Feature Article

Amity to acrimony

[TamilNet, Sunday, 21 September 2003, 14:34 GMT]
In the wake of an unsuccessful bid to forge an alliance to topple the ruling United National Front (UNF) government, Sri Lanka’s two largest opposition parties are now at each other’s throats, weekend press reports said. Relations between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the largest constituent of the main opposition People’s Alliance (PA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP), the third force in Sinhala politics, have descended into acrimony barely days after alliance talks collapsed.

Whilst the JVP has blamed a failure to agree on a common strategy on the ethnic question as the reason for the collapse of talks, the SLFP, which is headed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, is claiming the Marxists were demanding too many portfolios in future government.

JVP leader Tilvin Silva hit back saying the SLFP had “no proper plan” for the abortive alliance discussions with the JVP.

“Without a substantial basis for talks, we saw them consulting Indian astrologers for auspicious times. They were far from political realities. Their plans kept changing,” he told the Sunday Times.

“We sharply differed with the SLFP on the question of devolution. We don’t subscribe to their stance that devolution of power would end the bloodshed. It will not,” The Island newspaper quoted JVP officials as saying.

“President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s refusal to end Oslo’s role in the peace process also contributed towards the break-up,” they said.

However, in an outburst against the JVP last week, President Kumaratunga disclosed the Marxists had demanded forty seats, four portfolios and four deputy ministerships including the important the post of deputy minister of defence for the proposed alliance, the Sunday Times reported.

The Times quoted the President as telling a meeting of SLFP MPs and organisers last Wednesday that the JVP demands “were too much and beyond her will or power to give.”

“What will I be left with after giving away the chairmanship of the alliance," Kumaratunga had asked. She said the SLFP even offered the co-chairmanship to the JVP and said “I cannot afford to lose [my] party.”

SLFP officials told The Island that “Kumaratunga’s approach has placed the party in a difficult wicket. It has also paved the way for the JVP to win some of our supporters.” He admitted however that the SLFP positions on Norway and devolution was inline with sentiments of the international community.

But difficulties over the power structure of the proposed alliance had not been resolved. Insisting devolution and Norway’s role “were the key questions on which the talks broke down” Mr. Silva admitted “there were disputes about power-sharing with the proposed alliance also.”

Both parties are now planning to launch independent protest campaigns against the UNF’s policies and prepare for polls, reports said.

The JVP decided to go ahead with their own protest campaign as there is no likelihood of the two parties reaching consensus on the two contentious issues, The Island said.

The JVP will not be involved in the SLFP’s protest campaign although it had earlier said the collapse of talks on an alliance will not discourage it from being part of whatever action the SLFP intends to take against what the JVP described as a conspiracy to divide the country, the paper said.

However, the JVP is being careful not to incur any blame for the two parties failure to forge an alliance. Mr. Silva told the Sunday Times, for example, that to save the country from a political and socio-economic disaster, the party was still ready to resume talks with the SLFP if both sides were ready to make adjustments on key issues like devolution of power.

The Island newspaper meanwhile reported the JVP is making “an ambitious bid to bring nationalist parties and groups hostile to the peace process under one umbrella, a Desha Hithaishi Jathika Viyaparaya (a patriotic nationalist movement).”

But disgruntled SLFP members would support the JVP in a protest march get underway in Kandy on September 27 and end with a rally at Lipton Circus in Colombo on October 1.

Rallying her party members, President Kumaratunga warned that she would take severe disciplinary action against any one making remarks to the effect that the SLFP cannot win the election without the support of the JVP, the Sunday Times reported.

The President had told SLFP organizers not to go home and sleep but to start organizing the party and not to come back with the excuse that they are unable to work alone. The President at one point made Badulla district MP, Dilan Perera to sit down when he tried to point out the importance of forming an alliance with the JVP, the paper said.

The JVP was equally defiant. On being asked if the two parties weren’t dependent on each other to defeat the UNF, Mr. Silva told the Sunday Times “we don't know whether the SLFP needs us. The JVP does not need the SLFP. It is the country which needs both parties to get together to avert a disaster.”

In a related development, SLFP stalwart Anura Bandaranaike, the formerly estranged brother of President Kumaratunga might have fallen foul of his sister after The Island newspaper attributed comments to him blaming her for the failure of the alliance talks.

The Island had Sunday before last quoted Anura, who had been closely associated with the SLFP-JVP negotiations, as saying the talks “had been catching on really well until his sister had started upsetting the Marxists.”

Anura had protested the report, describing it as a “crudely (sic), politically motivated attempt to create a rift between the President and myself.” But The Island this week was standing by its story.


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