Will CBK rock Mahinda`s campaign boat? This was the question that was (and is) agitating political circles. Her return home from the U.S. had been delayed and the word was, as this is being written, that she would be back some time on Saturday. For valid security reasons, the president`s travel plans are kept under wraps and that is something that is understandable and, indeed, commendable. So we don`t know for sure when she`ll be back and once she`s here whether she going to follow through with her virtual charge sheet on her party`s presidential candidate.
Mahinda Rajapakse has chosen to ignore the letter Kumaratunga wrote him in her capacity as SLFP leader questioning him on the agreements he signed with the JVP and JHU without party authority. If Rajapakse had in fact replied the letter, he has chosen to keep that an ironclad secret. Given the total inability of most politicians and their sycophants to keep anything confidential, nobody can blame the prime minister for playing his cards close to his chest. But the general feeling is that there has been no reply with the prime minister hoping that he could personally explain his case to his leader once she is back home and not escalate friction and misunderstanding.
The prime minister`s campaign headquarters remains hopeful that CBK not coming back as quickly as she might have from her U.S. visit suggested that she had cooled down and would go along with them that present arrangements are only intended to win the election. Once that objective is achieved, the new president as the leader of the whole country, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others, will act in the interest of all communities and will not be stampeded by any extremist force to adopt measures that will damage communal harmony and make peace making more difficult. Rajapakse in his early speeches has been stressing ethnic harmony but understandably not saying anything about ditching his allies` extremism.
``The fact that she did not come roaring into the fray is a good sign,`` commented a campaign insider. ``Time is the best healer and the more time there is for everybody to cool down, the better for the campaign.``
The theory that the president is now not as angry as she was when she went off to New York got credence from a telephone interview that her brother, Anura, granted the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) in New York last week when he admitted that there was no forward movement in the peace process right now. Bandaranaike was most forthcoming, replying all the questions asked until the correspondent, M.R. Narayan Swamy who`s often been in Sri Lanka and knows the country situation here quite well fired a question on the problems within the SLFP.
As the IANS wire had it, this is how it went thereafter: ``Bandaranaike, however, abruptly ended the interview when he was asked to comment on the electoral pacts Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, who is the presidential candidate of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has reached with the Sinhalese-Marxist JVP party. The president and Bandaranaike also belong to SLFP.
`No, I would not respond at this moment. I have not examined their agreement,` Bandaranaike said, asking IANS to call him later. But he could not be reached again.``
Clearly, Mallo as Bandaranaike is known in the family, being privy to his akki`s thinking especially when they were together in New York, was not going to get drawn into tricky questions indicating that CBK has now switched from war to peace mode vis-`E0-vis Rajapakse. Nevertheless, as pointed out in our editorial today, those who know her well are certain that she will not fade away from the bright lights without making some move, whatever that be. Rajapakse too would know this very well and will not let down his guard. Nevertheless his camp is working hard at overcoming the negatives of his deals with the JVP and JHU, motivated purely on electoral arithmetic, and the level of success achieved thus far is clear from the stand that Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara`s Democratic Left Front has taken.
In a news release issued last week, Vasu, who has consistently taken an anti-communal line in his politics and stands for a fair settlement of the ethnic question declared: `` Our party has resolved to combine with the Sama Samaja, Communist and Mahajana parties in order to mobilize the Left and progressive forces in support of the Prime Minister Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse with a view to inflict defeat on pro imperialist reaction represented by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.``
What was particularly important was the justification offered in the second paragraph of the statement which said: `` We propose that all anti- imperialist and democratic forces belonging to all communities and all religions should come together in order give Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse a resounding victory that is capable of overriding the terms and conditions of the agreements signed by him with other parties, in relation to the National Question.`` (emphasis ours)
The question, of course is whether these groups without parliamentary representation but for a couple of national list crumbs tossed from the SLFP table can ``override`` the demands of the JVP and the JHU which can deprive a Rajapakse presidency of its parliamentary majority. Obviously the old left, including the LSSP, CP and Nanayakkara`s Democratic Left Front, would much prefer Rajapakse to be the winner than the presidency, and thereafter the government, going to the UNP. Hence the justification in the final paragraph of the statement.
