Political Column  

Static drowns story of LTTE acrobatics
By Our Political Editor
It is called static. The static that had been generated by the President's almost feisty sounding yet attacking letter to the Prime Minister, and the reply of the Minister of Defense Tilak Marapana saying that the "Tigers have indeed doubled their troop strength during the ceasefire,'' has deflected - or indeed buried -- some of the more detailed attacks on the LTTE.

These attacks come of course from an old adversary. The University Teachers for Human Rights, in its 17th report titled 'Rewarding tyranny: Undermining the Democratic Potential for Peace' documents the LTTE's sabotaging of the peace process, while an official process of appeasing the same LTTE goes on. The international community comes in for direct stick.

Pertinently, when the LTTE conducted one of its major propaganda drives for the release of child soldiers, the UTHR was just about releasing its report with some telling comments.

The UTHR states:
"The UNICEF's sacrifice of principle in the name of realpolitik has parodied the effort to bring relief to child soldiers. Contrary to all expectations of the agreement with UNICEF, the LTTE has once again intensified its conscription programme, renewing its demand for one child per family in several Eastern districts, while making aggressive intrusions upon school children in the North.''

Direct artillery
But the Norwegians come in for some direct artillery fire. Says the UTHR that "the Norwegian interlocutors, the Japanese, who are mustering the financial incentives, and the international community, together with the Government, have shown a dangerous ineptitude in their stark failure to hold the LTTE to international norms, which it repeatedly acknowledged. Were the LTTE's perception of interest in a federal solution, it had at its disposal international goodwill and war wariness and a desire for peace in this country as cardinal assets. In the Guatemalan case, even a militarily weak rebel group became a key partner in the peace process through the agency of the Assembly of Civil Society.''

Then comes an attack on Colombo civil society, which takes up the view that civil society organizations have consistently been incapable of mustering international opinion against this trend of appeasement of the LTTE. Perhaps here the UTHR neglects to mention that non-governmental organizations in Colombo have by and large not been credible, because they have consistently followed the agenda that has been handed down by their international donors.

The report details the persecution of political opponents by the LTTE, and refers to the conscription by the LTTE over the weekend of 4th -5th October, "of over 40 persons in the area including Valaichchenai, Peththalai and Kalkudah, of whom 17 were from Nahammal School, Kalkudah; Peththalai School and Valaichchenai Hindu College (VHC).''

The political fallout from the Marapana-Kumaratunga affair had all but put the LTTE's human rights violations, and its undermining of the peace from the background, off the radar. This is the subtlety that has been spoken about this week by the UTHR.
It is the LTTE's uncanny ability to pursue an agenda of peace on the one track, and then pursue a politics of intimidation, violence and direct sabotage of the peace on the other while in fact not sabotaging the peace to a breaking point that is on focus.
The press conference this week for instance underlined this aspect. The LTTE held a press conference to diffuse the static that has been building up over the Kanchirankudah camp.

In this instance, the LTTE was cleverly able to muster an international press corps. The kind of adverse questioning that was characteristic in Prabhakaran's April l press conference in the Wanni last year was absent. Instead the LTTE was able to project an image of complete innocence, when its Trincomalee leaders claimed that in the camp premises were several gravesites where martyred LTTE cadres lay at rest.
Even if the LTTE was correct on that matter, it is a measure of the LTTE's adroit handling of the situation that it is able to deflect some of the issues such as ongoing conscription, by calling a press conference to diffuse another issue -- which has been made more important by the media.

The delights of having business as usual
The President's authority over the country appreciated last week with her hard hitting letter to the Prime Minister, and what appeared to be a 'concession' of sorts later by Minister of Defence Tilak Marapana.

But, there is a certain duality in the way the President's own authority is seen. Within her party, she was trying to assert the same kind of power that she seemed to be asserting over the politics of the nation.

She called SLFP Members of Parliament and gave them a dressing down for being willing pawns and participants at the JVP dominated '' Jathi Hithaishee Sangvidanaya'' rally which was a protest march that focused on the government's peace initiative.

