UNP stresses on discipline
A recent political survey carried out by a private sector organisation
indicates that the opposition UNP and its allies will have a clear edge
over the PA.
However, the sample survey does not indicate a landslide for the UNP.
According to the survey, the UNP will get around 40 percent while the PA
will get 33 percent and the JVP 12 percent, a significant gain. The poll
does not account for the North and East, nor the bonus seats their go with
a head count.
In 1994, there was a visible trend towards the PA after a stressful
17-year rule under the UNP.
Though President D. B. Wijetunga relaxed most of the restrictions imposed
during his predecessor Ranasinghe Premadasa's rule, the country was still
smarting over terror memories.
Riding on such sentiments, the People's Alliance carried out a vigorous
campaign against the UNP which was in total disarray with political bickering
riding high in the party.
Despite all these advantages and a "Dooshanaya-Beeshanaya" campaign
on top of it, the PA coalition managed to win with a one-vote majority
and the new government had to depend on the EPDP and the CWC for its survival.
At the 1994 Presidential election, President Chandrika Kumaratunga polled
63.1 percent under extremely unusual conditions where a Parliamentary general
election had taken place prior to the Presidential election.
Whether a similar swing in favour of the UNP is visible is a question
that is difficult to answer. Certainly, there is an anti-government trend,
but could the UNP harness this fully to its advantage?
In a close finish and any party having an edge over the other would
be compelled to form a coalition government.
The PA is looking forward to put up an alliance with the JVP which is
being reckoned as a third force in the Sri Lankan politics, while the UNP
may be compelled to join hands with the Tamil party alliance.
That is where the problem crops up for the UNP and the voters begin
to wonder whether the aspersions cast by the PA against the UNP are true.
The PA and the JVP charge that there exist a link between the UNP and the
LTTE. But the UNP and the Tamil party alliance, which the PA describes
as an LTTE front, have dismissed it as a PA canard indicative of its political
It is common for one party which has failed to negotiate with the LTTE
to think that there is definite a link between the LTTE and the opposition
party. At the 1994 presidential hustings a UNPer spoke of a nexus between
the PA and the LTTE, when its presidential candidate was killed by a suicide
There was some truth in it as the Tigers having waged a war with a UNP
regime since 1983, were looking for a new ally to be installed in the South
who, they thought, would give them time to adjust themselves to revamp
the campaign against the new government.
The LTTE mindset is that it sympathises with the party aspiring to be
in office, but all this is short-lived. It is only till it suits its own
agenda. The UNP is not unaware of this.
The TULF, up to the death of Neelan Tiruchelvam and even after that,
supported the PA in the fervent hope that it would address the Tamil problems
effectively and reasonably . The TULF withdrew its support saying that
the government had failed to make the best use of the Norwegian brokered
peace efforts. It gave the government ample time but the PA dragged its
feet giving various excuses which resulted in the TULF losing faith in
There is no guarantee that the UNP would deliver the goods for the Tamil
alliance, but at least there is some hope that the UNP would take some
positive steps to resolve the problems.
Since President Kumaratunga will remain as the President, the return
of the UNP to office would offer the best opportunity to solve the ethnic
crisis, provided the two leaders act in the interests of the country.
We are now at the threshold of experimenting with something unusual
to our political culture — the Executive President from one party while
the Prime Minister is from another. Though a similar situation existed
in 1994, it was only for a few months,. There was no adequate time to really
look at the cohabitation system and to study how it worked.
In a system of cohabitation, there exists the best form of checks and
balances. But if the UNP is hell-bent on removing the President through
an impeachment motion, then the J.R. Jayewardene constitution will not
suit the country and fifty years of adult franchise have failed to bring
about a political culture where the country is put before party or self
If the President and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe can work together,
Sri Lankans will be fortunate because both of them would not be able to
transform any autocratic thoughts into deeds.
In the circumstances, an alliance with the TULF does not necessarily
mean that the UNP is giving into LTTE demands.
Any political party, be it the UNP, PA, JVP or the Sihala Urumaya, would
be compelled to arrive at some sort of understanding with the LTTE if it
is to be in the national political scene because now the LTTE has become
a part and parcel of the Sri Lankan political culture.
The only hope before us is that all political parties should persuade
the LTTE to join the mainstream by laying down arms. It is not an easy
task because the LTTE has been advocating violence for nearly two decades
and running a de facto government through the power of the gun. However
difficult it is, the massive task ahead of the government which will be
elected to office on December 5, is to bring peace to the battered country
which is already gasping under the stress of a failing economy.
In this backdrop, it is better to confine political campaigns to policies
and economic agendas rather than dragging in Prabhakaran and communalism.
Such communal propaganda can only help to sow the seeds of hatred among
If the UNP can work out a permanent solution to the ethnic problem,
then linking with the LTTE could facilitate direct talks between them,
once the UNP is in office. Similarly, the PA also can have a link with
the LTTE for the same purpose. It is unacceptable to brand any party as
an LTTE sympathisers without proper evidence.
At every election, the sore point will be the LTTE . The parties concerned
should straighten this out and speak truthfully on how they are going to
solve the ethnic question.
