ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 19
Front Page Columns
Political Column

Who wants what in new alliance?

By Our Political Editor

  • GL-Milinda secret document muddles SLFP-UNP talks
  • Angry JVP plans strong counter action

Moragoda and Peiris were daggers drawn in recent months, but the Common National Agenda was their common bond to make friends once again and together influence the powers that be. Moragoda backed the Peiris initiative, but Senanayake said that this was not a matter for the UNP to propose, and in any event it was a matter for the Government to come up with.

The trouble started this Tuesday with the UNP's Working Committee meeting. The items on top of the agenda went off smoothly with Sarathchandra Rajakaruna, Sarath Ranawake and Lakshman Kiriella being inducted into the party's highest policy making body. Then, it was agreed to sack its one-time Labour Minister and now Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, and that the annual convention of the party be held in Colombo on November 19.

The election of the party chairman and secretary was to be a thorny issue. Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya had eventually relented to give up what was initially offered to him -- the executive chairmanship of the UNP, but some had their reservations against these appointments.

In any event, both Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya agreed on appointing Rukman Senanayake as the (non-executive) chairman and Tissa Attanayake as secretary replacing Malik Samarawickrama and N. Weragoda respectively.

Wickremesinghe spoke of the Senanayake lineage, and said it was befitting for the party to appoint the founder's (the late D.S. Senanayake) grandson to the post on its 60th anniversary, while Karu Jayasuriya said though the party decided to nominate him executive chairman with full powers, that he was "donating" his post to Rukman Senanayake.

But the still bigger issue facing the party was not the appointment of either the chairman or the secretary, but the moves by the Committee of Seven who were negotiating with the Government on Collaboration on what was called a Common National Agenda. The question was how much was Common, how much was National, and whose Agenda was it?

That same day, the Committee of Seven met Party Leader Wickremesinghe, where Prof. G.L. Peiris, the keenest of them all to collaborate with the Government, presented a set of working papers for this collaboration.

The bundle of papers he gave the Party Leader and the Committee contained the outline for the formulation of a Common National Agenda on six prioritized areas, viz., the Ethnic Issue, Electoral Reforms, Good Governance, Economic Development, Nation Building, Social Development -- all subjects that had already been agreed to by the Committee -- and one area that the Committee had not discussed.

This was on the Proposed Structure for Collaboration. This paper seems to have been smuggled into the bundle of papers that were to be handed over to the Government as the UNP's proposal for Collaboration. Only the newly appointed chairman of the Party, Rukman Senanayake, and as it later transpired --Milinda Moragoda had seen this document earlier -- not the others on the Committee. Outgoing chairman Samarawickrama, John Amaratunga and Ravi Karunanayake said they had not seen this document, and whether Karu Jayasuriya knew about it remains a mystery.

Moragoda and Peiris were daggers drawn in recent months, but the Common National Agenda was their common bond to make friends once again and together influence the powers that be. Moragoda backed the Peiris initiative, but Senanayake said that this was not a matter for the UNP to propose, and in any event it was a matter for the Government to come up with.

The upshot of the seventh issue -- the proposed structure for collaboration contained provisions for UNP MPs to accept Cabinet Ministerships and Deputy Ministerships while being in the Opposition. A neat precedent was quoted -- the time in November 2003 when D.M. Jayaratne and Lakshman Kadirgamar were appointed from the Opposition by President Chandrika Kumaratunga as Ministers in the UNP Cabinet.

Senanayake said that this was a matter that the Party leader must decide on behalf of the UNP. And what was more, the reference to D.M. Jayaratne and Lakshman Kadirgamar becoming Ministers in a UNP Cabinet was not a good precedence for the UNP to quote for its benefit, because this was an issue the UNP Government of 2001-2004 vehemently opposed as a bad precedence in good governance.

Therefore, the Committee of Seven shot down Issue no. 7 saying that the structure for collaboration -- on how the UNP was going to implement these other six issues they have agreed to collaborate with the Government -- was a matter for the Party Leader to discuss directly with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and was therefore, not a matter for the two sides negotiating to decide.

This put paid to the attempt to make the UNPers to accept Cabinet Ministerships. It was only very recently that the UNP announced that their going for collaboration talks with the Government had nothing to do with accepting portfolios, so the G.L. Peiris' proposal which specifically mentioned this very subject, showed that the UNP was only craving for posts.

The Peiris Proposal says this;

"Members of Parliament who are currently in the Opposition will continue to sit in Opposition, and will remain members of the party to which they belong at present, but they will be eligible to hold Ministerial or Deputy Ministerial office. This arrangement does not infringe any principle enshrined in the Constitution which is entirely consistent with multi-party involvement in the performance of executive functions ".

While, it is true that the Constitution provides for this, and where there is a National Government, such could be the case, it was the motives behind such a proposal that was the moot point. The fact that this proposal was attempted to be smuggled in a set of papers that the party was to hand over to the Government without others in the Committee seeing it is horrendous to say the least.