But, those near and dear to her, such as Anura Bandaranaike and Mangala Samaraweera were almost spoiling for a fight. Anura Bandaranaike told a party meeting in Kalutara that if MPs are barred from a protest march that was after all aimed at bringing down the UNF government "it is not a political party, it is a joke''. He also said that all Ministries that the JVP is asking for in a future government, should be handed to them, as previous SLFP coalitions with the old left for instance were built on a similar basis.

Willing to talk
But Mangala Samaraweera was on a different gear. He said in Kalutara that the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers - something that was first quoted in this column several weeks ago. With that, a new complexion was being given to the entire JVP coalition matter. If the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers, what was all the fuss about? If the JVP was willing to talk to the Tigers, what was the JVP doing protesting about the government talking to the Tigers?

The JVP has always been plain about that. The JVP says the government is talking to the Tigers while caving in to them. The JVP claims its modus operandi on talks will be different.

The Opposition's main effort, however, was to ensure the fall of the UNF government with the budget. The President was making special plans for this operation, but the fact is that her frontliners had additional plans among which was to ally with the JVP on the effort. But the President reiterates that her stand on the JVP issue will not change.

The current situation is not entirely clear for the Opposition; while the rank and file want to go ahead with a decisive move for power, there is preparation for various pincer moves. It is a typical opposition that is getting a vague idea that perhaps its time has come - - but then again not quite.

The other cross currents however that add some measure of intrigue to this situation stem from the state of -bipartisanship. Is the any bipartisanship at all - -- any room for a consensus government?

On the one hand the discussions between Minister Milinda Moragoda and the President indicated that bi-partisanship may be dead - - - but the President is willing to go ahead with maintaining the appearance of bi-partisanship.

One issue that was fiercely opposed by the President in last week's Moragoda pow-wow was the proposed privatizing of the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
That was quite probably a serious issue for the President. One of the key platforms on which the United Front Government of her mother based its self-sufficiency drive at that time was on the matter of providing cheap and effective drugs. On this issue the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation displayed some very impressive gains. No doubt this is an emotive issue -- which the President considers her very own.

This was also perhaps one of the very good examples of how cohabitation can work positively despite the ratings of political commentators against cohabitation. In the Pharmaceuticals issue, Minister Moragoda agreed to incorporate some of the President's suggestions to ensure that future drug prices do not overwhelm the consumer. Minister Moragoda's tendency of playing to the politics of the international market place was very effectively checked here by the President.

Presidential office
But, bi-partisanship is not what she is after. On the one hand she is not being Machiavellian. She is on one track -- which is to dislodge the UNF government. But, while she does that, she needs to fulfill the needs of the Presidential office.

In that sense it is understandable that she acts with a certain amount of uncertainty. She is both in opposition and in government - she is both outsider and incumbent.
This duality has placed her at odds not just with the government (her government technically) but also with her party stalwarts.

That story about the JVP is old hat now; but her plan is also to win over the numbers. She needs several UNF members to join her if she plans to install her government at the end of the Budget.

To this end, the petty quarrels in the UNF were curious. Minister Mahinda Wijesekera, who loves his brackish water, was again getting into a pitched battle, this time with a fellow UNF parliamentary group Member Lakshman Seneviratne.

This was at the working Committee meeting of the UNF. Wijesekera seemed to throw an open challenge to the party hierarchy. He asked "what have you done for me lately?'' which seemed hilarious considering the troubles that he has caused for his party lately.

True , he did sugar coat it a bit by saying that he respected the Prime Minister and that he will never switch over to the PA. But behind that face was the dare. "What has the UNF done for me lately,'' he asked, and said that Minister Lakshman Seneviratne for instance has been bad mouthing him in public.

This led to a shouting match that is not quite worthy of repetition in these pages.
But, it is enough to say that this discontent in the UNF will be closely watched by the opposition. It is politics as usual - and though there is ambiguity and uncertainty in all spheres of activity, there is also a remarkable consistency within the chaos. All actors, JVP, UNF, PA and LTTE are acting precisely as they always do - and it is business as usual.

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.