The United States Government made a last ditch attempt last week to ensure the Memorandum of Understanding between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party majority Government and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) remained intact but its efforts failed.
The attempt came on Saturday (January 27), hours before President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was to swear in a new Cabinet that included dissidents of the UNP. The US move came in the form of a telephone call from Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary in the State Department.
The detailed response from President Rajapaksa is not known. However, he is learnt to have held the view that his political moves should not endanger the SLFP-UNP Memorandum of Understanding since he was only accepting opposition parliamentarians who had wanted to cross over on their own.
Ahead of last Sunday`s swearing-in, when news of the crossover of dissidents became official, UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayake sought and obtained a meeting with President Rajapaksa.
He made clear that accepting the group of dissident UNP MPs would spell the end of the MoU. Later, on Monday, just a day after the swearing-in of the new Cabinet, Mr. Senanayake tore the MoU document at a news conference held at the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition at Cambridge Place.
However, Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, who returned after a visit to Nepal and India told his party supporters yesterday that President Rajapaksa had violated Article 8 of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UNP and the SLFP, and the only way the MoU could be resuscitated was for President Rajapaksa to rectify what he called his ` mistake `
He was alluding to the President accepting UNP MPs and conferring portfolios, a move that is now a fait accompli.
Mr. Wickramasinghe told Party workers from the 18 electorates represented by the UNP crossover MPs that the party would take back those who left to join the Government only if they gave up the ministries they had accepted. He said that the crossover MPs had said what they had to say about their joining the Government, and the party members knew the facts.
He asked them to decide who was right and rally round the party. Later, in the day he addressed the party`s trade union leaders.
The UNP holds a critical Working Committee meeting next week. Several crossover MPs accepted membership in the Working Committee as nominees of the Party Leader just a few days before they accepted Ministerial positions without the party`s sanction, but insisiting they remained UNP members.
Last Monday the United States welcomed President Rajapaksa strengthening his Government`s majority but declared that a military solution was not the answer to the ethnic conflict. The position was made clear by US Ambassador Robert O`Blake when he spoke at the Development Forum. He called upon the Government to formulate a political settlement.
Proposals for a political settlement have taken a new turn with reports that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will forward its own set of proposals to the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) shortly. This is said to be based on a unitary concept and the outlines are now being studied by the SLFP leadership.