Fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day

‘Shock and Awe’ is perhaps the best description for the pre-Guy Fawkes Day sacking of three key ministers by the ebullient President Chandrika Kumaratunga. More fireworks are likely to follow on Guy Fawkes Day proper (today) and the days ahead.

It came as a shock no doubt but it was inevitable. When the PA led by President Kumaratunga was defeated in December 2001, political theorists spoke of the necessity of co-habitation. The Island, however, had grave doubts and we noted that the co- existence of President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be like ‘the peaceful co-existence of fire and dynamite’.

Even though the economic and political policies of both leaders are basically no different their personalities are mutually incompatible and rivalries great. And the build up was coming to ahead. Most political analysts were of the opinion that the reason why a head-on clash did not occur earlier was because both parties were financially exhausted to face another election. The two year interregnum seems to have given them a respite.

This country, we have said an umpteen number of times, has suffered very much because of the confrontationist policies between the two leaders. We have said in our editorials that the only solution is to go to the polls—holding parliamentary elections, a presidential election or preferably both. Since there seems to be no possibility of some degree of co-operation coming through, the political crisis we are going through is perhaps for the best.

At the time of writing, parliament has been prorogued, the president having taken upon herself the portfolios of Defence, Media and National Security. The budget will have to be postponed. And thereafter what she proposes to do is anybody’s guess.

Will she appoint a caretaker government and if so will UNF ministers agree to take office?

This move of prorogation will also stall moves of impeaching the Chief Justice, which appears to have initiated the crisis this week.

It does appear that dissolution of parliament soon is inevitable and parliamentary elections are likely to follow. Going by recent experiences at the polls, a government in power, particularly with the armed forces and police under it, has definite unfair advantages over the opposition. Whether this will happen or not every citizen who wants democratic practices should observe, and foreign observers should do their utmost to prevent a repetition of past election abuses.

This confrontation takes place at a time of great expectations of many—those who believed that the 'Peace Process’ could be revived. And it did seem it was about to take off with the LTTE announcing its proposals for an ‘Interim Administration’. This newspaper, however, expressed great reservations. One reason for our doubts was about the LTTE’s inclinations to give up terrorism and abide by democracy. The other, time and again, we stressed, was that a solution was not possible as long as the two main political parties could not reach consensus on the resolution of the North-East conflict. Only yesterday we said in our editorial: ‘The matter of selection of negotiators should not be left to the prime minister and the government in power alone. The Opposition, particularly the SLFP and other minority parties should be included if there is to be a durable solution’.

While going to the polls seems inevitable, it is indeed a pity that this confrontation took place at a time when the economy was picking up. From negative growth in the last election year a growth of around 4 to 5 per cent has been recorded and the stock market is booming. The climate is ripe for influx of foreign investments but all this will slow down or even come to a halt—temporarily we hope.

President Kumaratunga in a statement issued yesterday has said these decisions were taken by her in ‘national interests’. Certainly in the north and east, some of the moves made by the LTTE not only violated the Cease- fire Agreement but also endangered national security, such as the smuggling in of shiploads of armaments. Having taken on the duties of the Defence Minister, it will now be her onerous task to maintain such security not only in the north and east but the whole of the country.

It is also regrettable that these events should have taken place on the eve of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s meeting with American President George Bush. Whatever his critics may say he has achieved much in cultivating a good relationship with the leader of the most powerful nation in the world and such a relationship to this country in a perilous situation, is invaluable.

Your comments to the Editor