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 Post subject: JVP must become part of solution and not part of problem
 Post Posted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 2:11 am 
JVP must become part of solution and not part of problem

@ The Island 26APR2005
By Jehan Perera

Over four months have passed since the tsunami slammed into the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, sweeping thousands of people to sea, knocking down buildings and flooding the low lands for up to two kilometers.

Ironically, with the government and the LTTE about to sign an agreement on a joint mechanism for tsunami relief, there is apprehension about a political upheaval in the offing.

The main source of instability is the government's tempestuous junior partner, the JVP, which has threatened to give up its cabinet positions and even leave the government, if this controversial deal is struck. The threat by another of the government's coalition partners, the NUA, which represents Muslim interests in the east, adds to this instability.

A silver lining, however, is the growing sense of impatience of people, who seek betterment in their lives. Many of them are viewing the dispute within the government as being in the nature of a political dispute.

Four months is a very long time for people to wait, especially if they are living in refugee camps and have been promised new homes within six months. Most of the tsunami refugees continue to live in ignorance of when and where their promised new homes might materialise. The JVP would be aware that there is hardly any public resistance to the concept of a joint mechanism on tsunami relief among the people.

The Galle District was one of the worst hit by the tsunami disaster. The coastal areas are dotted with sites on which there are plastic tents in which tsunami victims have taken up residence until the government sorts out the questions of where they may be resettled. A People's Forum held in Karandeniya in the Galle District last weekend by the National Peace Council saw a wide spectrum of the public participating. Those participating included several local government officials, professionals, school teachers and members of voluntary associations.

Not a single person in the gathering challenged the concept of a joint tsunami mechanism between the government and LTTE. Instead they expressed their frustration at the slow progress in tsunami reconstruction and the progress of the country. By and large the dispute over the joint mechanism is seen as being politically motivated. They realise that the JVP has taken a stance on the LTTE that it now finds hard to reverse. The latest is the JVP's threat to leave the government in one hour if the agreement on a joint mechanism for tsunami relief is signed with the LTTE. But the inability of the JVP to deliver on the promises it made at the last election campaign has made people sceptical about the JVP's words.

Moderating Stance
The four months of stagnation that has followed the tsunami was preceded by an economic and political stagnation that accompanied the election of the new government one year ago. Stagnation can lead to a strengthening of the political extremes. But it can also lead to public support for bold measures to take the country out of its stagnation. The past four months have seen a considerable amount of public discussion about the issue of a joint mechanism. Most of this discussion has been on the issue of partnership between the government and the LTTE in the distribution of tsunami relief in the north east.

The fact that President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been championing the cause of a joint mechanism has been reassuring to the people. With her track record of attacking and being attacked by the LTTE, the President has a great deal of credibility with the Sinhalese public in dealing with them. Further, the government includes political parties that are not perceived as soft on the LTTE.

The main constituent parties of the present government have been harshly critical of the LTTE and of those who have sought to be accommodative to it in the past. This has helped to alleviate fears that the joint mechanism with the LTTE might be a betrayal of national interests.

It is often easier for parties in opposition to take extreme stances and to criticise those who are accommodative toward others for the sake of preserving peace. However, when in government those same parties find themselves obliged to moderate their positions.

They begin to show openness to creative solutions, even those involving compromise that can bring solutions to the problems of the people.

The flexibility demonstrated by the LTTE in being willing to scale down its demands in order to reach agreement with the government in the tsunami joint mechanism would be an example. Now it appears that the JVP may also be reconsidering its previous total opposition to the joint mechanism.

Since becoming the junior partner in the government after its spectacular electoral performance at the general elections of April 2004 the JVP has been moderating its stance on a number of crucial issues.

Prior to the elections the JVP was leading mass demonstrations demanding the expulsion of the Norwegian facilitator and the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement as being inimical to the country's sovereignty.

It also pledged to root out the newly established LTTE camp at Manirasakulam which the international monitors had ruled was within government-controlled territory.

However, after forming the government, the JVP has been back tracking on every single one of these extreme stands which, if implemented, would almost surely have taken the country back to war. The JVP's flexibility in changing its stances to accord with what is rational and responsible in government is a positive feature of the present situation.

The latest adjustment in the JVP's stance has been its formal acceptance of the reality of globalisation in an official statement of the party. Although a Marxist party, the JVP has said that it is open to the positive aspects of globalisation and will not turn its back on it.

The JVP's appreciation of the United States also constitutes a paradigm shift in the approach of a party that describes itself as based on Marxist principles. In an interesting development, the JVP recently made a request to the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca.

They asked her to give a guarantee on behalf of the United States that the tsunami joint mechanism would bring the LTTE into the political mainstream.

The very fact of this request seems to suggest that the JVP observes a certain inevitability about the need for a joint mechanism. Therefore, it appears that the JVP is trying to find a way to change its previous stance regarding rejection of any dealings with the LTTE.

Not unanimous
However, the trend towards moderation in the JVP is not likely to be a unanimous one within the party. Like any other major party, the JVP is likely to be composed of different factions, and have its hardline and moderate groups. It is reported that different top ranking members of the JVP have taken different positions on whether the JVP would indeed quit the government if it signs an agreement on a joint mechanism with the LTTE. The task of peace makers would be to induce the JVP to speak in one voice that is favourable to the forward movement of the peace process.

Those who seek a long-term and sustainable solution to the ethnic conflict need to bear in mind the importance of obtaining a national consensus on the solution.

The JVP is no longer a fringe or marginal party. Instead it is one of the biggest political parties in the country, with hundreds of thousands of voters and perhaps millions who agree with its nationalist views.

As the junior partner in the government, the JVP has the ability to derail the government's peace effort by withdrawing its parliamentary support to the government.

As a party in opposition, the JVP has an unparalleled ability to mobilise its supporters onto the street to fight with its political opponents.

Many years ago, when the civil war was at its height, and hundreds were dying in battle every month, a handful of organisations, such as the National Peace Council, took the position that there could be no political solution to the ethnic conflict from which the LTTE was excluded. Therefore, they urged that any peace process should bring in the LTTE as a partner and as an integral part of the solution.

Time has proved them right. Similarly, it is necessary to adopt the same position today with regard to the JVP. There can be no viable political solution to the ethnic conflict from which the JVP is excluded.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks the JVP has been launching ferocious verbal attacks against NGOs and sections of the media that they accuse of promoting the Norwegian-facilitated peace process.

The natural instinct of those attacked would be to keep their distance from the JVP and to attack them in turn. This also seems to be the instinctive response of President Kumaratunga who has been treating the JVP's protests against the joint mechanism with considerable disdain.

She has been referring to fools and to people with two peanuts in their brains. The main complaint of the NUA leadership is that the government has failed to even consult the Muslim representatives of the east about the joint mechanism that is meant for the people there.

The theory of conflict resolution and peace making would say that those who seek a negotiated peace in Sri Lanka should reach out to the JVP (and NUA) and bring them into a dialogue that leads to a mutually acceptable joint mechanism.

No one and no party is treated as an outcaste by the true peace maker. It is to be hoped that on her return from her holiday abroad, President Kumaratunga would approach the JVP and NUA in a dialogue that brings them aboard the joint tsunami mechanism. And it is also to be hoped that peace organisations give their support to this challenging but highly desirable task.

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