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 Post subject: Sri Lanka President: Between the devil and deep blue sea
 Post Posted: Fri Jun 10, 2005 4:12 pm 
Sri Lanka President: Between the devil and deep blue sea

By Sugeeswara Senadhira -Bureau Chief, Asian Tribune, Colombo

Colombo 09 June, (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga is finally realizing how lonely one can be when you reach the top. She is under tremendous pressure from all sides as she declared her intention of signing a deal with the Tamil rebels who once made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate her.

As the coalition government’s main partner gave quit notice and a parliamentarian Buddhist monk started a fast unto death protesting against the proposed joint mechanism with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), her own Prime Minister too urged Kumaratunga to be little bit more flexible about the joint mechanism and consult others concerned before taking a final decision on the matter.

Although Colombo is rife with speculations that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse might quit on this issue, political analysts say Rajapakse, who is the main contender for party nomination for the presidential election would battle within rather than quitting.

Rajapakse, who rushed to Colombo for an emergency meeting with President Kumaratunga after visiting the fasting Buddhist monk, Dr Omalpe Sobitha Thero at the sacred tooth relic temple in Kandy, told the President to obtain the views of the other partners of the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government before deciding on the joint mechanism.

Kumaratunga’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is also divided on the issue with Rajapakse and several ministers holding opposing views. The main ally, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has already warned that the party would leave the government the moment the deal is signed with the LTTE, which it describes as an illegal terrorist outfit. The four JVP ministers and four deputy ministers are likely to quit the government on this issue.

Rajapakse urged the President to seek views of the two minor partners of the alliance, National Unity Alliance leader Ferial Ashraff and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader Dinesh Gunwardene on the issue. Ashraff demanded major representation for Muslims and Gunawardane, who represents middle class Sinhala Buddhist community, is against any truck with the Tamil Tigers.

Meanwhile, the JVP is continuing the campaign against the joint mechanism and the campaign is gradually taking shape of an anti Kmaratunga onslaught. In a scathing attack on the President, the JVP chief Somawanse Amarasinghe warned if Kumarathunga went ahead and signed the proposed joint-mechanism with the LTTE, she would be the "last of the Bandaranaikes".

"An internal war is going on within the UPFA. We will never allow the so-called mechanism. Some people are thinking of expelling us. We advise Chandrika Kumaratunga not to be the last of the Bandaranaikes", Amarasinghe said at a public rally.

If the JVP and Kumaratunga stick to their stands, the SLFP-JVP uneasy relationship of nearly 18 months would end. “But in politics anything could happen,” an analyst said. “One may eat the humble pie,” he said referring to the reported attempts to find a compromise formula.

Kumarantunga, who refrained in direct attacks against her Marxist partner during the first few months of UPFA government, however leveled frontal attacks on JVP in recent weeks. In her speech at the donor conference held in Kandy in May, she said that she was facing a life threat from within. Kumaratunga, in her recent public speeches, has accused the JVP for the killing of her husband Viyaya Kumaratunga.

As the SLFP-JVP relations soured the known JVP supporters in the SLFP too lost their clout. The Powerful Media, Ports and Shipping Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s powers were diluted by Kumaratunga, forcing him to finally resign from Media Ministry on Tuesday.

With Samaraweera’s distancing, Kumaratunga is finally without her two most trusted lieutenants who stood behind her when she was down and out and fought valiantly to ensure her victory, first in 1994 and again five years later. The other S.B.Dissanayake left the government two years ago and became her worst critic. He is behind bars for contempt of court and Kumaratunga pointedly refused to grant him a presidential pardon.

Samaraweera, who stood by Kumaratunga even after Dissanayake’s departure, finally lost his position in the ‘inner cabinet’ and when Kumaratunga appointed two media consultants in the President’s office to oversee state media institutions without consulting the minister, Samarweera did not have any option other than to resign.

These are not Kumaratunga’s only woes. If she goes ahead with the establishment of a tsunami joint mechanism with the Tamil militants she will lose a sizable number of her allies and the government’s survival will depend on the support from the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the main Tamil group in parliament, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and three minor parties.

Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) leader Arumugam Thondaman has promised the support of the CWC to the proposed joint mechanism. Meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga he has said that the plantation sector fully backs the government’s move to create a joint mechanism.

The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) too extended support for tsunami joint mechanism, despite its opposition to the ‘fascist ways of the LTTE’. The UNP and TNA offered conditional support as the two parties are all for the devolution of powers to the LTTE. Meanwhile Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem said that although the President told him that a copy of the complete report on joint mechanism would be sent to him he has not received it yet. He said that the government has kept the Muslim community in the dark on this issue.

National Unity Alliance (NUA) leader and Sri Lankan cabinet minister Ms. Ferial Ashraff while conceding what they know about joint mechanism is what the media carries, has however pledged her party’s support. Minister Douglas Devananda, leader of the EPDP whose members are the target of the LTTE ‘s killing spree has said they too will support the joint mechanism with LTTE.

With the unfolding of an imminent split of the government coalition, the UNP will be in a strong position to pull the carpet under her feet whenever it suits the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. That will also be the end of Kumaratunga’s strategy to extend her second six year tenure by a year. Wickremesinghe, who demands that the presidential elections be held on schedule in December this year, has already launched his campaign.

While the tussle continues in the South, the LTTE political head S. Paramu Tamilselvan fired a salvo stating that the army’s refusal to escort rebel movements between north and east would force them to ‘move cadres with the protection of our air force, navy and army’. The LTTE’s acquisition of air power is a major concern not only for Kumaratunga but also for neighboring India, where the LTTE is an illegal entity.

- Asian Tribune -

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