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 Post subject: CBK seals P-TOMS as JVP protests lose momentum
 Post Posted: Sat Jun 25, 2005 2:06 am 
CBK seals P-TOMS as JVP protests lose momentum

The Mahanayaka Theras seem to be a good representation of the silent majority of Sinhala Buddhists who are not extremists and prefer a negotiated settlement that would not harm the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the nation. The prudence shown by the Mahanayaka Theras is most commendable. It shows that a rational and moderate stand by the Mahanayaka Theras can overshadow the politically motivated extremist stands taken by a section of the monks who are actively engaged in JVP politics or with the JHU.

DM /Saturday, June 25, 2005

The political circus, complete with acrobats, jugglers, clowns and illusionists continue on a single theme that is the P-TOMS, oblivious to the pressing problems of the people such as the skyrocketing cost of living and the no-go, stagnant situation in the country. The people witnessing this spectacle can only keep guessing what kind of trick the ringmaster or, in this occasion the ringmistress, can pull out before the final curtain falls.

The week began with all eyes focused on the P-TOMS as Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen arrived in the country. His arrival meant that the government and the LTTE had reached finality on the document. Although the Muslim politicians expressed concern about representation at the regional committee, the Norwegians knew well that changes could not be made to it. After holding discussions in Colombo Helgesen flew to Kilinochchi and met LTTE Peace Secretariat head S.P. Thamilselvan. The signal from the LTTE was that they were awaiting the government to sign the document for them to sign it. The concern of the LTTE, more than signing the document, had been whether it would be properly implemented.

The government finally tabled the P-TOMS document in parliament, throwing it into turmoil yesterday morning with the JVP protesting inside the chamber and not allowing the debate on the P-TOMS to proceed. It could have been a concerted move by the JVP to prevent the debate for which an entire day had been allocated, since the JVP was against bringing the P-TOMS to parliament in the first place. The JVP indicated this to several prominent government members before it left the UPFA.

It was more or less a home-home battle in Parliament, with the PA and JVP members arguing and abusing each other while the usual target, which is the UNP and the TNA, were looking on unperturbed. The JVP MPs led by Wimal Weerawansa came down to the aisle waving black flags and disturbing House Leader Maithripala Sirisena’s speech after tabling the P-TOMs. Wimal Weerawansa even tore a copy of the P-TOMS and threw it at Sirisena as SLFP members formed a protective ring around him.

While the JVP MPs were protesting inside parliament, members of its trade unions and university student unions protested on the road leading to parliament. They were not able to penetrate the security net laid around parliament in anticipation of such protests. The protestors too, not amounting to many, were dispersed by police with the firing of tear gas without causing much trouble. Although the JVP backed anti P-TOMS protest turned out to be a poor show, the government was expecting something big and even made arrangements to air-lift Ministers to parliament by helicopter. Several Air Force helicopters were in fact kept ready for the purpose on Friday morning at the Army grounds and the Racecourse grounds, although the need did not arise. However, caught in the middle of the protest and the Police teargas attack was the most unlikely person to be there – UNP’s Dr. Jayalath Jayawardana, who was on his way to parliament.

Security in the city too was beefed up from Thursday as the date for signing the P-TOMS drew nearer. Armed soldiers were deployed at most of the junctions and along main roads leading to Colombo city. The Police too was put on alert to prevent any unruly situation that might breakout. The Police riot squad was also put on alert. Extra policemen were deployed around key government institutions.

On Thursday, rumours were afloat that the government had signed the P-TOMS. Rumour mongers were having a field day with even JHU MP Ellawala Medhananda Thera telling parliament that he had come to know that the P-TOMS had been signed. As pledged, President Kumaratunga visited Kandy on Thursday and discussed the document with the Mahanayaka Theras. Asgiriya Mahanayaka Thera, Venerable Udugama Sri Buddharakkitha Thera even went to the extent of recording his support, saying that it does not harm the sovereignty of the nation. The Ven. Udugama Sri Buddharakkita Thera has been quite outspoken in his support for the peace process from the time former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the ceasefire agreement. He even ran into trouble with the extremist and chauvinistic sections of the Buddhist clergy and the laity at that time when he said that he was not against lifting the ban on the LTTE if it helped bring about a settlement. Malwatta Mahanayaka Thera, Venerable Tibbotuwawe Siddhartha Sumangala Thera too is known to be liberal on his views regarding the peace process.