``We value and appreciate the many statements Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse has so far made to the effect that he will ensure the rights and security of all communities in a peaceful country, the protection of the national heritage and its cultures, the dynamic growth of the National Economy where no big business shall be given the advantage of privatization of any of the nation al resources or public assets of the country,`` it said.
The LSSP`s Tissa Vitarana, a minister on the committee drafting Rajapakse`s manifesto, supported this position in a speech he made in parliament last week where he said that the prime minister`s agreements with the JVP and JHU did not reflect the views of the president or the PA. He said that the agreements were yet to receive the consent of the government or the SLFP to which Rajapakse belonged.
While taking pains to insist that Rajapakse was `acting in good faith,`` Vitarana argued that if the national issue was to be resolved, the widest possible agreement that would not be opposed by the majority community must be found. `We have to abolish the kind of agreement that denies the people that,`` Vitarana said expressing his own view that the country was looking for a federal solution rather than a unitary one.
``But I am not going to quarrel here over words and there is no sharp distinction between federal and unitary structures,`` he said.
Across the palmyrah curtain
The Tiger view of the Rajapakse ? JVP ? JHU deal was best illustrated by a Tamil net cartoon showing the candidate riding an ass, clutching the UPFA`s betel leaf symbol with Wimal Weerawansa about to light a string of crackers tied to the donkey`s tail. A Buddhist monk blows a conch shell in the rear. The LTTE line on the unfolding developments have been best demonstrated by what their English language papers like the Tamil Guardian, aimed at expatriate Tamils in the west as well as a wider audience elsewhere has been saying. In a recent editorial this newspaper commented that ``political events in Sri Lanka are overtaking the international efforts to create a lasting peace`` and predicted that it is only a matter of time before the ``ascending Sinhala nationalist forces trigger a new war.``
``Mahinda Rajapakse`s campaign hinges on his opposition to any `division of the country.` Whereas to the international community and the island`s minorities, federalism is not division, to the Sinhala ultra-nationalists bearing him aloft, it most certainly is. Even if Ranil Wickremesinghe wins ? an increasingly unlikely proposition ? the Sinhala nationalists will yet undermine the peace process. The ignominious fate of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) is likely to befall every advance in the peace process,`` the editorial said.
Although the LTTE`s Political Wing chief, S.P. Thamilselvan, professes no interest in the outcome of the election, saying in an interview in Kilinochchi last week with Amal Jayasinghe, Colombo bureau chief for the French news agency AFP that both sides want to use the conflict to their advantage, he has stressed that the presidential race in November must not ``deter the implementation of the cease-fire.`` He also said in the course of the interview that the Tigers did not plan to participate in the voting nor rally Tamil votes for or against either candidate.
``Both (Wickremesinghe and Rajapakse) has victory as their objective and want to use the conflict of the Tamil people for their advantage ? one want to bash Tamils and get the Sinhala votes and the other wants to be seen as a moderate and win the minority votes,`` he said.
Rajapakse`s deals with the extremists, prompted no doubt by electoral arithmetic, had given the Tigers considerable leverage with the international community which last week came close to but stopped short of naming the Tigers as Lakshman Kadirgamar`s killer. Predictably, the move away from a federal solution with insistence on a unitary state strengthened the LTTE`s case with the world outside. The Tigers, wrong-footed by the statement issued by the Tokyo Donor co-chairs who met in New York last week on several counts including political assassinations and child conscription, seized on it with alacrity.
Colombo too did not escape unscathed in the co-chairs` statement which made pointed reference to the need to disarm or relocate the Karuna forces from the East making the point that this was an obligation under the CFA. Curiously, it was Governor Tyronne Fernando who in a television talk show who made the point that there was no Karuna factor when the CFA was signed. He was then very much a part of the LTTE and as Fernando pointed out, saying settling that problem was the LTTE`s business.