10th June 21:27
Historical Pattern ...
Source: Tamil Guardian (Nov. 12, 2003)
President and Premier play a traditional Sinhala game
As Norwegian facilitators flew into Colombo this week in yet another effort
to kickstart their stalled peace initiative, Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe was already throwing in the towel as far as his government's
participation in the process was concerned. Having had the crucial defence
ministry, as well as the interior and media portfolios, stripped from its
cabinet, the United National Front (UNF) government has also lost its
ability to negotiate meaningfully with the Liberation Tigers. As Mr.
Wickremesinghe this week told his arch rival, President Chandrika
Kumaratunga, he cannot enter into agreements which he cannot subsequently
implement in practice. The peace process is already stalled over the
military's refusal to abide by the ceasefire agreement the UNF and the LTTE
signed in February 2002. But with President Kumaratunga now firmly in
control of the defence ministry, there now isn't even the possibility of the
normalcy aspects of that agreement being implemented.
To begin with, however, the characterization of the present power struggle
within the Sinhala leadership as primarily that of a liberal, propeace
Parliamentary government opposing a hardline militarist Presidency is
incorrect. Mr. Wickremesinghe is no less determined to thwart Tamil
aspirations for self rule than Mrs. Kumaratunga. It should not be forgotten,
for example, how vociferously his United National Party (UNP) denounced the
weak devolution proposals that Kumaratunga and her People's Alliance (PA)
were attempting to pass through Parliament in 2000. Or the laughable
proposals the UNP itself put forward before that. Indeed, the present crisis
in Colombo has nothing to do with the peace process per se, no matter how
passionately Mr. Wickremesinghe's corner might insist it does. In fact,
Oslo's initiative is only the present football in the long running,
'traditional' rivalry between Sinhala government and Sinhala opposition. As
seasoned observers of Sri Lankan politics are well aware, since
independence, any attempt by a ruling party to genuinely or duplicitously
offer powersharing, no matter how weak, to the Tamils, has spurred its
rivals into making resistance to the move central to their political
campaigns. Efficacy in opposing Tamil political aspirations has thus become
the yardstick by which Sinhala politicians are measured by and promote
themselves. The UNF itself has done nothing to change this culture and has
often exploited it, admittedly more subtly than the PA.
It should not be forgotten, meanwhile, that it was Kumaratunga's legacy of
economic ruin and military failure that propelled Mr. Wickremesinghe to
power in December 2001 and his pursuit of the peace process since. Or that
it is the LTTE's latent military potency that has prevented a slide back
into armed conflict at a time of Kumaratunga's choosing. But it should also
not be forgotten that the UNF has been no less adept at preparing for war
than the PA, rearming, recruiting and building military alliances apace.
But, unlike Mrs. Kumaratunga, whose preference for a military solution to
the Tamil question is well known, Mr. Wickremesinghe is prepared to explore
the negotiated process albeit within the limits that Sinhala nationalism
permits within the southern electorate.
The Liberation Tigers have, unsurprisingly, maintained a studied silence
ever since the latest crisis broke early last week. But as they have pointed
out earlier, for negotiations to be successful, there must be a united
Sinhala leadership in Colombo. Furthermore, whilst this is a necessary
condition, it is not sufficient: that leadership must also be prepared to
negotiate in good faith with the LTTE. Mrs. Kumaratunga's views on the
Norwegian peace process are well known. Yet, despite the frequent pleas of
those advocating a negotiated solution, Mr. Wickremesinghe has always sought
to balance the obvious political benefits of impeaching his archrival with
those of coopting her fanatical prowar stance into his negotiation strategy
with the LTTE. His repeated efforts at cohabitation with a committed
opponent of the peace process have been perplexing but not if the utility of
her presence in dealing with the LTTE is taken into account. But now the UNF
has been hoisted on its own petard. Kumaratunga has moved decisively in
pursuit of her personal ambitions and Mr. Wickremesinghe is unable to
resist. It remains to be seen how the constitutional tussle will play itself
out, even though the UNF has made much of the popular mandate it received
from the electorate. But if Mr. Wickremesinghe is serious about a negotiated
solution to the island's protracted ethnic conflict, he needs to ensure a
stable, propeace leadership emerges in Colombo.
The current drama of the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist extremists is just
another prove of necessity of the arm struggle of the LTTE and the
importance of military strength of the LTTE.
I would just remember what Mr Velupillai Pirapaharan, the leader of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared on 27 November 2002 """"" -
If the Sinhala chauvinistic forces, for their own petty political reasons
scuttle this peace effort which has raised high hopes and expectations and
gained the support of the international community, the Tamil people will be
compelled to pursue the path of secession and political independence,' """""
History has shown that the SriLankan State only understands the `power of
the gun'. So please let the LTTE to end the game by creating Tamil Eelam!