JM deal on June 12 or 15

The Sunday Times Political Editor-Courtesy The Sunday Times June 05, 2005

If a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) is going to unite President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the Tiger guerrillas in sharing aid for tsunami recovery, it is now very clear, it is going to divide her UPFA Government. It may fall.

Within hours, if not days, after a deal is signed with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), her party will not be in power to deliver such a mechanism. Nor will there be a Government to call her own.

Firstly, it will see the exit of the UPFA's junior partner Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Their politburo, the main policy making body, took a decision last Tuesday to call it quits.

Secondly, if she hopes to remain in power with the support of the main opposition United National Party that will not be forthcoming. Opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has ruled out suggestions by his senior party men. He has said there would be no such moves until the upcoming Presidential elections, possibly next year, are over. He has also refused suggestions that the UNP seeks to form a Government.

Thirdly, her Sri Lanka Freedom Party whose MPs are largely opposed to the Joint Mechanism will not be able to function as a Government only with the backing of the Tamil National Alliance. The TNA has offered such a backing if Kumaratunga ceded the Joint Mechanism or the P-TOMS to the LTTE. The guerrilla leadership in Wanni has already summoned TNA parliamentarians for a meeting this weekend in Kilinochchi.

Compounding the situation further is President Kumaratunga's failure to obtain India's unequivocal support for the P-TOMS. A Joint Statement after her talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh turned out to be very lukewarm. There was only one line that dealt with the Joint Mechanism in a 14 paragraph statement about the issue. This is what it says:

"The President conveyed to the Prime Minister her commitment to ensure the full participation of all communities in the country to ensure the delivery of relief and reconstruction assistance to those affected by the tsunami. In this context, she apprised the Prime Minister of her efforts to establish a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) for co-ordinating relief and reconstruction in areas affected by the tsunami. The Prime Minister expressed understanding of and support for these ongoing efforts."

"An unequivocal endorsement by India would only lead to further instability in Sri Lanka. This is because of the opposition to the mechanism from many quarters. A complete rejection would only give the LTTE a handle to accuse New Delhi and run to the international community with charges of sabotaging the peace process. Hence, India has taken the appropriate stand - expressed its understanding of what is going on and support for it," a senior Asian diplomat told The Sunday Times.

He added, "there is something more significant. Concern was expressed over ceasefire violations, particularly over illegal acquisition of air capability by the Tigers. First, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said it. Now, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has joined him. Though not reflected in the Joint Statement, the issue would have figured at length during the talks. This is important in the wake of India's abiding interest in Sri Lanka's security."

Some UPFA Ministers are also angry President Kumaratunga's delegation to India did not include anyone from her Cabinet nor have they been briefed on the contents of the P-TOMS. To the contrary, they complain that four officials who accompanied Kumaratunga were in the know of the details. They are Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, Presidential Advisors Ram Manikkalingam, Mano Tittawela and Peace Secretariat Secretary General Jayantha Dhanapala. The India visit was originally meant to be a one-day affair. But the Presidential Secretariat announced it would be a two day visit. However, Kumaratunga and entourage are due only today at the end of a three day visit.

Notwithstanding these developments, President Kumaratunga will go ahead and declare she will grant the P-TOMS to the LTTE. She had made up her mind. Even before she emplaned to India, she took a step that was a blow to her close friend and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera - the first time, contrary to previous media reports, that he had been undermined and sidelined.

She named two of her confidantes - Harim Peiris and Eric Fernando - to spearhead a campaign to educate the public about the virtues of the P-TOMS. Peiris, a former Presidential Spokesman is now Director General of Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. Fernando is the Director General of the Presidential Media Unit. The duo has been asked to brief heads of state media organisations at 8.30 am daily.

The campaign appears to have already got under way. A cartoon in the State run Dinamina (Sinhala daily) projected JVP's Tilvin Silva and Wimal Weerawansa running away from their own shadows for the fear of the Joint Mechanism. Wimal was caricatured holding a cell phone in one hand to suggest that the Ericcson unit (with capability for e-mails) was very expensive. The Daily News declared in a front page lead story on Friday a "certain chauvinist political organisation" was behind the brutal murder of Major (promoted posthumously to Lt. Col.) Tuan Nizam Muthaliff. That contradicted the Government's official statement, supported by Military Spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake that it was the work of the LTTE. Needless to say the Tiger guerrillas would be happy they have been cleared by the state owned Daily News.

The shock for Minister Samaraweera is that he was not told by President Kumaratunga about the appointment of Peiris and Fernando to brief state media heads. She had only conveyed it to Media Ministry Secretary W.B. Ganegala. To add insult to injury, most of his appointees who hold top slots in some of the State run print media have not briefed him either. "This is a stab in the back from those who got into top editorial slots through him," said a Samaraweera aide.

Samaraweera is strongly opposed to conceding a Joint Mechanism (or P-TOMS) to the LTTE if it is going to divide the Government. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, like many of their other Cabinet colleagues, are said to hold the same view. Samaraweera said so in an interview to our sister paper The Irida Lankadeepa. The interview appears in this issue on Page 6. Aides to Prime Minister Rajapakse had also sought a similar interview with Irida Lankadeepa but were content on being told by a journalist of that newspaper that Samarweera had already given one.

