Rajapakse initiative, an elaborate theatre to appease international community - paper

[TamilNet, Thursday, 13 July 2006, 14:16 GMT]
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s initiative this week to come up with power-sharing proposal is “elaborate theatre to appease international demands, particularly India’s,” the Tamil Guardian said in its editorial this week. Arguing the ‘outbidding’ which undermined previous initiatives was “guaranteed” to happen again, given the lack of support from the UNP and the vehement opposition of the JVP and JHU, the paper said: “Rajapakse’s immediate priority is not to come up with a serious proposal to offer the Tamils, but to destroy his ruling party's main rival and consolidate his grip on parliament.”

The text of the Tamil Guardian editorial follows:

With much ceremony, Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse this week inaugurated an elaborate political mechanism, which he says, will produce a viable proposal to end Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. The Tamil community is absolutely certain it will not. Despite the elaborate unveiling - a spectacle staged for the benefit of the assembled diplomatic corps - the committee on constitutional reforms will go the same way as all such initiatives in the past. And, moreover, for the same reasons. Like other Tamil voices who are dismissing Mr. Rajapakse's initiative at the outset, we will no doubt come under criticism as unfair cynics - or even recalcitrant spoilers. But our skepticism stems not from latent prejudice or rejection of a negotiated solution. It is based on the visible weaknesses and inherent failings in this initiative that should worry any seasoned observer.

To begin with, the main opposition United National Party (UNP) has already withdrawn its crucially necessary support for Mr. Rajapakse's initiative. The UNP (which under Ranil Wickremesinghe's vacillating leadership has secured the adoration of the international community whilst losing its organizational cohesion) is understandably infuriated by the President's obsessive efforts to poach its MPs. Whilst Sri Lanka has slid to the brink of war in recent months, the President's puerile focus has been on building up his government's parliamentary majority.

While less than pleased with Mr. Rajapakse's victory - assisted by an LTTE-inspired boycott by the Tamils - the international community has continued to work with the new President. Many international actors have taken Rajapakse’s self-projection as a simple 'man of the people' too literally, convincing themselves that he is simply not aware of the realities of international affairs or, for that matter, governance in the 21st century. Amongst the few exceptions is India. Delhi knows all too well the character of Sri Lanka's internal politics and its leading players and, most importantly, the dynamics of the present imbroglio. Which is why India is now stepping up its diplomatic intervention.

Last week Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran traveled to Colombo with a specific mandate: to get the two main Sinhala parties to come together and forge a unified position on how Tamil aspirations could be met. The logic is obvious. Putting a serious political proposal on the table would meet a key demand of the LTTE, put forward by its leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan last November. India has, credible reports say, also urged the implementation of ceasefire-related obligations undertaken by the Rajapakse administration at the talks in Geneva in February to help de-escalate the conflict.

But no sooner had Mr. Sharan returned to Delhi, the bipartisan arrangement he set up fell apart. Mr. Rajapakse turned the loyalties of a UNP MP and upon his crossing over, appointed him a junior minister. The UNP, protesting that the President was more focused on emasculating it than cooperating on the national question, has pulled out of the sham Rajapakse inaugurated this week. Meanwhile, paramilitary attacks against the LTTE haven’t stopped.

The UNP's exit guarantees that the 'outbidding' which has torpedoed every peace proposal, no matter how weak, by previous Sri Lankan governments will happen again. But that is not the end of it. Mr. Rajapakse's key political allies, the ultra-nationalist JVP and the Buddhist monks’ party, the JHU, have already voiced their strident opposition to powersharing with the Tamils - citing Mr. Rajapakse's own 'unitary state or bust' election manifesto which earned him the majority of Sinhala votes. The JVP and JHU will clearly not allow a decent power-sharing proposal to emerge - they'd rather bring down the government first. Lastly, and most symbolically, the main Tamil party has not even been invited to the deliberations.

But even before all that, the experts Mr. Rajapakse has chosen to come up with a power-sharing proposal beggars belief. Yes, it is a multi-ethnic committee - as if simply belonging to an ethnic stock authorizes one to represent that community. But it is dominated by Sinhala hardliners, including the doyen of ultra-nationalist ideologues, H. L. De Silva.

President Rajapakse is simply going through the motions to appease the international community, particularly India. But his main objective, like his predecessor, is to consolidate his Presidency and prepare to secure another six years when the present term ends. Therefore his immediate priority is not to come up with a serious proposal to offer the Tamils, but, as the splintering UNP is vehemently protesting, to destroy his ruling party's main rival and consolidate his grip on parliament.

Which is why we are certain nothing will come of the elaborate exercise which President Rajapakse began this week.


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