MoU in danger of collapse
- Ranil warns UNP-SLFP deal will be annulled if cross-overs allowed
- Speculation that govt. rebels might link with CBK and mainline UNP
Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between his party and the ruling SLFP is in danger of being annulled if President Mahinda Rajapaksa enrols a group of UNP cross-overs into his Government.
This comes in the wake of the Cabinet decision for the Government to accept cross-overs from the UNP, and UNP MPs confirming that they were now on the verge of joining the Government.
Speaking to party stalwarts this week after his return on Wednesday from a private trip to Southern Africa, Mr. Wickremesinghe pointed to Article 10 of the October, 2006 MoU that states that both parties agree to the establishment of a High-Level Committee headed by the President and himself to cooperate with each other in regard to the resolution of any disagreement which may arise in the course of implementing the MoU.
The MoU signed in October last year to replace "existing politics of confrontation with the politics of active cooperation on national issues" was to remain operative for two years, but is now in danger of abrogation in three months.
Among the provisions of the MoU was a clause for the Opposition UNP to support the Government, especially in the Peace Process and in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the Northern conflict.
Mr. Wickremesinghe had stated that the UNP had decided to sustain the Government in Parliament during the period it was grappling with the Peace Process, and had decided to support the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) headed by Minister Tissa Vitharana in working out a political solution to the crisis.
In the meantime, a formal meeting between the Opposition Leader and President Rajapaksa requested by the former has yet to be confirmed by the President. The two political leaders met at a function in Colombo on Wednesday evening, the same day Mr. Wickremesinghe returned to the country.
The future of the MoU is to be decided at this meeting. President Rajapaksa has expressed the view the MoU would not be affected by any cross-overs. This is contradictory to the view of the Opposition Leader but it also indicates that the President has no immediate plans of dumping the MoU which assures UNP support for his Government.
The cross-over of more than a dozen UNP MPs to the Government is now a virtual fait-accompli. But political analysts believe the Cabinet's pronouncement that cross-overs could be a two-way street has triggered speculation that a Government group still loyal to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga might form a break-away group if not immediately, in some months time, and link up with the UNP.
Meanwhile, the fate of the UNP-SLFP MoU has also caused concern in diplomatic circles. Sources close to the President refused to confirm or deny reports that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had written last month to the President urging him to find a negotiated political settlement to the Northern conflict with the support of the UNP-SLFP MoU.
The US embassy yesterday confirmed Ms. Rice had written to President Rajapaksa on December 18, but spokesman Evan Owen said the embassy itself had no information on the contents of the letter.
Presidential sources told The Sunday Times that the President believed that the heightened criticism of his Government's recent human rights record was a direct result of briefings given by the Opposition. They also said that by enabling the cross-overs, the President was aiming at forming his own parliamentary majority and thereby lessening his reliance on the JVP.
They denied the President had plans to call for a snap General Election to marginalise the JVP further, and remained non-committal to reports that the President wanted to clear the Eastern province militarily to hold elections there with the backing of Tamil groups non-supportive of the LTTE.