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Democracy Continues, Sri Lanka style...

Government in gridlock as CBK plays for time
Suranimala, Sunday Leader, 10 July 2005

[see also "இலங்கை வரவு சிலவு திட்டம், 2005 - சிலர் சிரிப்பார், சிலர் அழுவார்,
நமது மக்கள் அழுதுகொண்டே வாக்கழிப்பார்கள்"

While the SLFP's presidential election nominee stakes were thrown into utter confusion last week following startling revelations on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse's financial dealings in relation to tsunami aid, President Chandrika Kumaratunga weakened the party's case further by declining to name the prospective candidate.
Despite repeated calls by party seniors and branch organisations to name Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse as the SLFP's presidential candidate, the President has steadfastly refused to do so, insisting the election is not due until end 2006.
That the timing of the election is not her's to decide Kumaratunga knows only too well but has taken cover under the alleged secret oath taking ceremony to justify the end 2006 claim and delay naming the candidate.
For Kumaratunga personally, it is a no-lose situation since the only way she can ensure holding on to the SLFP leadership is by ensuring a candidate of the party does not succeed at the presidential election and what better way to achieve that objective than giving the eventual candidate very little time to map out a successful campaign strategy and programme.
This fact, Rajapakse and his loyalists were alive to and planned a counter strategy to pressure the President into naming the candidate using various party fora both at grassroot level as well as at the centre to do so, albeit with little effect.
The counter to this Rajapakse strategy was swift, with the President directing her senior ministers to inform the country at a press conference the presidential election is not due till end 2006.
To weaken the Premier's case further, the President also informed the party officially, the SLFP will not have any truck with the JVP in future, thereby sending a signal to the Marxists, they would have to field a separate candidate, practically sealing the fate of the SLFP candidate.
This thinking the President made known when she met with the SLFP parliamentary group on Tuesday, July 5, at President's House where both contenders, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike, were at hand.
Interestingly, prior to this meeting, Bandaranaike had made it known that a Rajapakse-JVP combine would be a deadly combination with disastrous consequences for the country and should be averted at all costs, a view shared by the President as well.
Thus at the very outset of the group meeting, the President hailed the SLFP for taking a decisive decision to proceed with the P-TOMS agreement notwithstanding JVP pressure and pointed out the party had proved to the whole world it could not only take important decisions in the interest of the nation but also stand up to the Marxists.
Having said that, the President unleashed a barrage of criticism on the JVP stating, no party could govern in alliance with the Marxists given their antiquated ideology and self-serving politics.
The President said the JVP went into an alliance with the SLFP for the specific purpose of destroying the party and only her timely action had thwarted their plans.
Continuing, the President said the SLFP would not go in for any future alliance with the JVP - be it to contest elections or form a government - and advised the MPs to start strengthening the party's electoral base for the challenges ahead.
"I was always against this alliance. I knew their game plan all along. Our own people came and put pressure on me to form the alliance and dissolve parliament. Now look at what we have reaped. Once in government, we can't act like an opposition. We have to take decisions on national issues. This is where the JVP has failed. It has no policies to solve the problems faced by the country," she said.
Added she: "Now I don't see any future with the JVP. Therefore, go out and organise our party branches to face future elections."
Not stopping at that, the President put a lid on the presidential stakes issue stating the election is not due till end 2006.
"Get ready for the local government elections. We must decide whether we are going to contest under the 'hand' symbol or the 'chair' symbol," she further said.
And to impress upon her MPs she meant business when it comes to the JVP, the President said the four portfolios held by the Marxists would also be filled with four deputy ministers of the SLFP in the very near future.
"If we are to win a presidential election, we must link up with the minority parties. We lost their support because of our alliance with the JVP. We must work with the TNA also," Kumaratunga added.
However, Deputy Sports Minister, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi - a strong supporter of Rajapakse - had other ideas and threw caution to the winds and challenged Kumaratunga's stand on the JVP.
Said he, "I came after meeting the people at my public day. The people are opposed to us getting together with the UNP in the Western Province. They say it was for the SLFP/JVP alliance their votes were cast and we should continue along the same path."
Shot back the President, "I don't know which party people you are meeting, but I get a lot of praise for distancing the SLFP from the JVP."
Supporting Kumaratunga on this issue was Deputy Ports Minister, Dilan Perera who said the people were supportive of the two main parties working together. "It was proved in the Western Province. Better to go without the red shirts and go with the UNP instead," he said.
Equally vocal on the issue was Deputy Minister, Salinda Dissanayake who argued there was no difference between the JVP and the LTTE.
"If the LTTE are murderers, so are the JVP. I fully endorse the President's decision to make a clean break with the JVP. We don't need them. Let us rebuild the SLFP and the people will back us," he said.
Backing up Perera and Dissanayake was Deputy Minister, Tissa Karaliyadda. He said if the local authority elections were contested under the hand symbol, he could guarantee victory for the party in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts.
The surprise however came in the form of Plantations Minister, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa who in the recent past had been working behind the scenes to bring the JVP back into the fold.
Said he, "When the UPFA was formed, I said it was not in the interest of the SLFP. I said if the alliance was to be formed, it should be done with adequate conditions to protect the SLFP. But what happened was that through the alliance pact, we sold the SLFP lock, stock and barrel to the JVP. As a result the JVP got 39 seats and is holding us to ransom. This has to stop."
It was at this point Labour Minister, Athauda Seneviratne thought it fit to broach the subject of the Presidential election, much to the consternation of the President.
Seneviratne said the UNP's Jana Bala Meheyuma was gathering momentum and becoming a big issue in the country and the government should take some decisive action to counter it, suggesting the best course of action would be to nominate the SLFP's presidential candidate.
"We must name our candidate within the next two weeks giving him adequate time to map out a campaign," Seneviratne argued.

