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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 10.11.03

It is unlikely that political stability will quickly return to Sri Lanka. Although the immediate crisis brought about by the news that the president, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga, had declared an emergency may have been resolved, the real problems are far from over. These deep-rooted political problems stem from the virtual failure of the constitutional system of cohabitation, with Ms Kumaratunga and the prime minister, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, being almost at war with each other. Fortunately, the saga surrounding the proclamation of emergency has proved to be a non-event. It turns out that Ms Kumaratunga had not signed the proclamation required to make it a law. According to the president’s spokesperson, the emergency regulations with “revisions” were “sent to the State Printer”, and this, of course, led to the belief that a state of emergency had been declared.

But a state of emergency becomes law only after the president signs a proclamation. The explanation provided, however, is not entirely convincing. Although Ms Kumaratunga may not have signed the proclamation, the president’s office did not, till recently, deny reports of the emergency. Clearly, the widespread public dismay at the news of the emergency and probably some external influence may also have played a role in the final decision to invoke this extreme constitutional provision. Moreover, Mr Wickremesinghe, who was in Washington when the political crisis started, arrived in Sri Lanka to a rousing reception organized by supporters of his ruling United National Party. Ms Kumaratunga may have made a tactical retreat, but the confrontation between the prime minister and premier is unlikely to end soon. Indeed, Ms Kumaratunga, it is believed, may have been forced to consider declaring an emergency because of the prime minister’s moves to impeach, first, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and, then, the president herself. Earlier, the president had dismissed three senior ministers of Mr Wickremesinghe’s United National Front Government, including the defence minister, and prorogued parliament for two weeks. This was the president’s way of re-establishing her executive authority.

The uneasy “partnership” between Ms Kumaratunga and Mr Wickremesinghe began in December 2001 and has got messier since then. Although there are considerable differences over a variety of issues, it is the dialogue with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that has caused maximum trouble. While the prime minister’s office has been responsible for carrying out the dialogue, the president has felt left out. More important, Ms Kumaratunga has argued that some of the interim policies may severely affect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. This, of course, is a charge denied by the prime minister and in this, he has the support of the United States of America. Be that as it may, it is clear that peace cannot be brought about in Sri Lanka without some form of political stability. And political stability needs a new partnership between the president and the prime minister. This needs to be urgently realized by Ms Kumaratunga and Mr Wickremesinghe.