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Pawns on the board

Kumaratunga is now confronted with her party’s presidential candidate caving into JVP and JHU demands with the sole objective of winning the election for which no date has yet been set. She, in her capacity as leader of the SLFP, has demanded Prime Minister Rajapakse’s explanation for the various agreements he has entered but the present signs are that he will not respond. While government spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva, previously labeled a CBK loyalist, went on record on Friday saying that the prime minister and the president would “negotiate” on their differences, there was no word on what would follow if such negotiations fail. Both sides have options and these have their pluses and minuses. What the contenders will choose remains an open question although the country can expect some degree of clarification when the president returns from New York later this week. Observers have noted that her entourage included loyalists she would no doubt have consulted in plotting her strategy for the exciting days that lie ahead.

Rajapakse promised some business leaders he invited to Temple Trees that he will neither lead the country to war nor a closed economy if he is elected. While these are reassuring words, the company he keeps or more specifically those with whom he has signed MOU’s, erodes the credibility of his honeyed words. But he has the advantage of continuing to retain the support of sections such as the JVP and left parties like Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s New Left Front, which makes no secret of their reservations about Rajapakse’s deals with the JVP and JHU. But because they accord highest priority to defeating Wickremesinghe, they are backing the premier.

If the prime minister thinks he can wriggle out of his MOU obligations, he will not have the same free ride his boss had way back in 1994 when she secured the withdrawal of the JVP candidate from the presidential race on the promise that she would abolish the executive presidency with an year of election. The JVP today is a much more formidable party which sees the prospect of winning state power for itself without hanging on to anybody’s sari pota and will not stand for somebody they helped enthrone in President’s House playing fast and loose with them. Nevertheless, the primary objective of both the candidate and the various groups around him is to ensure his victory and all other matters, at least until the election is concluded, will remain on the backburner. It must be said though to the JVP’s and Vasudeva’s credit that they are saying as much.

For those who want peace in Sri Lanka, an opportunity of marginalizing extremists like the JVP and the JHU was lost by Rajapakse giving in to their demands. He did so too easily in his desire to cobble arrangements that will ensure victory without sufficient realization that that given the support base of these parties, they would have had little option but back him on his terms. Running their own candidates, as they once said they would, could have only meant the public exposure of their real vote base. Once the chips were down, neither of these two allies who now have Rajapakse where they want him, could not but have done their best to get him elected because from their viewpoint, he’s the lesser of the two evils.

(Extracts of editorial published September 19, 2005)