Rajapakse had wanted to express similar views.
Even before Kumaratunga left for New Delhi to seek India's blessings, opposition was brewing over P-TOMS. Last Tuesday (May 31), the politburo of the JVP met under the chairmanship of General Secretary Tilvin Silva. JVP leader Somawansa Amerasinghe was away in Japan and returned to Colombo only late that night.

After a near three hour discussion, they decided to quit the UPFA Government altogether if the P-TOMS agreement with the LTTE is signed. This put paid to rumours that the JVP would continue to remain in the alliance despite Kumaratunga conceding the Joint Mechanism. JVPers say one of those who assured Kumaratunga they would not quit was Deputy Minister Dilan Perera on whom they had conferred the sobriquet "deveni mal pochchiya" or second flower pot at the President's House. The first was also a Badulla parliamentarian, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. Both were known for frequenting the Janadipathi Mandiraya.

To the contrary, the Central Committee of the party had at an earlier meeting mandated the politburo to take a decision on the party's future with the Government if the joint mechanism is conceded.

However, the politburo decision will still go for endorsement before the Central Committee. This is in view of an additional decision that has been taken. That is for the JVP to contest independently from other political parties at a future Presidential Election or Provincial Council election. The Central Committee will meet today to ratify this decision. This will mean no Sri Lanka Freedom Party candidate for the upcoming Presidential election will receive the backing of the JVP. The Central Committee will also decide today whether the JVP should continue to support SLFP groups in Provincial Councils to stay in power. This will mean the UPFA will lose control of the Southern, Western, Wayamba, Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils if they withdraw support.

Last week's meeting between UNP's former Cabinet Minister Milinda Moragoda and President Kumaratunga has now ruffled feathers in the main opposition party. The meeting was primarily to seek the release of jailed former minister S.B. Dissanayake. Kumaratunga said the legal process which Dissanayake had initiated was not complete. Moreover, procedures for Presidential pardons had been laid down. Hence, Kumaratunga declared she would study the matter further.

Then the conversation had extended to other areas. One of them was the Joint Mechanism. Moragoda had opined that the contents of such a mechanism should be brought as a document before Parliament and held the view it could be backed by the UNP too. Now the UNP's Political Affairs Committee has asked Moragoda for a report in writing about all the matters he discussed with Kumaratunga.

The party's Executive Committee also wants to discuss its response if Kumaratunga presents legislation in Parliament. But UNP leader Wickremesinghe and his senior colleagues in the party have decided that any document should be presented to Parliament only after it is signed by the parties concerned. This is to ensure that an attempt is not made to first get their support and then sign the P-TOMS agreement with the LTTE.

Last Wednesday night, just hours ahead of boarding a flight to New Delhi, Kumaratunga was quite busy. She sat before television cameras to make a live keynote address on the 25th anniversary of CNN. Hundreds of delegates had gathered at the CNN centre in Atlanta to hear her and Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhyono. The latter was on an official visit to Japan.

A delay in bringing in Kumaratunga on CNN's screens caused some discomfort to Kumaratunga. Controllers at Atlanta had first switched to Yudhyono who was standing before a camera and was complaining to technical staff he had to go. He was billed to make a call on the Emperor Akihito. In contrast she was seated. But Kumaratunga waited patiently and anchor Anderson Cooper later announced to the world that she had to attend a Cabinet meeting. That brought the Q & A with her to a close.

Kumaratunga walked out of the main visitor's room where cameras were installed for a meeting with Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabeyson. Thereafter, she went for the weekly Cabinet meeting. When it ended, Prime Minister Rajapakse was to have a private chat with her. He told Kumaratunga it was not advisable to go ahead with the Joint Mechanism since most parliamentarians were opposed to it. These MPs were reluctant to say it openly. She asked the Premier to name them. He declined to offer names and she added "only a handful was opposed." She said she would discuss the matter further upon her return from India.

When Premier Rajapakse was talking to Kumaratunga on Wednesday night, Plantation Industries Minister, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa was meeting a group of Government personalities - Ministers, MPs and Provincial Councilllors - at his residence. Attention focused on trying to persuade the JVP to support the Joint Mechansim. "We will not agree," replied Wimal Weerawansa. After a lengthy discussion, the group decided to seek a meeting with Kumaratunga to warn her that the Government would fall if she goes ahead.

Kumaratunga has told her close aides she cannot change her mind now over the JM. If she did so, the Bandaranaike name would be mud in the eyes of the international community. So she is determined. According to one aide, she has consulted astrologers to obtain auspicious times both on June 12 and June 15, one of two days when the Joint Mechansim will be signed with the LTTE. This was after another astrologer forecast that after June 3 all opposition to Kumaratunga will be swept off.

The signing of the P-TOMS agreement with the LTTE will see the arrival of Norwegian peace facilitators in Colombo. Several donor countries are expected to make welcome statements after which talks will begin on the resumption of peace talks.

So far, the JVP has had its way. It won over the controversial debate on the re-structuring of the Ceylon Electricity Board and the privatisation of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. It has also had its way in the move to oust Western Province Chief Minister Reginold Cooray. Kumaratunga has now written to Cooray asking him to step down. It is likely National List MP Wijedasa Rajapakse will resign to make way for Cooray in Parliament.

Therefore the question, as astrologers predict, is whether opposition will be swept off when Kumaratuna concedes the P-TOMS to Tiger guerrillas. Or will the JVP become more stronger? The coming weeks will tell.



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