The Mahanayaka Theras seem to be a good representation of the silent majority of Sinhala Buddhists who are not extremists and prefer a negotiated settlement that would not harm the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the nation. The prudence shown by the Mahanayaka Theras is most commendable. It shows that a rational and moderate stand by the Mahanayaka Theras can overshadow the politically motivated extremist stands taken by a section of the monks who are actively engaged in JVP politics or with the JHU.

On Friday morning, as scheduled, the government signed the document after Maithripala Sirisena tabled it in Parliament. From the government side, Secretary to the Ministry of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement, M.S. Jayasinghe signed the document. It was then taken to Kilinochchi by Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar who was flown there by a SLAF helicopter. Before Brattskar returned to Colombo with the signature of the LTTE, the government called a media conference at the Information Department, where Minister Maithripala Sirisena announced the government’s signing of the document.

The government finally went ahead with the signing of the P-TOMS, which even challenged the very existence of the UPFA government although it has now been reduced to a PA government. However, the JVP’s protests and agitations against the P-TOMS were disappointing when compared to its earlier protests and its organising capabilities. Even the lunch time protests in front of government institutions by JVP unions were poorly attended. Either the JVP had run out of steam in its protests or they themselves were half-hearted in opposing the P-TOMS. There is division within the JVP as well about leaving the government over this issue. Some who felt that the JVP leaving the government had given an advantage to the UNP think that the hard-line stance taken by Somawansa Amarasinghe and Nandana Gunatilleka was not called for and the JVP could have continued to agitate from within the government.

Many political observers are of the view that the JVP misread the situation. It is supported by the fact that there is no large scale protests or public outcry against the P-TOMS for the JVP to ride on. The lacklustre nature of the JVP’s protests yesterday stands as meek evidence.

There were also behind-the-curtain moves by the government to pacify the JVP. The main mover to woo back the JVP into the fold was Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Soon after his return from China, he was in contact with the JVP to mend fences and chart the future course of the SLFP-JVP friendship. Some of the JVP front-liners too had agreed that they were hasty in leaving the Alliance. However, one of Samaraweera’s first acts was to retain the JVP support in the Western Provincial Council for the PA. Through this move the PA was able to get its councillor Nandana Mendis sworn in as Chief Minister. Another concern of the Mangala-JVP talks was the Presidential Election and how they should proceed. Following this, Wimal Weerawansa hinted in Parliament that they were ready to support the Prime Minister in a new alliance if he is capable of defeating reactionary sections in the government.

With the signing of the P-TOMS without heeding JVP threats, President Kumaratunga has taken the upper-hand for the moment. The P-TOMS document, which was released to the public in full, did not defer much from the synopsis published in the Daily Mirror last week. The detailed document released by the government spells out the three-tiered structure consisting of the High Level Committee, the Regional Committee and the District Committees. One concern that could be raised about the P-TOMS is the definition of the Tsunami Disaster Zone, which covers the entire tsunami-affected areas in the country, enabling the P-TOMS High-Level Committee to decide on the tsunami-affected areas in the entire country. However, the document states that formulation of policies for the equitable allocation and disbursement of donor funds should be based on a needs assessment submitted to the High-Level Committee, guided by the principle that funds should be allocated in proportion to the number of affected persons and the extent of damage.

Now that the P-TOMS has been signed after much hue and cry, the government has to ensure that the tsunami-affected people who are still living in temporary shelters are benefited. The ground reality is that even after six months the government has failed to rehabilitate and reconstruct the tsunami-affected areas. For the common man, what matters are not documents and committees but what happens on the ground.

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