Despite the various subterranean moves afoot to defeat the government on the second reading vote on the budget tomorrow, we`ll put our money on President Mahinda Rajapaksa pulling off the numbers game ? with or without the JVP. The word, as this was being written, was that the president was due over the weekend to meet his red brothers who contributed substantially to get him elected to the high office he holds. Rajapaksa, it seemed, was not as sure as many of his ministers were that he is home and dry. If not, why these eve-of-the vote consultations? The president`s friends naturally say that given what the JVP did for him, he is obliged to meet its leaders and exchange views on how the issues confronting the nation should be met. But that does not mean playing the game the JVP way and conceding the newest demands that party has laid on the table.
Mahinda Ratnatillake cancelled the effect of Wijedasa Rajapakshe`s walk across the well of the House to the opposition. Of course Ratnatillake remains UNP and Rajapakshe SLFP! The public will only smile if not guffaw at these self-serving claims by defectors pretending that they remain true to their voters (or patrons who put them on National Lists) who first voted for a party before they expressed a candidate preference. But no matter. Although defectors risk being unseated according to the constitution, nobody has yet suffered this fate despite there being defections galore since the proportional representation scheme of elections came into force.
The JVP demands on abrogating the Cease-Fire Agreement (which only exists on paper in any case), dissolving the All Party Representative Committee long touted (and long delayed) as the producer of the ``political solution,`` an all out war on the LTTE (which is very much in the air) and giving short shrift to UN ``interference`` may be the bull-in-the-china-shop approach preferred by the lunatic fringe rather than the carefully nuanced diplomatic method of modern day problem solving that commonsense tells us must be the strategy in today`s globalized world. Ministers like Prof. G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and Sarath Amunugama, voices of reason and caution that the president is increasingly turning to in resolving tricky issues, will tell him that this is the way to go. But Rajapaksa has to walk a tightrope balancing various political considerations against the most sensible and logical approach towards resolving the National Question.
There is no doubt that the military pressure on the LTTE must continue to weaken the organization which over a period of three decades has wreaked havoc in this country. Foreign assistance is essential to do this. Despite the perception by a section of the Lankan polity that the Tigers have a great deal of sympathy abroad, we must not forget that many of the successes in the war against LTTE terror was due to foreign help. Intelligence provided by various external agencies considerably helped the interception of LTTE arms shipments by the Sri Lanka Navy in the recent past and earlier. Then there is the tightening of the money screws, most recently the US action against the TRO. The late Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar did yeoman service to his country by mobilizing international public opinion against Tiger terror and paid with his life for that. His absence from the foreign ministry surely cost us dearly in maximizing the 9/11 opportunities.
Electoral compulsions occur everywhere and given the number of Sri Lankan Tamils living in Western Europe and North America, some of them concentrated in areas to an extent that they command considerable political muscle, has given the LTTE substantial influence in various countries. These forces come into play particularly at election time. There was a time when Sri Lanka`s embassy in Washington enthused the Sinhala constituency dispersed in various parts of the US to wield their influence with their Congressmen to good effect and negate LTTE propaganda. Hopefully such efforts continue in European, American and Canadian cities in which large numbers of Lankans live. But it is necessary that people here inclined to extremist positions remember that many Tamils left this country because they were deeply wronged in July 1983. The scars of traumatic experiences undergone in that and other communal riots that have given the LTTE great mileage and besmirched the contemporary history of this country. It created a legitimate grievance among those who suffered that must be addressed in a proper national perspective, not a We vs. They standpoint. Although such realization may not easily dawn on some, the president who is the leader of the nation and president of all the people inhabiting this island must not for political reasons cave in to the demands of groups like the JVP that will make finding a fair and just political solution all the more difficult.
The UNP and its allies want an election that they believe is theirs if the budget is defeated. They want another stab at winning power either at an election that would be held if the president exercised his dissolution option or if he calls on Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a new government. But there are other deals that Rajapaksa, adept at nimble political footwork, can make Current UNP calculations are that if the JVP votes against the budget at the second reading tomorrow, they will be compelled to do likewise when the vote on the third reading is taken in mid-December. Then, defectors biding their time, will make their move or so those who want to see the government fall hope. While the JVP has made no bones about their disdain for the budget, they have also made clear that decisions they will take on how to vote will be influenced by wider considerations. This is obviously whether the government is willing or not to opt for a hard-line war option that the JVP has long advocated. This is why the weekend meeting between the president and the JVP is so important. Rajapaksa is obviously not counting his chickens early and he wants to keep his presidential election ally happy if he possibly can. That is his prerogative. But in exercising it, he must not endanger the prospects of a negotiated peace.