But Kumaratunga was not impressed and promptly poured cold water on the issue before any other member chose to agitate the same cause.
Said the President, "We will do it at the right time. No need to do so now when the election is not due till 2006. There is no need for any person to start planning campaigns either. The party will select the candidate at the right time."
With that the President put a lid on the issue, having made it clear the chances of any prospective candidate hoping to link up with the JVP in getting the party nomination will be zero.
In fact, the Prime Minister was given an indication of the President's thinking the previous day and throwing caution to the wind, personally presented the P-TOMS agreement to parliament on Tuesday morning, earning in the process the ire of the JVP.
The JVP in fact has now decided to field its own candidate at the presidential election believing the party could, given the public mood against the SLFP, even win the election based on the voting system.
The logic of the JVP is that Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be able to secure the 50% plus one vote required to win on the first count forcing the count of the second preferential vote.
And the second preference of the SLFP candidate's vote, the JVP believes, will be for its candidate and not Wickremesinghe, ensuring thereby the victory of its candidate.
This thinking of the party was articulated by former Deputy Minister, Bimal Ratnayake when he spoke with TNA MP, Joseph Pararajasingham who in turn communicated it to his colleagues.
Probing the JVP on the issue, Joseph had asked Ratnayake whether his party would support the candidature of Rajapakse at the presidential election and the reply had been a vehement "no."
"We are fielding our own candidate" Ratnayake had said.
Asked Joseph - "But won't you help Ranil Wickremesinghe to win easily by doing so?"
Replied Ratnayake - "No, he will not get the 50 percent required to win on the first count. When the second preference vote is counted it will be to our favour because those voting for Rajapakse will give us the second preference."
Leaving aside the logic of that theory, the bottom line is, the JVP will field its own candidate and has also vowed to agitate for Kumaratunga's exit by November this year.
JVP Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa made the party position on this aspect clear in Kandy on Tuesday when he said Kumaratunga has just a few more months in office and the party would campaign to ensure that will be the case.
It would necessarily follow, the JVP too will be campaigning for a November presidential election with the intention of fielding its own candidate.
Thus, with the single act of presenting the P-TOMS, as is now evident, the Prime Minister too buried any chances of obtaining the JVP's support for his presidential candidacy, no doubt realising the top item on the agenda was to first get hold of the SLFP.
But unknown to Rajapakse, the President was putting in motion her own action plan having sent word to UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe she was prepared to appoint him prime minister.
The President had indicated she was prepared to appoint a cabinet of his choice together with some of her nominees provided Wickremesinghe was prepared to take over government.
Wickremesinghe was not enamoured by the idea, informing the emissary, the UNP was insisting on a presidential election this year and any link up could be considered only after the people have spoken at an election.
Wickremesinghe was understandably wary of Kumaratunga's motives given his experiences in the past, particularly in relation to her solemn pledge early February 2004 she would not dissolve parliament.
With that move coming a cropper, Kumaratunga is now looking at the possibility of dissolving parliament later this month and going for a snap general election and personally spearheading the campaign for the SLFP, possibly after resigning from the presidency, thereby knocking out Rajapakse in the process as well.
This option is now looked at seriously having got bogged down over the P-TOMS agreement as well, with the Norwegians approached to further amend the signed document in consultation with the LTTE giving the Treasury control over all funds.
As a result the entire mechanism has become a non starter and that Kumaratunga is just fine if a general election is going to be the order of the day.
The amendment the President is seeking relates to the appointment of a multi lateral agency to be the custodian of the regional funds as per Article 7 of the signed agreement.
Article 7 titled 'Regional Fund' reads thus:
(a) There shall be a post-tsunami costal fund for the six districts (the Regional Fund), consisting of unspecified (programme) and secretariat funds. The unspecified (programme) funds shall consist exclusively of foreign funds while the secretariat funds shall consist of both foreign and local funds.
(b) The parties shall appoint a suitable multilateral agency to be the custodian of the Regional Fund.
