By Namini Wijedasa
One may have thought that the presidential palace was an old yarn, considering developments on the peace front and other issues of, you know, national importance. Then, somebody decides that parliament may be washed into the Diyawanna Oya if construction of the palace was not completed and the whole story breaks again.
Kumaratungas media office issued a four-page (no less) statement midweek, painstakingly explaining the intricacies and twists of the Presidential Palace saga. Only, they called it the "presidential home." It went on in great detail said Temple Trees and Janadhipathi Mandiraya had been in "bad shape" and claimed that the proposed new home was smaller than either of these.
Well, whatever. So long as the press reporters, visitors and staff are spared when parliament slides into the lake.
That little spat was only the latest in a series between Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe, all taking place within the famous cohabitation framework. The little arrangement seems to be hanging by a very fine thread. It received more than a little attention last week, with Prof. G.L. Peiris taking the forefront in slamming Kumaratunga for endangering the fragile relationship. At a press conference on Monday, Peiris lashed out at the president because she had postponed the swearing-in of eight cabinet ministers five times.
"She calls and tells them to get ready and then postpones it," he said. "Where in the world do you get this sort of behaviour from a head of state?" It slighted the dignity of any self-respecting person (let alone a minister) it did. Yup, noolen ellenawa, this cohabitation thing.
Peiris also commented on Kumaratungas continued failure to name her nominee to the constitutional council. All other parties including her own Sri Lanka Freedom Party had done their part and sent their lists to Kumaratunga ,but she was blocking the process, he claimed. It does puzzle one, though. What is so odious about having an independent police commission and an elections commission in place? Its the prolonged delay thats now beginning to have a bad smell.
Peiris hinted that the government is impatient with Kumaratungas attitude. At the same time, Kumaratunga has accused the United National Front of sidelining her in most vital issues. And so the tussle continues.
Speaking of the polls, the UNF is maintaining unwaveringly that they will not use government vehicles for electioneering purposes. Thats all very fine, but we cant check, can we? Suddenly, all those self-righteous non-governmental organisations that did such a thorough job during the parliamentary and presidential elections have nothing to say. In fact, everything is operating so smoothly that this election might as well be shortlisted for some sort of prize. Thats truly amazing.
Only the opposition Peoples Alliance keeps on about victimisation of their candidates, organisers and supporters. But even theyre a little mute these days.
UNP General Secretary Senerath Kapukotuwa said piously last week that the police will take care of any abuses. Of course, they will. They ALWAYS have. Speaking of the police, Inspector General of Police Lucky Kodituwakku got an extension after all. No comment.
Returning to the topic of vehicle abuse, Ranil Wickremesinghe at the beginning of this governments term laid strict limits on the number of wheels each minister could use. However, there is simply no method of checking if his instructions are being followed. For instance, an anonymous caller telephoned The Island the other day and said that a minister elected from Kandy was using rather a large number of vehicles and would we please investigate. Investigate. Right.
How? Whom do we ask? There doesnt seem to be anyone keeping tabs on the implementation of all the goody-two-shoes instructions issued. Its an old game. Hand out elaborate orders so as to lull the public into a false sense of security and then abuse them roundly because theres no way of checking. Thats not to say everyones doing it. Only to say that theres no way of sniffing out those who undoubtedly are.
Meanwhile, guess who was visiting unemployed graduates last week? Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse was out there in form, sympathising all serious-faced with those unemployed graduates who later marched on Temple Trees. Course, he could have solved at least part of their problem while in government. But it pays more to gain mileage out of such situations when ones in the opposition, what say?
The unemployed graduates organised a demonstration on Wednesday, marching to Temple Trees and planting themselves across Galle Road. Saw some of those old antics: the barrier-shoving, kindifying police type stunts. Some of the graduates were even seen climbing the railings of the Temple Trees gate. Never thought one would see the day.
A bodyguard of Ranil Wickremesinghes said confidentially that strict instructions were given through the prime ministerial security division to the police not to hammer the fellows.
Not to hammer the fellows in the daytime, that is. By evening, the graduates who were allegedly backed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had taken a comfortable seat in front of Temple Trees pledging to stay there till Wickremesinghe consented to an interview. "If he can talk to the Tigers, why cant he talk to us?" some of them were heard ranting. Anyway, come nightfall, the "authorities" had switched off all the lights in the vicinity, brought in the cops and hustled the protesters very unceremoniously out of the area. That must be the "democratic" way of doing it.
Some JVPers acted very hurt that they were blamed for that protest. Every damn thing that goes wrong in universities is attributed to them, they huffed. Wonder why? Same principle, I suppose, which has the JVP mistrusting the LTTE so. Something about a leopard never changing it spots.
The government decided to marginally reduce power cuts effective from tomorrow. Its ironic how its not our parents, spouses or jobs that assume the major role in directing our lives right now. Nope. Its Karu Jayasuriya and his power cuts. Students organise their study schedules around the power cuts. Wives skirt the power interruptions while doing their housework. Both men and women make appointments and plan almost every blessed thing in their lives around the power cuts. Cant remember a time when it wasnt like that.
The way things are going, the government may make uninterrupted power supply seem like a favour. Theyre good at that: making ones entitlements seem like personal favours.
Waste of funds?
The local government elections are next Wednesday. Not that people even know who the candidates are. Ten bucks to the person who can name the Peoples Alliance mayoral candidate. No, didnt think thered be any takers. As far as the local government elections are concerned, the words "waste of money" cannot be more understated.
The event that grabbed most attention last week was, of course, the premiers visit to Jaffna. It was a move intended to boost confidence in the government and the peace process and to nudge the people closer to the Sinhala government in the south. Wickremesinghe visited Hindu Kovils and a Buddhist temple as well as addressed troops and people. These steps certainly seem to be creating ties of friendship between the Tamil people and the government. It was about time.
Nevertheless, beware the Tiger.
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