Compounding this was the fact that Peiris thereafter went about saying that the Party Leader was sabotaging the UNP-SLFP talks, something that reached the ear of President Rajapaksa himself. Peiris then met Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and wanted the Structure for Collaboration to be mooted from the Government side.

In any event, the UNP delegation that went for talks on Thursday with the SLFP team headed by Prime Minister Wickramanayake dropped this proposal from its main submissions, and the official communique issued later that day merely stated that the delegations expressed agreement about the content of the reports submitted by the sub-committees dealing with the Common National Agenda in respect of the six priority areas, and that the delegations "endorsed the report of the sub-committee which had made recommendations to the plenary on the structure appropriate for the implementation of the CNA. In other words whether this is going to be done by the UNPers accepting Ministries.

The delegations also decided that all this will be done in 10 days time, and before the Maha Nayakes, other religious leaders and representatives of civil society.

By then, Party Leader Wickremesinghe had already arrived in Sydney for the IDU (International Democratic Union) Asia-Pacific roundtable, of which he is the President, and Karu Jayasuriya gave him a brief account of what had happened during the talks with the Government.

There were some salutary aspects of the Peiris Proposal. He has suggested the re-establishment of the Executive Committee system that existed in the old State Council where members from both sides of Parliament join in Committees that could run Ministries through Parliament.

Many opine that this is an out-dated system, and propose the US style Oversights Committees that enforce laws in the US, and which gave public hearings and ask for explanations from Ministries. Japan, the EU Parliament and Germany have followed suite.

President Rajapaksa himself is an advocate of these Oversight Committees, a subject that Wickremesinghe had discussed with President Chandrika Kumaratunga once before when they were deliberating on Government-Opposition co-operation at the time, with most of the chairmanships of these committees given to the Opposition. But the matter had been dropped as the then President was fearful that her then Leader of the Opposition and later Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who was in control of her party in Parliament would run amok, and weaken her Executive Presidency through Parliamentary control.

The climate of political change, the UNP joining hands with the Rajapaksa Government under a Common National Agenda comes in the shadow of two significant developments.

The first, no doubt, is the breakdown of talks between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)over a Common Programme. Last Monday was the final round. None other than Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, known to be the President's main political strategist, did his best to prolong the SLFP-JVP dialogue. He suggested that the two sides should continue to meet and chalk out areas for close co-operation. But it was the JVP that politely declined the suggestion on the grounds that it would not serve any purpose. They were insistent that their 20 point demand that included the expulsion of Norway as peace facilitators and the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement should be conceded by the SLFP leadership if they were to join the Government. Otherwise, the JVP pointed out, it would be against their principles to merely prolong a dialogue which would lead them nowhere. Thus came the parting of the ways for the SLFP and the JVP.

It no doubt was hurtful for the JVP which prides in the fact that they enthroned Mahinda Rajapaksa as President. This was both on the basis of the agreement they signed with Rajapaksa as well as the Mahinda Chinthanaya to which they contributed considerably. If the JVP felt betrayed by the Rajapaksa Government not seeing eye to eye with them, their disappointment had turned into anger at the news of rapprochement between the Government and the main opposition United National Party (UNP), their arch rivals who sought to defeat Rajapaksa's ascent to Presidency.

Cracks are beginning to appear. Last Thursday the JVP held a rally at Lipton Circus to show their strength. It was to re assert their call for expulsion of Norway and the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Senior JVPers were angered that the Security Forces conducted intense checks on vehicles entering Colombo. A focal point of this search was asking bus travellers to alight and undergo a time consuming identification process. Some turned up late or missed the rally altogether. An irate JVP Politburo member asked whether the discovery of a claymore mine was a ruse to justify intense security checks and thus dampen the crowd turnout at the rally. Trade unions under the umbrella of the JVP have all been formed into a new front to carry on the campaign. The coming weeks and months will thus see a growth in the JVP agitation, a move that will distance the Government from the JVP in a bigger way.

The other significant development is the fresh peace initiatives by Norwegian facilitators amidst continued fighting under Eelam War IV. Continued interaction by the Government with Norway is anathema to the JVP. And now, the first crucial issue on which the UNP has vowed to co-operate with the Government is on the peace efforts. It was the UNP leader Wickremesinghe who placed his signature on behalf of the then United National Front (UNF) Government for the CFA. Now, the Rajapaksa Government has taken a new stance over future talks with the LTTE. They have told Norway that in future the Government would reserve the right to retaliate militarily if the LTTE resorts to any attacks. Our Defence Correspondent deals with this aspect in the opposite page. Would this mean the UNP would now support this position which appears to be different from the articles they helped enshrine in the CFA?

Whoever said that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies is perhaps, right. There are only permanent interests, personal and political.

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