|Friday, 11 July 2003|
SLFP - JVP evasion of ethnic issue sparks uncertainty
by Ranga Jayasuriya
Every time I ring my contact in the LTTE for an update, he is anxious to know "news" in this part of the country. Most of the time it is about politics. I would say the SLFP and the JVP are moving closer to seal an electoral alliance and that both parties claim the greater part of the agenda has already been worked out.
First I didn't notice anything special in my friend's curiosity; he is a political animal just like most of us. Then I realised something underneath in his daily enquiry into political developments (of course, though nothing of this is security sensitive).
Why the Tigers are concerned about the political landscape in the South is that they are very much aware that political instability here can hamper the peace process. And they are conscious that the Wickremesinghe administration is locked in an uneasy cohabitation with an Executive President who holds the power to sack the elected Prime Minister.
With her team expanding with the new found JVP members, who will call for quick action, the Tigers are afraid, that President Kumaratunga will be forced for more aggressive action.
I would go on telling my friend that the President will not overestimate her clout pointing to the fact that her recent action -take over of the Development Lotteries Board- had led to a stalemate.
I would tell him that the President is the one who inaugurated the peace process and invited Norwegian facilitators so that she would not do anything to harm the peace process.
Indeed, though her approach to the peace process is ambiguous when she talks to a local audience, when meeting foreign leaders or addressing an international conference, she is a well-wisher and guiding force of the peace process.
Yet she wanted active participation in the peace process, so much so that she requested for a nominee to be in the Government peace delegation, though it did not materialise.
After all till the collapse of the PA regime, she was the most pro-peace in the People's Alliance.
But my friend in Kilinochchi is not convinced. The Tigers have had the frustrating experience of the politics in the South. It may not be a problem with President Kumaratunga, who is among the first Sinhala political leaders to meet LTTE leadership in the mid '80s with her leftist husband Vijaya Kumaratunga.
Rather The Tigers know the enormous powers the executive presidency carries and have seen how President Kumaratunga's predecessors manipulated the entire electorate in their favour through a Constitution guided by the political ambitions of the first Executive President, J.R. Jayewardene.
And throughout in the post-independence history, every effort for a peaceful resolution of the ethnic question had been hampered by opportunistic politics and ultra-nationalist forces.
Even the President wishes to exercise restraint, The JVP, the new found partner of the proposed alliance led by President Kumaratunga herself, may force her for quick action.
If there is anything the JVP had excelled in recent times it is its opposition to the peace process. The JVP has already overtaken the Sinhala ultra-nationalistic Sihala Urumaya and made itself the biggest opposition to the peace negotiations.
The SLFP and the JVP trying to reach an agreement on the working plan of the alliance was forced to omit the ethnic question following the latter's opposition to the year 2000 constitutional package, which the SLFP insisted should be the basis for a negotiated settlement of the ethnic problem.
Since the two parties jubilantly announced that they are closer to an agreement on the proposed alliance which means that they have ironed out a greater part of differences, neither the SLFP nor the JVP tells the public how they will address the ethnic question.
Of course, both parties have agreed that the talks with the Tigers should continue. Even in this regard the JVP needs the talks to be conditional and the Tigers to lay down arms before talks - this may be received with cheers by some quarters of the South, however, what it lacks is pragmatism.
It is actually the SLFP, the main opposition party, which should have informed the public how it will deal with the ethnic question, which at this juncture is the most decisive issue affecting the country's political future.
And the People's Alliance's left, which is of course the most broad-minded on the ethnic question was left out of the talks aimed at the JVP-SLFP alliance. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party have openly backed the peace process and on certain occasions have come out strongly against the JVP's anti-peace platform.
However, the LSSP and the CP will receive the agenda of the alliance soon after it is finalised. Then it is up to the two parties to decide whether they will be part of the alliance.
So how the proposed alliance will react to the peace negotiations is still a mystery. Their approach to the negotiations not only impacts on the success of talks but also the destiny of the Sri Lankan state.
Produced by Lake House