ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 22
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Wijeya Pariganaka

Hope for a drowning nation

Just for a brief moment - there's a ray of hope forcing its way through the dark, ominous clouds hanging over the country.

For the first time since 1952 when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was formed, the country's two main political parties have teamed up. And in Geneva, the Tiger rebels have sat down for peace talks.

For a drowning nation, that has this very month, virtually been swamped by a raging tide of terror and violence, it seems like at last we have just glimpsed the chance of coming up for some air.

The very creation of the SLFP was the beginning of the two-party system in Sri Lanka that has seen more divisions than unity. Some blame the Father of the Nation, D.S. Senanayake for nurturing nepotism through what was known as an Uncle-Nephew Party, and thereby sidelining rising stars of the time like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Others blame SWRD for blind power-hunger. And still others say that had there not been a two-party system with all its faults, the Marxists of the time would have taken over the country.

But all this is old hat now.

The two parties have joined hands and a new breed of Marxists, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has been sidelined as a result.

Now, the JVP is even facing pending electoral reforms that might see it being marginalized. Yet, it must not be easily forgotten that the JVP has its own vociferous, and sometimes virulent organisational structure with a growing power base among the less fortunate in this country. And although they haven't really abandoned their Marxist ideologies, they have opted to beat the nationalist drum to win public support, with considerable success.

To say that it is sheer political expediency that makes the JVP do so is not entirely true. Their leaders share a genuine sense of patriotism and love for the country. Unfortunately, their economic thinking is outdated and obstructionist and it will be a wise government that having now struck a pact with the UNP, will be able to convince the JVP of the need to modernise the State, and thereby uplift the economic standards of our people so that Sri Lanka can join the comity of nations journeying towards prosperity.

The nuptials we saw solemnised this week were not arranged after years of negotiations as some have tried to make out. It was a virtual shot-gun marriage with a certain section of the UNP blackmailing and arm-twisting the beleaguered leadership to sign up or face a mass exodus. However shoddily arranged, co-operation between the two parties, now that it has been formalized, must be for the common good of all the people and not tainted by craving for ministerial posts or any other mess of potage for some politicians or sections of the people.

The people of this country -- disgusted with the politics of confrontation and crossovers -- surely will salute this week's decision for the UNP to collaborate with the Government, if it is for the good of the country, not if it is for both parties to get together and ransack what is left of it.

Today, bribery and corruption take place at the highest levels of government and it is open-season from the corridors of power to the police constable on traffic duty on our crowded roads.

The country's problems are grave and immediate: Human rights violations are rampant and press freedom is on a slippery slope; the cost-of-living is sky-rocketing beyond the reach of hundreds of thousands of people and a festering insurgency is taking a terrible human toll.

The two parties must not get together other than to rectify this utter mess we have got into. Not to sweep things under the carpet and paper the cracks to maintain a façade of normalcy.

It will be the UNP that will be the bigger loser if it abandons its Constitutional role as the country's main opposition party, and the alternate government.

In this backdrop, all eyes are focused this weekend on Geneva for what is yet another round of peace talks, though the people's enthusiasm is dampened by the general belief that nothing substantial will come out of these parleys.

Once again, immediate humanitarian issues -- the re-opening of the A9 road that links LTTE-controlled areas with the north are being pushed up the agenda, and the core issues like democracy, pluralism, development and the laying down of arms, will be pushed to the back-burner to be discussed another day, another time, another place.

And in the interim, we will see more conflict and bloodshed -- the cycle of violence never seeming to end.

But hope lies eternal. In a country clutching at straws, whatever good news comes from Geneva will surely be hailed by the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all other communities who make up this long-suffering nation. One can only hope that the country's leaders, too, realize the urgent need to seize this chance for peace and progress.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.