Political Column  

Can they push Ranil through his safety net?
By Our Political Editor
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was finally able to make that address to the United Nations -- and if domestic consumption was on his mind -- he said that his government has been able to convert a minus growth rate before he took over, to a 6 per cent growth rate this year "due to the fruits of the peace process.''

He also went on an almost unprecedented diplomatic offensive --- meeting Foreign Ministers and key office holders of UN organisations almost without stopping for a breathing space for himself.

Perhaps the Prime Minister wants a safety net not just to catch the peace process if it is ever on a free fall, but to also ensure the safety of his government. He was securing maximum international credibility for his government, so that the international community will cry foul if the Opposition tries to topple Wickremesinghe from his somewhat uneasy perch as Prime Minister and de facto head of government.
The Opposition was doing just that - -- trying to topple the PM from his uneasy perch. The JVP having failed to hammer out an alliance with the SLFP, was trying to make life difficult for the government in a different way, by crafting a broad political/civil society alliance with the help of the Buddhist clergy etc., to agitate against 'the sell-out of the country''. But those were only moves on the surface.

There were even deeper subterranean forces that were working to destabilise the government. The Opposition was engaged in an attempt to win over back bench UNF MPs, and were working through two members particularly, one among them being a well known party switcher.

This was in pursuit of the claim that if enough MPs can be won over, the Opposition will be able to command the support of the parliamentary majority and therefore be in a position to form a government before this year is out. But, was the Opposition seeing success when there was only a certainty of failure ahead of it?

Was it just a mental exercise to keep up the morale high in the Opposition ranks, when in reality it would be quite a tough task to get government MPs to cross over in an atmosphere in which Ranil Wickremesinghe is driving home the 'peace advantage'' with the support of the international community to boot?

The Opposition seemed to be decided only on one aspect of their plan -- that is getting the government out of power. But, the Opposition was miles away from deciding on a unified strategy towards doing this.

This week, this situation was more obvious. Ven Elle Gunawansa Thera gave the lead to a broad patriotic movement called the "jathi hithayishe sanvidanaya" (‘Organisation of Patriots’) and the JVP together with Ven. Elle Gunawansa and like minded souls were to embark on a march from Kandy to Colombo at the time of gong to press.

Intellectuals such as Gunadasa Amarasekera were playing a role in this new alignment of forces, and so was Arjuna Ranatunga, a PA MP who said he is participating in his personal capacity and not in his party capacity in these moves.
In fact the President had barred any of her party MPs from participating in this march - -and had given express orders to Anura Bandaranaike to refrain from participating in a press conference that was held last week to herald the launch of the "Jathi hithayishe sangvidanaya.''

But, at weeks-end the President had relented. After Mangala Samaraweera communicated with Wimal Weerwansa of the JVP, and Ven Elle Gunawansa, and informed the President that there was a clamour from within her party to participate in this march -- the President finally relented, but only to say that those who want to participate can do so. The whole display indicated that the Opposition was still divided and not cohesive in its strategy at all.

Business otherwise was as usual - - the Cabinet decided to fast-track the legislation with regard to the Bribery Commission, and Rs. 65 lakhs was to be provided by the Treasury to pay the salaries of the employees of the embattled Kabool Lanka Ltd. Also, the Pongu Thamil celebrations in Vavuniya were not immensely successful -- the crowds for some reason were not thick, but that's another story.

This cannot be another Israel - Prof Fleiner
Professor Thomas Fleiner is the Director of the Institute for Federalism at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Until recently he was President of the International Association of Constitutional Law.Prof Fleiner was in Sri Lanka last week, courtesy the Berghof Foundation, and granted the following interview to The Sunday Times:

(Sunday Times): One of the sticking points in the Sri Lankan peace process is the issue of the regional minorities, the Muslims in the East. Will the process, for instance, lead to the creation of a Muslim Bantustan, totally at the mercy of the Tamil majority in the East of Sri Lanka?

Prof Fleiner: The new constitution must address the interests of the people. All groups must feel accommodated.

