The Political Column

10th September 2000

New names on hit list

By our Political Correspondent

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President Chandrika Kumaratunga has resummoned parliament for September 14 to approve the extension of the state of emergency, which she declared on Monday.

The move will keep parliament alive until the end of the sittings. Though a similar situation arose in 1994 when President D.B. Wijetunga was in office, the then UNP government did not summon parliament since there were provisions in the Constitution for the new Parliament to approve the state of emergency after the elections.

The President may have felt that it is essential to resummon parliament in the present context with security forces launching fresh offensives against the LTTE. Though the move has caused some difficulty to many MPs who are caught in election work, political analysts are querying why should the President resort to it when constitution permits other methods. 

On the political front, the two main parties, the PA and the UNP, have intensified their campaign. But whoever wins the elections, it would be Chandrika Kumaratunga who will be at the helm of the next government.

If it is conflict between the executive and the legislature in the event of a UNP victory, then it does not go well with the national interest. What is important is cohabitation between the two arms of the government. Such a phenomenon was witnessed briefly in 1994 when the UNP held the executive presidency and with Mr. Wijetunga as the President and the PA-led by Ms. Kumaratunga had a parliamentary majority.

The PA ministers on numerous occasions during this two-month period of cohabitation met privately, with the exclusion of President Wijetunga who was the head of the government to decide on various matters. The President and the rest of the cabinet should not adopt a conflictive course, because cooperation will create a healthy atmosphere in the long run and help minimise corruption and waste in the government. While the President can have checks on the cabinet, parliament on the other hand can check the President. So there could be a balance and also there could be agreement between the two parties on governmental affairs.

If the UNP wins the next general election, the President will be compelled to invite the UNP leader to form the next government as the Constitution says the President should invite the leader of the party which she considers enjoys the command of a majority in parliament. But at the same time, the President can choose her cabinet from the numerous parties represented in parliament and form some sort of a national government to face a crisis situation.

Whichever party wins the elections, the next government faces two daunting tasks in finding a solution to the Tamil problem and injecting new life into a sluggish economy. The two issues are inter-related. The 17-year war has sapped the country's resources to such an extent that they could have gone to build hundred projects of the magnitude of the Mahaveli scheme.

The UNP's solution to the Tamil problem is that the North-East interim council should be open-ended to achieve peace. It also advocates direct talks with the LTTE. 

The PA government, however, has laid down conditions that the LTTE should lay down its arms before coming to the negotiation process. But at the same time, the government is having secret talks through the good offices of the Norwegian government. Norwegian peace-broker Eric Solheim was in Sri Lanka a week ago for another round of talks and he was also in London meeting with the LTTE representatives there.

The government, which sees the UNP proposals as treacherous, has failed to admit in public that a solution is unlikely without the participation of the LTTE. The government's public stance is that it can isolate the LTTE from the rest of the Tamil people by offering greater autonomy to the regions under the proposed constitution, though the moderate Tamil parties such as the TULF had rejected it. 

The UNP has, however, agreed to more than 95 percent of the contents of the proposed Constitution. But it backed out from supporting the constitution, accusing the government of trying to introduce it in a hurry without making it available for a public debate.

But former UNP MP Sarath Kongahage related what he saw as the story behind the UNP's odd behaviour on the Constitution episode. He told State TV Rupavahini in a Jana Mandala programme that the UNP agreed to most of the provisions on the advice of a group of intellectuals. Citing a document addressed to the UNP leader through the party chairman Karu Jayasuriya, the intellectuals have advised the UNP leadership to agree to the appeal made by President Kumaratunga soon after her election victory last year to join hands with her to find a solution to the ethnic problem. The document has apparently pointed out that there would be opposition within the government so that the President would not be able to present a constitution which is favourable to the Tamils or acceptable to the LTTE.

However, this is a matter to be debated. It is no secret that the UNP agreed to most of the provisions except a few that dealt with issues such as the continuation of the Executive Presidency. Whatever it is, all that is history now and it is a fresh gamble before all of us whether the new government would give priority to find a solution to the ethnic problem.

In the meantime, both the PA and the UNP are engaged in a hectic campaign for elections with the usual mud-slinging and other stunts. 

The PA is trying to establish a link between Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Batalanda torture chambers while the UNP harps on claims that the government has done little in its six-year term. During election times levelling baseless allegations at each other is quite common. But it should not exceed the limit and defame people.

The President's estranged brother Anura Bandaranaike has come to the defence of Mr. Wickremesinghe. At the UNP's inaugural meeting in Kandy, he asked why the President treated Mr. Wickremesinghe with cakes, shorteats, kaludodol and bibikkan and posed for photographs at the final day of the bi-partisan talks if she was certain that the UNP leader was linked to the Batalanda episode. 

