VAYAMBA ELECTIONS AND THE PEACE LOBBY
(1998 December 23)
It appears that the government has decided to go ahead with the elections to the Vayamba provincial council. This decision is somewhat puzzling, as the government had earlier decided to postpone the elections to five other provincial councils. Then it was said that the security situation in the country was not appropriate for holding elections. It was claimed that army and police personnel could not be withdrawn from the north for the purpose of providing security to officials, candidates and the voters during the elections.
It may be argued that the present "Rivbala" operations do not require as many soldiers as the operation "Jayasikuru" demanded and as such security could be provided at the forthcoming elections. However it is not a convincing explanation and many people would wonder why the government decided to change its position on elections.
On the postponement of the elections to the five provincial councils, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga had said that she was against the decision but had to finally agree with the people who wanted to postpone the same. Instead of holding those five elections at least on a staggered basis, why did the government decide to conduct the elections to the Vayamba provincial council?
Vayamba is not the most favourable province for the PA. Even at the last general elections the PA won the Kurunegala and the Puttalama districts with a relatively small majority. The government could have held elections to some other provincial council, where the PA is stronger and then conducted the elections to the Vayamba provincial council.
The Vayamba provincial council elections were forced by the UNP and the government is now stuck with its decision. The PA will have to employ all the resources they have, to make sure that they win, as otherwise it will mark the beginning of the end for the government.
It is clear that the non-national and foreign forces have decided to ditch the government. The non-national lobby was instrumental in electing this government under the presidency of Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga. They had wanted the PA government to amend the constitution so as to incorporate the TULF proposals to Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, with slight modifications as displayed in the G. L. - Neelan political package. The non-national lobby had assumed that the Sinhala national forces, which usually sympathise with the SLFP, would keep quiet if the PA introduced the so-called political package. However their assumptions were proved to be wrong and the Sinhala national forces were able to defeat the package even without the support of the SLFP. The supporters of the package since their defeat have found consolation in dubious opinion polls.
As the PA cannot deliver the goods, namely the package, the non-national lobby is not in need of the present government. The non-national forces would prefer a UNP government to a SLFP or a PA government, in economic and other matters. In 1994, they backed the PA simply because they were of the opinion that a government under Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga's leadership would be able to get the package incorporated into the constitution. If not for the executive presidency, they would have by now brought this government down. The Tamil racist parties in particular are not at all happy with what is happening. The decision of the TULF to vote against the budget, demonstrates their current thinking on the inability of the government to get the package approved by the parliament.
It is in this background that the decision of the government to hold elections to the Vayamba provincial council has to be viewed. Who, within the ranks of the government, is responsible for the decision to hold the elections? Why should the government take a risk and conduct the elections to the Vayamba provincial council before the elections to the other five provincial councils are held?
Is the non-national lobby already working on the assumption that the days of the PA government are numbered? In the recent past many organisations and individuals have been working towards some kind of negotiations between the LTTE and the government. Some have talked of third party mediation while some were interested only in third party facilitation. The Fox agreement was brought to the forefront again by the UNP itself. Fatchett's visit, attempt by the big business community to move into politics in order to help to find a solution to the so-called ethnic problem, the 'peace call' of the Bishop of Mannar, the release of the captain of the ship 'Irish Mona' and several others, the attempt by the non-national lobby to give the impression that Prabhakaran had 'declared peace' by his so-called mahavir day speech, Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala's effort to get some of the foreign embassies in Sri Lanka involved in 'peace talks', the TULF MP Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham's call for negotiations, all point out in one direction only.
They try to create the impression that time is ripe for discussions with the LTTE. What do all these people mean by negotiations between the LTTE and the government? Do some of them think of a future UNP government when they talk of a government? It appears that some of these people are preparing the background for the UNP to engage in talks when they come to power. At present it is the UNP that is more interested in talks with the LTTE. The UNP keeps on mentioning that the Fox agreement has to be honoured and that the government should commence unconditional negotiations with the LTTE.
The irony is that the electorate is not concerned with these issues during the time of elections. The Sinhala people, who constitute the overwhelming majority in each of the districts, Kurunegala and Puttalama, will not consider any of these when they go to the polling booths on the twenty fifth of January. The unitary state, the federal state, the package, negotiations with the LTTE etc., will not be in their minds when they vote. Most of them would not have heard of Mr. Fatchett or the Alert organisation of Mr. Kumar Rupasinghe, that was instrumental in taking some of the MPs and others to various cities in Europe in order to give them a few lectures on conflict resolution among other things.
This does not mean that the Sinhala people are not concerned of the impending threats to the country. If they were not concerned, the PA government and the non-national forces including the NGO lobby could have easily got the package implemented. The sudu nelum, the thavalama, the various yathras, the peace weeks in schools, organised with public money as well as foreign funding have all failed. The government media, especially the electronic media could not convince the people that the package was the panacea for all the problems. Having failed in their propaganda the local NGOs and the non-national lobby have to satisfy themselves with opinion polls funded by foreign NGOs.
The Sinhala people, though concerned with the political threat posed by Tamil racism, which is being backed by the western powers, do not in general take that into consideration when they vote at elections. About sixty percent of them are divided along party lines and another twenty percent cast their vote on the immediate issues like jobs, cost of living etc. This constitutes the so-called floating vote. The balance twenty percent are, in general, not interested in electing any one of the parties or the groups.
Both the UNP and the PA (SLFP) take advantage of this fact to claim that at the elections the people have approved their policies. The NGO lobby also interprets the election results according to their advantage. For example, at the last general elections they claimed that the people had approved the policies of the PA, which wanted to give the package as a 'kappan' to Tamil racism.
Whoever wins at the Vayamba elections the NGOs will interpret the results as a victory for so-called peace, which in their vocabulary is a synonym for federalism. For example, if the UNP wins they will claim that the people have approved the Liam Fox agreement and unconditional negotiations with the LTTE, even though the vast majority of the people in Sath Korale would not know who this Fox is. The only fox their children would have heard of, in school, is definitely not the former British under secretary. On the other hand, if the PA wins the NGOs will not hesitate to claim that as a victory for the G. L. - Neelan package. So whoever loses the NGOs will survive after the elections and look forward to the next seminar on the theme 'Vayamba for peace'.