Political Column  

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.

They invited 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 in Colombo.

Firstly, the 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.

Then again, 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.

The problem 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".

No mention 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.

Frankly, the 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 of confict-resolution;
"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 political situation.

EPDP's Douglas 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 else.

Nothing substantial 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.

Kadirgamar suggested issuing two statements - one from the joint opposition and another from the President, as head of State, exercising her Constitutional powers.
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.

The contents 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.

For instance, 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 joint statement.
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 through.

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.

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