In this backdrop, the UNP in its manifesto for the forthcoming general
election proposes an interim council for the North-East for brief period.
The interim administration will necessarily have LTTE representation
without which it would not function smoothly. But the problems would arise
if the LTTE lays down conditions for it to actively participate in such
If the interim administration fails before a permanent solution is worked
out, then the government will be at a loss. Therefore, much thought should
be given to the North-East interim administration before it is fully implemented.
On the other hand, if it works well and good, everybody could be hopeful
of a peaceful settlement for the conflict.
As any other government, the new government, too, would face problems
in trying to introduce an acceptable solution. Many will stand in their
way and extremists from both sides would try to whip up communal passions.
Therefore, any agreement should be reached in consultation with all political
parties represented in Parliament to minimise such opposition.
President Jayewardene brought the 13th Amendment to the Constitution
before Parliament amidst countrywide protests, including opposition from
his own quarters. It nearly engulfed the whole of Colombo in flames, but
he had the courage to withstand all the pressures in doing what he thought
was right. However, because of inaction and lack of political will, our
leaders could not implement the 13th Amendment fully . On each occasion,
we failed to resolve the problem once and for all and we were compelled
to concede more when the next opportunity arose.
When we failed to implement the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact and
the Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact and the District Development Councils under
the Jayewardene administration, our leaders did not think for a moment
that they were going to concede more in the future.
The LTTE is not willing to accept a solution based on the 13th Amendment
now. It wants more.
So, it is important in the circumstances to determine to what extent
we could devolve power to ensure self-determination to the minority Tamils
in the North and the East.
It should be decided through dialogue and all parties should arrive
at a consensus on what should be devolved and how it should be done.
Since both President Kumaratunga and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
are keen to end the bloody war, they must work out a common programme to
achieve this target.
Consensus between the PA and the UNP means, nearly 75 percent of the
total population support the move they jointly take and it is the only
way out for Sri Lanka from the quagmire.
If we fail to seize the opportunity which is at our doorstep now, it
will inevitably lead to ethnic polarisation in our troubled land, changing
its political and social landscape drastically.
The leaders must think and take decisions which are favourable to the
While the political whirlwind is blowing from every corner of the country,
the PA is planning to step up its campaign from Thursday.
It is planning to counter UNP propaganda through the powerful electronic
media and the print media. The President is also scheduled to come out
with a new plan to resolve the ethnic crisis and more election handouts
could be expected in time to come.
The PA's most powerful minister and President's closest ally Mangala
Samaraweera said the PA was confident of an election victory. He said Colombo
3, Colombo 5 and Colombo 7 might not want the PA to be in power but the
situation had not changed in the rural areas.
Mr. Samaraweera still believes the existence of a media mafia. He said
all those so-called media outfits came out with scathing attacks against
ex-Minister S. B. Dissanayake when he was in the government.
"If he is treated like dirt while he is in the government, how could
it change when he is out of the government?" he asked.
PA activists point out that Mr. Dissanayake had become the darling of
the private media overnight and that they had hushed up all the allegations
against him. In that sense, the PA tries to justify the existence of a
media mafia in the country.
Though a majority of the journalists would not agree with the sentiments
expressed by Mr. Samaraweera, a powerful campaign by the state media could
sometimes prove persuasive.
Mr. Samaraweera has a proven record as a good campaigner and everybody
will agree without a debate that he did a good job for President Kumaratunga's
government as the media minister.
He still maintains that the charges levelled against Mr. Dissanayake
by President Kumaratunga in the State controlled Daily News are true.
Mr. Dissanayake recently put his foot in the mouth when he came out
with scathing criticism on the President and her habits.
Women organisations supporting the PA came out strongly against Mr.
However, Mr. Dissanayake, along with SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem, is regarded
as key players by the UNP because it was they who brought about the present
The UNP at the moment is doing well, the PA will step up its campaign
As part of the PA's campaign, the PA loyalists have lodged complaints
against Mr. Dissanayake at the Bribery Commission who in turn summoned
him on Friday for an initial inquiry. But the question is as to whether
the Bribery Commission is in existence.
Former Supreme Court Judge K.M.M.B. Kulatunge says it is not. He points
out that when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was enacted to set
up the Constitutional Council and independent commissions, the interim
provision that gave legal impetus to some existing commissions — the Bribery,
Human Rights and the Finance Commission — had been knocked off.
In the circumstances, Justice Kulatunge points out that the Bribery
Commission is not in existence. So, the question is whether Mr. Dissanayake
should appear before the commission at all.
Whilst the UNP is busy studying all the provisions governing the Bribery
Commission, Mr. Wickremesinghe is busy going around the country in a Clinton-style
bus ride. Mr. Wickremesinghe emphasises the fact that social discipline
is essential for Sri Lanka to progress as a nation, but his critics are
a bit cynical and ask him about the discipline the UNP imposed during its
However, there is a truth in what Mr. Wickremesinghe says. It is needless
to say that sooner or later the Sri Lankan society will slide down the
precipice if urgent measures are not taken to restore social discipline.
It would definitely be achieved through a sound economy and a legal
system where people enjoy equal rights.
But first and foremost, the politicians should discipline themselves
and respect the rights of the ordinary citizens.