ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40
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Wijeya Pariganaka

Another can of worms

The President and his advisers are trying to show that it is a mere storm in a tea-cup, but the allegations made over the past fortnight by dismissed but not quite disgraced ex-Minister Mangala Samaraweera are snowballing.

Mr. Samaraweera alleges that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's candidate at the November 2005 Presidential elections entered into a secret deal with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - and that, in fact, money had been passed to clinch the deal. That, in legal terms, means that there had been a monetary consideration, and it would form a binding contract.

The President himself has responded to the allegation, but not with the gravitas it deserves.

In a late night television chat show in light-hearted banter, he said that if there was such a secret deal, would he direct his Armed Forces to recapture Sampur, Vakarai etc., from the LTTE and give them a bloodied nose in the east.

There was some logic in that argument, but it fell short of being entirely convincing. After all, you could have entered into a secret deal with the LTTE, and still give it a bloodied nose.

Today's promises in politics are not for keeps. Memoranda of Understanding between established political parties in recent years are a case in point. They are violated and abrogated with gay abandon, even before the ink can dry.

Mr. Samaraweera has called for a Parliamentary Select Committee to go into his allegation.

For many, Select Committees are usually appointed by embarrassed governments to cover-up awkward revelations about their own conduct and thereby avoid the heat of the moment, so that after some months, when things have moved on, the issues could be forgotten. It is a known fact that the LTTE prevented the bulk of the citizens of the North and East from casting their vote, and the end result benefited the incumbent President who was campaigning on a strong nationalist (therefore anti-LTTE) platform.

The LTTE leader was to say a year later, that his guerrilla organisation did not support the other main candidate, United National Party's Ranil Wickremesinghe because he was trying to lead the LTTE into an "international trap".

It is hard to believe that the LTTE's future agenda was being set on the acceptance of a mess of pottage from one party; though if offered cash for doing what they would have done anyway, why kick a gift-horse in the shin?

Ask the UNP Presidential candidate and he should probably agree that his own campaigners also suggested that the party cough up some funds into the LTTE's coffers in return for its support.

This is nothing unusual for businessmen who are quite adept at this type of wheeler-dealing; the business of business is business. And the murky mix of business and politics -- or businessmen and politicians - results in such big time intrigue in Sri Lankan elections. Just in the same way that the politics of politics is politics.

The question that is being posed in some quarters is whether these allegations of a secret deal are only of academic interest now.

Many prefer to judge the President by his current words and deeds, and are prepared to give him the benefit of doubt as long as he is unleashing his Security Forces to de-claw the LTTE.

Whatever secret deal the President had or didn't have, it seems that such a deal, if any, has not deterred the Security Forces and the Defence Ministry from a military option against the LTTE, for clearly they are the ones who have ensured the President plays hardball with the LTTE. In the absence of any alternate way to probe the allegations Mr. Samaraweera has made, a Select Committee may be the only way to ascertain the truth of so serious a charge. Yet, the most damning findings of a Select Committee can still be out-voted by a Government that is entitled to have a majority of MPs in that Committee.

Another option though, is for a Presidential Commission of Inquiry where not all the judges will be appointed by the President, but like in the manner in which arbitrations are done, each party -- in this case Mr. Samaraweera and the President, appoint one arbitrator each, and the two appointed, pick a third.

For if Mr. Samaraweera's allegations are unfounded, he deserves to be stripped of his parliamentary seat and probably his civic rights, for it is a very serious charge he has made against a President who is fighting a vicious enemy of the State.

But for the President, silence might be taken as guilt by a discerning public, and how that would play depending on the way the Opposition handles the issue at time of his re-election quest, may not be in his own interest.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.