Hit the brakes! Form a National Govt.!

by Dayan Jayatilleka
"Iím perfectly aware that these words have been written in vain; but they may be preserved as an open secret for future times." - Goethe: Maxims and Recollections, No. 1291

Well. Here we are. Letís get a few little things out of the way shall we, before we get down to serious matters. That Defence portfolio? The President or the Prime Minister always held it. Even the UNPís favourite model of a co-operative President, DB Wijetunga, held onto it while handing power over to Prime Minister CBK. And he wasnít even the elected President, only a caretaker elected by the legislature. So the President has taken back what rightfully belongs with the Executive Presidency.

The UNP in its insufferable arrogance not only wrested it from her in 2002, it sought unsuccessfully to divest her of powers as commander-in-chief by means of the 19th amendment, and UNP Ministers and security bureaucrats behaved like they were wielded the Mandate of Heaven. It was only a matter of time until the balance of social opinion shifted. Now the President has restored the status-quo ante.

Is it constitutional? You bet! Thanks to JRJ, she can have a full-fledged cabinet meeting while talking to herself in the mirror while dressing. In any case, the UNP has deprived itself of the option of petitioning the courts on this, by antagonizing the countryís entire legal system with its move to impeach the CJ at this point in time.

What about the UNPís popular mandate? Well it certainly has one, but it forgets that the President has one too. A subsequent mandate for the legislature does not erode an earlier and ongoing mandate for the Executive. And the logic of the Jayewardene Constitution is that the Executive should be "free of the whims and fancies of the legislature", not vice versa. It allows the President to dissolve parliament and go for fresh elections, forcing the party wielding parliamentary power to obtain a fresh mandate.

Did President Kumaratungaís move cause a crisis in the peace process? Nope, it was more of a response to, or less charitably, seized upon, an existing crisis in that peace process. That manifested itself full-blown on Oct. 31st with the Tiger demands for (i) a self-governing authority to which Colombo must cede all powers, (ii) the "immediate vacation" of armed forces camps in the Northeast, and (iii) control over the Northeastern seas.

Should the UNP push the President into dissolution of Parliament and a snap election? Only if it wants to continue this spree of monumental political miscalculations. There is no way this UNP run by "suits" and hired "suddhas" can win, when Executive power plus the bulk of the Provincial councils are in the hands of the SLFP, a nationalist backlash is underway and an electoral understanding is likely between the SLFP and JVP.

Even if the Tigers cut loose, it isnít guaranteed to swing the Sinhalese back to the UNP on an appeasement platform, but swing them bitterly and vengefully away from the UNP (as in Dec. 1999 and October 2000). In any case the electorate knows that the President has two years more to go. It would not want a return to the tug of war of the last two years. It is therefore likely to vote in a legislature that is not at loggerheads with the Executive.

So whatís the best bet? A bipartisan national government. In the Cabinet as it now stands, the President (i.e. the SLFP) and UNP share power, though in bitter contention. Why not turn this into a good thing and make it the basis of genuine power-sharing between the two main parties, perhaps with further adjustment in proportion to the strength each wields in parliament?

Whatís in it for the UNP? A Green-Blue or Blue-Green coalition, which is better than electoral defeat and a Blue-Red coalition. Whatís in it for the PA? Simple. It wonít have to face the LTTE and a hostile Western community on its own, isolated, with only the JVP for company.

Of course this idea isnít going to fly. Instead we shall have a head-to-head confrontation and the whole country will slide over the lip of the abyss.

Hereís something I do know. Thereís one guy out there, who is going to have a very happy birthday. He turns 49 this year. Actually, this month, November. On the 26th. Which he calls, modestly and coincidentally, "Mahaveera (Great Heroes) Day". I think this year heíll cut himself a large slice of something other than his birthday cake, and blow out more than some candles. God knows he has reason to celebrate. Heís no Che Guevara and wonít wind up on anyoneís T-shirt (where he comes from they donít wear T-shirts anyway, certainly not the women, which is sad), but he looks set to have his own country before he turns 50.