Colombo, Nov. 16: Norwegian mediator Vidar Helgesena’s decision to “go home and wait” till the two Sinhala parties sort out their differences has strengthened Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and put pressure on President Chandrika Kumaratunga to seek a compromise with her arch rival.
Helgesen virtually echoed the Prime Minister’s words by warning that the ceasefire which had kept peace in the island for the last 20 months was fragile and hinted that chances of the country going back to war mode were very real.
Wickremesinghe’s supporters had tried their best to get LTTE leader Prabhakaran make such a statement, but the Tiger chief’s statement was more guarded, merely saying the process could not continue till there was a consensus in the South.
The Norwegian stand has helped the ruling United National Party’s (UNP) campaign against the President, with its well-oiled party machinery projecting Kumaratunga as a “spoiler” of the peace process.
“Why should we Tamils suffer because the two Sinhalese parties don’t see eye to eye'” Suresh Premachandran, a Tamil politician asked. “When the President announced her peace package, Ranil Wickremesinghe and his party opposed it tooth and nail, burnt copies of the draft proposals in Parliament. Today, it is the other way round,” he added.
Nobody, not even the Tamils who have sided with Wickremesinghe in the current impasse, can blame the President of not giving enough to the Tamils. Her peace package was proof of this.
But the current crisis was triggered by the fear that the UNP was trying to engineer large-scale defections from the People’s Alliance (PA).
The President was already concerned about the Prime Minister extending the services of the army’s second-in-command and had written to the Chief Justice for his opinion, as she was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces under the Lankan Constitution. Her predecessors, from J.R. Jayawardene, Premadasa and Wijetunga, had all retained the defence portfolio.
Though the verdict had yet to be delivered, it was widely expected to be in Kumaratunga’s favour. Therefore, the UNP was planning to impeach the Chief Justice when Parliament reconvened next week. Kumaratunga’s decision to suspend parliament was aimed at countering this move. Moreover, the counter proposals submitted by the Tigers as well as the Prime Minister’s decision to present a sunshine budget all helped make up her mind.
At the same time, the People’s Alliance was trying to engineer a counter defection from the UNP. But the move boomeranged when Wickremesinghe returned from Washington to a hero’s welcome. Those who had promised to switch sides developed cold feet and the President was caught on the back foot.
“Much of this could have been avoided if the President had thought through her strategy. Her problem is she has no close advisers, as she falls out with all her senior leaders. She often does what she pleases without consulting her aides. She may have good tactics but tactics cannot replace strategy,” a senior diplomat said. Both sides are also keeping the election option open. The People’s Alliance is ready to do business with the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna while the UNP has the LTTE and Tamil groups on their side.