Peace process strengthened by local election

There is no question that the local election results are a personal victory for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and reveal the trust he has been able to generate within the Sinhalese electorate in particular. Within a mere four months of being elected President he has swiftly rebuilt the SLFP into a party that can contest on its own and yet win. At the last Presidential election the viability of the SLFP as a single party seemed to be in doubt, and the JVP played a major role in preparing the ground for President Rajapaksa’s victory. There was an apprehension that the JVP strategy was to eventually swallow up the SLFP. But President Rajapaksa has succeeded in completely reversing that trend.

By Jehan Perera

A victory by the ruling SLFP-led coalition at the local government elections was expected. Political parties that have won national elections immediately preceding the local elections invariably do well at the local elections that follow. But a landslide victory of the sort that the SLFP achieved was not expected, if only for the reason that the JVP was contesting in opposition to it. The JVP made no secret that they anticipated winning at least 50 local authorities. They did not agree to joining with the SLFP to contest the elections because they were not satisfied with anything less.

The rout suffered by the JVP would be disappointing to them. They won only in one local authority. The poor performance of the JVP is revealing of the moderate nature of the electorate. The JVP is generally seen as a revolutionary party, with radical ideas concerning the economy and ethnic conflict.

In previous elections, when the JVP contested in alliance with the SLFP, the moderate nature of the SLFP helped to mainstream the JVP in the eyes of the electorate. The electorate was prepared to vote for the JVP in large numbers provided they came within the moderating policy lines of the SLFP.

It is possible that the JVP will take a lesson from the election verdict and moderate their policies. The electorate clearly rejected their fiery brand of revolutionary politics that was based on simplistic economic and ethnic nationalism.

The JVP made much of their opposition to foreign involvement in Sri Lankan affairs, bordering on xenophobia in some instances. They attacked the multilateral aid agencies and also attacked the Norwegian facilitated peace process.

They challenged the government to halt Norwegian facilitation within a month or face a demonstration of hundreds and thousands.

Ironically, the routing of the JVP, and the even more devastating defeat inflicted on the Buddhist monks of the JHU, will also take the wind out of Tamil nationalist propagandists. They had been arguing that Sinhalese nationalism was too deeply entrenched for there to be a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict. But the electoral verdict at the local government elections revealed a different reality.


[Jehan Perera] National Peace Council

The Sinhalese electorate clearly rejected ethnic nationalism, and instead embraced a political leadership they trust who seeks alliances and partnerships with all ethnicities.

Personal victory

The electoral verdict at the local government election will make it more difficult for the LTTE to pull out of the second round of Geneva talks scheduled for April. The LTTE has been strongly expressing its discontent at the non-implementation of the agreements reached at the first round of Geneva talks.

They believe that the government should be disarming all the paramilitary Tamil groups, in particular the Karuna group in the east, which has not happened. As a result the LTTE sees no purpose to the second round of Geneva talks.

However, the electoral rejection of the Sinhalese nationalist parties will likely empower the President, in particular to make a conciliatory move towards the LTTE. A bold move by the President at this time is essential to rescue the peace process.

There is no question that the local election results are a personal victory for President Mahinda Rajapakse and reveal the trust he has been able to generate within the Sinhalese electorate in particular. Within a mere four months of being elected President he has swiftly rebuilt the SLFP into a party that can contest on its own and yet win.

At the last Presidential election the viability of the SLFP as a single party seemed to be in doubt, and the JVP played a major role in preparing the ground for President Rajapaksa’s victory.

There was an apprehension that the JVP strategy was to eventually swallow up the SLFP. But President Rajapaksa has succeeded in completely reversing that trend.

The election results are also a vindication of the President’s policy of inclusiveness. The President has sought to build alliances wherever possible, rather than embarking upon unilateral measures.

Since his election he has brought the CWC, which represents the majority of hill country Tamil people, into the fold of his alliance. Until the JVP decided to go their own way at the local government elections, President Rajapaksa considered them also to be an important part of his political alliance.

When they contested separately and were at the receiving end of political violence by SLFP members, the President instructed his party members to desist from such acts of violence and also ordered the army to give support to the police to maintain law and order.

There is speculation that the President may seek to capitalize on the advantages of the present time and call for a snap general election that could lead to the decimation of the JVP. This is a plausible option.

However, the President’s first option is likely to be to continue to work with the alliance that helped him to win the Presidential election.

At the same time, given his inclusive approach, the President is also likely to try to further increase the numbers of political parties and individual politicians who join his alliance. A snap general election would only be a second option.

Obtaining stability

What President Rajapaksa may prefer at the present time is a period of stability and continuity, rather than another round of political turmoil and uncertainty that a general election could bring. But this would hinge on reviving the peace process.

At present there is no trust between the government and LTTE and other relevant parties, such as other Tamil parties and Muslim parties.

The lack of trust and lack of a political framework both explains and leads to the continuing efforts to obtain a position of strength vis a vis the others, even to the extent of utilising violence to undermine the others. As a result the Geneva talks appear to have become deadlocked.

The jockeying for a position of strength by acts of direct violence and by using armed entities will not stop in the absence of a framework agreement on peace and democracy.

Therefore, there will be no full adherence to the Ceasefire and Geneva Agreements until the government and LTTE agree on a broad political framework.

The political framework agreement would set out the scope for economic development, transformation away from the rule of guns, and towards political control.

In other words, an end to the deadlock in political talks is necessary. This may even be able to compensate for the deadlock in ceasefire talks.

A two step approach is desirable in this context and needs to be taken on board in the future rounds of Geneva talks.

In the first step the government and LTTE would agree on a joint mechanism to ensure that financial assistance for humanitarian relief and economic development is channeled to the north east. This could be on the lines of the PTOMS joint tsunami mechanism.

The second step would be the establishment of an interim government for the north east.

If there is progress in agreeing on a joint economic mechanism as a starting point, and on an interim government as a second step, implementing the Ceasefire and Geneva agreements will become possible. The transformation of all armed entities into political ones must be the goal of the peace process. [Source: DailyMirror]
[TamilWeek Apr 2, 2006]

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