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‘There is no place for moderates’

Even as his party leader and incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga wrapped herself in the tenets of liberalism whilst addressing the United Nations this week, her party’s candidate for her succession, Mahinda Rajapakse, continued to tread an unabashedly Sinhala ultra-nationalist platform at home.

In the past two weeks, Mr. Rajapakse has nailed his colours – a deep shade of saffron - to the mast by signing electoral alliances with the Marxist-cum-Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi perumana (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), reported TamilNet.

Whilst he had always been known as a devout Buddhist, Rajapakse has sent a shockwave through Sri Lanka’s minority communities by firmly grasping the ethno-religious standard of political (Sinhala) Buddhism.

Apart from an unequivocal rejection in the two alliance documents of the key conceptual elements of the peace process, he is espousing a distinctly Sinhala-first rhetoric: “(The Tigers) must realise that we have to satisfy the Sinhalese people in the majority. Without them we can’t move forward.”

The move has also startled liberal sections of the Sinhalese community.

Writing in the Daily Mirror Friday, one leading political commentator, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda, said “many, including me, who have known him as a decent, moderate and non-chauvinistic politician, are quite frustrated with his strange strategies.”

Prof. Uyangoda insisted “Mr. Rajapakse can still win the election with a moderate position on the ethnic question, accompanied by a strong programme of social and economic justice.”

Ironically, many Tamils also believe that. The inevitable conclusion, in their view, is Mr. Rajapakse does not want to.

As the Tamil Guardian newspaper argued in a recent editorial, Rajapske’s agreements with the extremist parties are “not just a marriage of political convenience but an assertive statement of their shared vision of a future Sri Lanka – one in which the Sinhala-Buddhism is the prevailing order and the minorities know their place.”

Notably, Mr. Rajapakse has done little, except for non-specific promises to pursue talks with LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan, to assuage Tamil concerns. He is also making no specific comments on issues of concern to the Muslims or Estate Tamils and political commentators suggest the horse trading with Estate and Muslim politicians – primarily for the latter’s ministerial perks - is underway.

Some liberal Sinhalese and sections of the minority communities are uncertainly taking comfort that Mr. Rajapakse is merely seeking to broaden his vote bank for the polls and that good sense would prevail once he was safely ensconced in office.

But his allies confidently dismiss the notion.

“We stand by safeguarding Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and oppose devolution of power and though [others] think otherwise, we believe Mr. Rajapakse is wiser and will abide by his agreement with us,” JHU General Secretary Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera was quoted by the Daily Mirror as saying Friday.

The JVP was equally sanguine, with frontliner Anura Kumara Dissanayake saying: “we will worry about what course of action to take if the Premier reneges on the agreement at that time. Right now, we have reached a consensus on how to approach the national question and the economy. Our policy about a breach of this agreement will be known at that time. We don’t need to start off doubting the Prime Minister.”

“Mahinda has agreed to cancel the P-TOMS agreement and have rejected the ISGA and therefore all patriotic forces should get together to ensure his victory” the JVP’s powerful Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa also said Friday, according to the paper.

Mr. Rajapakse himself is meanwhile stepping up his Sinhala-first rhetoric.

Making an unexpected appearance Friday at a Patriotic National Movement (PNM) led convention, he made a patriotic plea to safe guard the country the Daily Mirror also reported.

“I will save the nation for the future generation” he said amidst loud cheers.

“I am a southerner who hails from Giruwapathuwa and that’s why I have managed to get the support of all forces. I will not let these forces down and am ready to sacrifice any thing for the betterment of the nation” he added.

“There is a challenge ahead of us to save this country for the younger generation” Rajapakse also said.

Meanwhile, the JVP’s Weerawansa, whose is also Joint President of the ultra-nationalist PNM, said that the presidential elections this year have become a battle between the patriotic forces and the traitors of the nation.

“A line has been drawn between these two forces and there is no place for moderates” he declared.

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