A cauldron of confusion
The coming week promises to be an interesting one for Sri Lanka with the political situation boiling in a cauldron of confusion. President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her intimates worked deep into Friday night to hammer out an eleventh hour deal with the JVP that would, if successful, mean the re-summoning of parliament ahead of the originally set September 7 deadline. It would also mean the cancellation of the referendum which, in any event, is a foregone conclusion.
The JVP wanted the democratization process in the shape of the five commissions in place before a premature general election to be overseen by a neutral caretaker government. But the party, representing the new left, has also handed in a private members motion calling for the dissolution of the incumbent legislature and new elections. Does that mean that there will be no commissions and elections that are very likely this year will be run with state-power very much in the hands of the present government? The JVP made no bones about the fact that such power was roundly abused last October. What guarantee is there that the papadam will not crumble the same way this time too?
Commonsense suggests that the best course for a party such as the JVP, which most analysts agree has made inroads into both the PA and UNP vote banks since the last election, is to want to use what one of its leaders called its "remote control" power to ensure that the next poll is free and fair and held early. That will mean some serious parliamentary business before a dissolution with the JVP using its vital ten votes to ensure that the no-confidence motion does not succeed. But rumours are strong that the PA cannot hold its own ranks intact and even if the JVP supports it for a limited purpose, crossovers will keep the government in a minority. The big question then is will the opposition use its muscle to topple the government and force the president to call on whoever commands majority support in the House to form a new government? That government will oversee the next election.
The UNP seems confident of winning an election if the country goes to the polls again in the short-term. President Kumaratunga seems to be as confident that she will win. But can a new election, even if it is freer and fairer than the last one, produce a stable government? Most unlikely, observers and analysts think. So in all probability, the jockeying and maneuvering will only mean blasting a lot of public money the country can ill afford just to return to square one. Given the way the talks between the PA and the UNP went, the country can only feel sorry for itself. We have even been treated to the preposterous suggestion that the country which wants to abolish the executive presidency now wants to create a vice-presidency for Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake!
No doubt we will have a ceremonial presidency IF (and thats a big if) the executive presidency is really going to be abolished in the short term. Perhaps Mr. Wickramanayake could have had that if he had faith that it would happen and not remain an empty promise as in 1994. Meanwhile he could have been a cabinet minister (they say he was offered Temple Trees in that event). But no. This country which already has 44 cabinet ministers, god knows how many deputy ministers, provincial councils everywhere except where it is most needed in the northeast as well as passengers galore in the public service and the public sector wants to create another white elephant. Wickramanayake was elected prime minister, one PA bigwig had pontificated, and he should be compensated for making way for someone else to become prime minister!
If thats how deals are going to be struck, we can do without them. It is clear that the country is in a sorry mess and CBK and her present team are incapable of cleaning up. If Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, as his supporters claim, can do the job, then all strength to his elbow. But the rub is that Wickremesinghe wants control and CBK is not willing to abdicate any of her extensive power. If there is no control, the chances of succeeding are that much less. Curiously, Wickremesinghe is reported to have demanded a say on who the PA ministers too would be. If he wanted a say on what portfolios theyd be given, that would be understandable. But to do the choosing from the PA pack?
That does sound preposterous on the face of it. One plausible explanation can be that Wickremesinghe is obliged to look after those who are on the other side ready to give him the votes to topple the government when the time was right. But the president can hardly be expected to nominate those trying to stab her in the back, if we may use the celebrated phrase her mother used when Mr. C. P. de Silva crossed over in 1964 to "remain a free man in a free society" to sit in the cabinet of which she will continue to be (nominal?) head. A lot of things in those talks were not on, including the Lakshman Kadirgamar ploy of unsuccessfully trying to break away the Tamil parties from the united opposition with talk of a ceasefire.
The next few days are going to be exciting for those who relish the stuff of politics. But whether the outcome will be to the countrys benefit remains a wide open question. The old saw that God is a Sri Lankan doesnt seem to hold good nowadays given the beastly luck the countrys been having in the recent past.
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