(c) The purpose of the Regional Fund shall be to expeditiously make available funds, following proper approved procedures, to facilitate and accelerate the relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development programme in the tsunami-affected areas of the six districts.
(d) The parties and the custodian shall agree on a mechanism for the establishment and operation of the regional fund.
That at least is what the P-TOMS agreement said.
What the President has now proposed is that the multilateral agency be replaced by the Treasury as the custodian of the Regional Fund, a proposal the LTTE has refused to look at.
Given this situation, the entire agreement is now bogged down with Kumaratunga not nominating her members to man the committees and the LTTE too not doing likewise, awaiting the flow of funds to the multi lateral agency.
But in naming the multilateral agency, as per Article 7, there must be a joint decision by both parties and with the President now insisting on the Treasury being the custodian, the question of deciding on a multilateral agency is not even up for consideration by her.
To the LTTE, with the joint mechanism already signed and tabled in parliament, the President's insistence on stalling the process until such time the amendment appointing the Treasury is made tantamounts to reneging on the agreement and it has made that position clear to the Norwegians and the international community.
Thus, having already lost the JVP over the P-TOMS deal, the President is running the risk of the LTTE too withdrawing from it over her backtracking, leaving Kumaratunga neither here nor there.
It is to overcome these crises  Kumaratunga is now looking at the easy way out by dissolving parliament and letting the people decide the issue.
To Kumaratunga, the non-implementation of the P-TOMS before the general election is also a better position to be in, helping take a battle cry away from the JVP.
It is in keeping with this same thinking, President Kumaratunga once again pushed to the back burner naming the SLFP's presidential candidate as well when the issue came up for discussion at the party's central committee meeting Thursday night.
Having already instructed her Ministers to announce Friday morning the presidential election will not be held till end 2006, Kumaratunga bought time by appointing a committee to consider prospective candidates for the nomination. The committee comprises Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapakse, Anura Bandaranaike, Maithripala Sirisena, D.M. Jayaratne and Susil Premajayanth.
In doing so, Kumaratunga also took a swipe at Rajapakse stating the choice of candidate will be decided by the central committee and not branch organisations at electoral level which comments saw the Prime Minister immediately rising to his defence.
Rajapakse said though various district organisations had proposed his name, he was not behind the move and had in no way orchestrated his nomination.
Kumaratunga however was not impressed, having earlier learned Minister Mangala Samaraweera had discussed the issue of proposing Rajapakse's candidature and also the secret discussions the duo had had in parliament.
Samaraweera in fact was planning to push for Rajapakse's nomination at Thursday's central committee meeting, prompting the President to in a pre-emptive move appoint the committee to look into the issue.
Samaraweera's thinking is that with Rajapakse controlling the levers of the SLFP, the JVP could be brought back into the alliance and the government stabilised.
In the meantime, the UNP's Jana Bala Meheyuma was gathering momentum as it wound its way to Colombo with many members urging Wickremesinghe to lead the procession to President's House demanding a presidential election this year - a call the UNP Leader has hitherto resisted.
Whilst the UNP Leader is convinced the presidential election will be held in November this year, he has told party members, such drastic action should be contemplated only if attempts are made to prevent the election being held.
And now with the TNA also indicating it will vote against the government's budget in November given the growing frustration over the delay in implementing the P-TOMS agreement, the UNP too is set to defeat the government in parliament forcing a general election if the presidential poll is not held this year. Thus at best the government can only last till November,
The TNA is particularly suspicious of the President's motives, believing she would fall back on the Supreme Court decision to frustrate the implementation of the joint mechanism.
These suspicions were further heightened after leave to proceed was granted by court Wednesday on an application by the JVP, prompting the LTTE to call for a meeting of select TNA MPs to the Wanni for urgent consultations.
Given this political hodge podge and the gridlock in government, an election this year - be it presidential or general - is inevitable and is bound to be a watershed in the country's history.



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