25th January 1998

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Another sham or victory

Anti-climaxes like failed promises do not come as surprises in the dire times the country is living through but the announcement by the Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte himself conceding that the February 4 deadline he set last month to unify the country cannot be met and that he would alas not be able to shake Prabhakaran's hand, all due to bad weather, simply takes the jubilee kavung.

Why leaders of this Government have to air their views before giving thought to what they have to say really amazes us. The President is now reputed for bashing her own Attorney General, then her public servants and then also the teachers of this country who have the task of moulding the young minds of the next generation of our leaders. The list does not end there. There is her favourite whipping-boy the UNP and bunched along with it the media and for good reasons the anti-package campaigners. She called the last traitors and this unfortunately now includes the Maha Nayakes of this Buddhist country as well. The February 4 deadline even the foot soldier knew was an impossible dream. Now it is blamed on the weather, when only a few weeks ago Meteorological officials proudly announced they had come by equipment giving them the capability to predict weather patterns as far as 8 months ahead.

Letting these things be as they may, the Local Government elections in Jaffna appear to be generating some interest in the northern province. The last time elections were held out there was in 1983, when at the time some of the groups now contesting the current local elections were themselves responsible for scuttling those elections. It has taken nearly 15 years since then to restore even a semblance of democracy in the province that stands nearly ruined by war, its administration and essential services in a shambles as it came under the reign of draconian emergency rule from Colombo and equally draconian Fascist rule under the LTTE.

The move to hold elections in these circumstances may be a clever one by the Government syncronised with the re-opening of the Jaffna Public Library. It appears to be indeed a successful move as it goes to checkmate the LTTE and show the world at the same time that it is not the Government that is anti-democratic but the LTTE. Yet, there is still the question of whether the move isn't an equally premature one. Even the TULF and the other Tamil parties were reluctant to hit the campaign trail and now the LTTE has brazenly struck out at an EPDP elections post.

The bottom line is that the Government in all probability feels that unless it pushes things to their furthest limits and precipitates matters nothing ever will happen. As we get into the final week of the campaign in the North only time can tell whether the elections are going to bear results and have tangible consequences for the future or lapse into being just another sham election. The fact that the Government was able to hold such an election under adverse conditions before the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Independence, however diluted it may appear to be, may still lay claim to be some kind of a victory. The bigger and more substantial consolidation of the North and the ultimate defeat of the LTTE has necessarily to be the final solution. Otherwise these tactics will to all intents and purposes remain merely cosmetic, and the war will remain the pathetic constant reality.

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