNF Government.
Or so, these
anaylsts felt. Some others, however, have a different view. They
argue that foreign policy has never been the LTTE's forte, and by
taking on the United States of America by criticising them for being
left out of the Washington aid talks last week, they were taken
up by the bold resistance of possibly, the Iraqi Baath Party.
trouble from Uncle Sam, and Uncle Ashly Wills let them have it in
his interview with Reuters. Lest the Sri Lankan yakkos missed the
US ambassador’s comments, the US embassy in Colombo circulated
the full text to the local media.
And now, Anton Balasingham has responded with an interview to Tamilnet
(interview published on page 5), and the LTTE has now got entangled
with the US, and one wonders whether the fate of Tareq Aziz would
befall Anton Balasingham. Surely not.
These developments triggered a chain reaction in the political establishment
issue was whether the LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham
was inbreach of protocol to write directly to Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe announcing the suspension of the talks. Afterall,
if Velupillai Prabhakaran is both the President and the Prime Minister
of the North and East according to Balasingham, then it is he who
should write to his counterpart in Colombo.
this is a non-issue. Anyone can write to the Prime Minister of Sri
Lanka. But the more significant issue is whether the Prime Minister
of Sri Lanka must therefore write to anyone who writes to him. This
is no esoteric issue - for it did transpire during official talks
between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesingha when they met on Tuesday to discuss the fallout from
the Balasingham letter.
has already arisen, partly though. The PM has acknowledged Balasingham's
letter saying he will send a more detailed response, and what is
as bad is that he has addressed him as "Dr." Balasingham.
Now, has the
Government also conferred a doctorate on Mr. Balasingham? The issue
of his "doctorate" has long been in question. We can do
no better than to quote from no lesser authority than Adele Balasingham
who says in her 2001 autobiography 'The Will to Freedom' at page
23 that Bala embarked on his doctorate of philosophy thesis that
involved the theoretical marriage between Marx and Freud,"
but the demands of the revolutionary politics of the national liberation
struggle of his people constantly intervened.... A time came when
he was compelled to choose between an academic life and revolutionary
politics. He chose the latter".
of earning a doctorate, but why grudge the self-styled 'theoretician'
such an honour? At least he tried, and he can surely qualify for
an honorary one, say from the University of Upsala. That aside,
the Opposition had just got agitated at news reports that the Norwegian
ceasefire monitors of the SLMM had just recommended that the Sea
Tigers be recognised.
fact that the Opposition, leave alone a Government, has permitted
so much LTTE excesses under the ceasefire agreement is astounding.
These last 14 months, their own role has been to go into voluntary
silence. When they suddenly woke up once before, they called for
a parliamentary debate on the current situation. When the Government
granted the debate one evening, half the signatories from the Opposition
who called for the debate were absent from the House.
That was the
miserable role they have played so far, believing that demonstrations
at Liptons Circus was the be-all and end-all of all opposition.
Then you find the President - mixed-up as she is wont to be. On
Monday she supports the peace process; on Tuesday, she slams the
peace process, and so on and so forth.
Take for instance
her speech to the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial lecture in April 2002,
and released in booklet form exactly one year later - in April 2003.
There she says at the conclusion of her lecture, while on the subject
"This would presuppose that governments will have to stop thinking,
at least momentarily, of the number of votes they could collect,
and instead have the courage and foresight to do what is desperately
and urgently required, if we are to turn away from the brink of
disaster and travel along the path of enlightenment and progress
And then what does she do? She calls a meeting of all the opposition
parties, including the anti-peace process JVP to a meeting.
And here she
is, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, coming for that meeting, fresh
from a Cabinet meeting where, as head of the Government and head
of the Cabinet, she comes and in the same saree, presides as head
of the Opposition. As the Tourist Board slogan says; 'Sri Lanka
- a land like no other'. The meeting at the President's House was
scheduled to commence around 7.45 on Wednesday evening. President
Kumaratunga began explaining her meeting with the Prime Minister
the previous day. Her brother Anura Bandaranaike and her confidante
Mangala Samaraweera urged that something be done about the current
Devananda and Thavarasa were on their theme-song; harassment of
their cadres in the North and East. D.E.W. Gunasekera of the Communist
Party came out strong on the situation with the Sea Tigers, Nimal
Siripala de Silva said something about how he met Prof. G.L. Peiris
on a flight back from London, NUA's Feriel Ashraff thanked the President
for sending troops from Weli-Oya to help the Muslims in Muttur and
JVP's Wimal Weerawansa joined the chorus of sound and fury and nothing
happening, the President decided she had time to go upstairs to
her living quarters and change into some informal clothes and return
to the meeting.
After hours of speechifying, there still seemed to be no direction
this all-important meeting was taking. Then, former Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar spoke and said the President needs advise. "So
what is it that I should do?" the President asked.
suggested issuing two statements - one from the joint opposition
and another from the President, as head of State, exercising her
The drought of ideas had suddenly been showered with some wisdom.
Anura Bandaranaike rose to his feet and roundly praised Kadirgamar.
He seconded the motion. Two statements to be issued. Passed unanimously,
two statements were to be drafted and issued.
to go into the first statement, i.e. the opposition statement was
going to be the consensus of all - to recap the deteriorating situation/
Balasingham's letter/ Opposition should not be doing nothing/ must
say something etc. The meeting thus concluded at close to midnight.
The next day a draft text was prepared and faxed to all party leaders.
Eventually, the drafting exercise was also to be Kadirgamar's lot.
He drafted in English, and won approval from all parties, except
the JVP and the LSSP.
The JVP said that they would translate Kadirgamar's English draft
into Sinhala, but saw some nuances that required change when it
came out in Sinhala, and then wanted the English draft changed accordingly.
the opening sentence that said; "The Opposition parties view
the decision of the LTTE....." was changed to " The opposition
parties view with concern the decision of the LTTE..."; And
elsewhere, where the original Kadirgamar draft said "The Monitoring
Mission has lost the confidence of the opposition parties"
was changed by the JVP to “The Monitoring Mission and its
present Head have lost the confidence of the opposition parties.”
And then again
added the following para to the Kadirgamar draft; “In this
regard, the opposition parties have continuously expressed their
opinion and criticism but the UNP Government always considered these
criticisms of the opposition as an attempt to subvert the peace
process, but the real situation has now become clear". The
LSSP leader Batty Weerakoon significantly opted not to sign the
The LSSP has for some time taken a different stance on the whole
approach of the peace process to the extent of supporting it right
The fact that
the LSSP - called fossils who can’t get any votes by Anura
Bandaranaike, has felt ignored and marginalised by President Kumaratunga
cannot be ruled out as one cause of displeasure with the PA coalition.
Not only was its leader Batty Weerakoon left out of the National
List, despite being a coalition partner necessitating going to courts
for redress, the cosying up to the JVP cannot be to their liking.
And so, now
it remains for the President to write to the Prime Minister to formalise
some of the proposals contained in the statement like the invitation
to India to join the Monitoring Mission. The Opposition feels that
the UNF Government is under pressure, both from the LTTE and the
international community to deliver, and fear that some under-the-table
deals may be on the cards to the detriment of the Nation-State.
A stalemate in the peace process creates a moratorium for all parties
to re-assess the situations they are in.
The only part
of the peace process now working is the foreign jaunts part of it.
29 LTTE members left on a 11-nation tour last night. And in the'South'
at least agreement was reached between the President and the Prime
Minister - to beautify Lake Gregory and develop the slum-city of
Nuwara-Eliya where they both holidayed last week, so that it could
look like, possibly, a Swiss Federal canton.