It is a question of morality, he said. 

"Ms. Kumaratunga as soon as she was sworn in as Prime Minister in 1994, went to Singapore and the newspapers reported that she met the LTTE leaders there. Thereafter we saw the assassination of the UNP Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake. We never pointed the finger at her. We knew it was the LTTE and we said it was the LTTE ," Mr. Bandaranaike said adding that the PA campaign was largely a smear campaign against Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Mr. Wickremesinghe made a short speech, probably at the behest of his advisers. They believe that Mr. Wickremesinghe has the vision, but he lacks articulation which is essential for a public speaker.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said President Kumaratunga could remain if she was ready to cooperate with them in a future government. But if she did not want to do so, he would tell her to go. 

Mr. Wickremesinghe quipped he would hand over President Kumaratunga to her brother Anura, amending the comment that stirred a controversy during the Presidential elections. The PA made use of his comments that he would hand over the President to Prabhakaran to its advantage.

Mr. Bandaranaike also added tail piece to Mr. Wickremesinghe's speech. He said he would pack his sisters bag and tell her to go to London, Paris or anywhere she wanted to go or it could even be Ethiopia.

Meanwhile analysts say the upcoming elections are going to be tough for both sides with the JVP and Sihala Urumaya putting up formidable teams and offering a tough challenge. In addition to these two parties, Sirisena Cooray's Puravasi Peramuna is also fielding candidates in many districts and portraying itself as an alternative to the two main parties. In the midst of hectic political activities, ministers met on Wednesday for their weekly meeting. Several ministers expressed concern over the dropping of Minister Lakshman Jayakody and K. B. Ratnayake from the PA's national list.

Minister Jayakody was also present but did not want to comment as he had already discussed the matter with the President. 

Mr. Jayakody also wrote to SLFP general secretary S. B. Dissanayake regarding this matter. Though the President told some of her ministers it was an oversight or a mistake on their part, the SLFP's oldguard is of the view that it was a deliberate thing on the part of the young blood which had taken over the reins of the party. It was a known fact that the oldguard was not in favour of Mr. Dissanayake when he contested for the party's secretary post. 

The President is now trying to make amends and she was scheduled to make a statement on Thursday at the Gampaha district convention in Attanagalla. Though the President has told Minister Lakshman Jayakody that he need not worry and that she could find him a place in the National List, constitutional experts say that it would be difficult to amend the National List now. 

According to the Constitution, the National List members can only be nominated from the list submitted by the party general secretary to the Elections Commissioner and not any defeated candidate whose name is submitted to the Elections Commissioner as a candidate for the current election. It is, therefore, difficult for Mr. Jayakody to get into the National List at this stage unless somebody resigns from the National List after being nominated to the parliament.

In the case of Mr. Ratnayake, it is understood that he would be sent as an Ambassador if the PA wins.

The ministers discussed many things apart from the Jayakody issue. The main topic was the security situation in the country.

Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku who was present at the cabinet meeting explained in detail possible LTTE plans for disrupting the election. He said Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake could be a prime target. Mr. Kodituwakku also mentioned the names of Ministers G.L. Peiris and Mahinda Rajapakse. He said police intelligence had discovered information that the LTTE was watching Minister Rajapakse's movements. 

He also showed some video clips and explained to the Ministers how Ranjan Wijeratne and several other politicians were killed by the LTTE. He advised the ministers on what precautions they should take when they attend meetings and public rallies.

After the police chief finished his presentation, Minister Rajapakse spoke. He said he had been pushed into a category where nobody bothers about his life. "When others were given bulletproof cars and protection he had only been provided with a double-cab as his pick-up vehicle. So they have put me conveniently to the hit-list," the Minister said.

The ministers appeared dejected when they came out of the meeting and most of them were concerned about their security.

Later in the evening, Prime Minister Wickremanayake summoned his district organisers and told them he had decided to limit his campaign only to the district meetings. 

Mr. Wickremanayake is now being guarded by personnel of the Presidential Security Division. 

On Wednesday, the President met some selected journalists from the state and private media. She told them she would be participating only in a few meetings throughout the country due to security reasons. "Some MPs told me not to come to their constituencies because of the security risk and some MPs are more concerned about their own security," the President said.

As important as security is the question of violence-free elections. Already several people have been killed due to election violence. 

The main cause for these deaths are political processions and poster campaigns undertaken by the candidates with no respect to laws restricting such acts.

Elections are held to elect a new government to shepherd the country for a better future and not to create panic, havoc or destructions among the members of the civil society.

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