Very good sentiments, but how do we ensure that all groups including regional minorities such as Muslims and Sinhalese in the Eastern province are secure in a new arrangement?

In Switzerland for example there are large municipalities for example which are meant for certain regional minorities to run their own affairs.

Of course there are instances such as in Quebec for instance, where the native American Indians feel that their concerns have not been properly addressed. This is why the native American Indians have been against the secession of Quebec from the Canadian union. A small minority is always against self determination of a region because they feel that they will then be threatened by the minority which becomes the majority within the new arrangement.

One has the identical situation here with Mulims feeling that they might be marginalised by the Tamil majority if the Tamil majority runs the affairs of the North East.

Constitutional measures have to be evolved to deal with this difficulty.
But such as what?
It is not for me to say…

But what are the success stories in which such a situation have been dealt with?
Well, there is the case of Belgium for example, or take the case of the Tamil minority in India...

There is no minority within a minority in in Tamilnadu. What are some of the alternatives or alternative methods of power sharing that will allay the fears of some of the regional minorities?

The preamble to the constitution should for instance have a clause that says all minorities are equal -- and then there can be collective rights that can be enjoyed by certain minorities in certain regions.

There has been much talk here about the "Oslo declaration'' - But the similar Oslo brokered peace accord in Palestine has failed. It has created separate Palestinian Bantustans, and has never solved the problem. Will the Sri Lankan Oslo declaration go down the same road - - and if not, why not?

I have a very clear answer to that. As far as Palestine was concerned, the negotiators did not touch some of the major issues. They did not touch the issue of the refugees, and they did not touch the issue of the status of Jerusalem.

I was talking to Mr. Erik Solhiem and he said all concerned parties are involved in the talks here. The other is that there is an international monitor. There is an agreement on a federal structure.One thing is very crucial - - that all parties are involved, all stakeholders. He meant all parties directly involved in the conflict, but there is one party which is missing from the negotiations, the opposition.

So it is not strictly true that all parties are involved?
That's right….but the immediate need is that there is a ceasefire now, and there should be the Rule of Law. The de facto Interim situation that exists now must be regularised.

But of course the moot point here is -- the regularised Interim Administration is an Interim towards what? With no final solution hammered out the concept “Interim’’ is therefore a misnomer and somewhat of an anomaly.

Well the solution must be worked out on the Oslo formula. A solution needs to be reached and worked out and negotiated on the Oslo formula.

But what if no such final solution is ever reached, then the Interim is towards what?
Well there could be two ways that a final solution may not be reached. One is if there is a possibility of disagreement on the implementation of the Oslo formula. But the other possibility is that one party disagrees totally with the Oslo formula. Then we are back to square one. To square zero actually.

So there is hope but there are no guarantees.
But we must do something to see that the hope materialises into something tangible.
There is also the apprehension that there can be a re-enactment of Bosnia, that the key parties will arrive at an elite pact among themselves, and that the real parties involved will not benefit from the peace.

That is a very important question. Civil society must definitely get involved in the proces.The labour unions for instance can set-up a proposal and strive for a consensus.

Erik Solhiem said that whereas the Hamas was out of the talks...
No, no Solhiem did not say the LTTE is like Hamas....

No of course not, but he did say that the extremist element, the LTTE, is engaged in talks and involved in the process unlike in Israel. As of now, hoever, even as the peace process and the ceasefire goes on -- the LTTE continues recruitment of child soldiers, the murder of political opponents etc., etc., So there is a natural apprehension of LTTE hegemony even in the Interim.

Why is the media saying this -- are you sure...?

No, it is not the media saying it. NGOs, other organisations such as Amnesty, people such as Ian Martin have said it, and are saying it…
Crime must be prosecuted, and then if LTTE members are seen to be behind such crime, the LTTE should be advised to desist from perpetuating such acts.

But these are not just violations of the normal laws of the land. They are ceasefire violations also.
Well, I hope that like in Israel, one side does not say we are not coming to the table as long as the other side stops all violations. One should work to prevent such an Israeli type of a situation by establishing the Rule of Law in a regularised Interim administration. (R.A.)

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