Monday, 13 August 2012

LTTE’s hand in electing WJM as Speaker

War on terror revisited: Part 23


article_imageBy Shamindra Ferdinando 

Sampanthan reveals TNA’s decision to boycott the presidential poll on Nov 17, 2005. The Trincomalee District MP addressed the media on Nov 10, 2005 after receiving instructions from the LTTE

With TNA emerging as the third force at the general election on April 2, 2004, President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government felt the need for an accelerated development plan in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil speaking people. The PA leaders pushed for TNA participation in the development process. They were of the view that gradual improvement in living conditions in the war-ravaged districts would help deprive the LTTE of an environment conducive to conscription. The government wanted to implement a programme similar to the one executed by the incumbent government after the conclusion of the conflict. The LTTE quickly realised the danger of the government move. Prabhakaran ordered the TNA not to get involved in any political activity, which could jeopardise the LTTE’s plans to get an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA).

The TNA declared that the LTTE wouldn’t return to the negotiating table unless the SLFP-led UPFA unconditionally established the ISGA in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, with powers to raise taxes, maintain law and order, control internal and external trade, negotiate foreign loans and the granting of absolute control over marine and offshore resources of the adjacent seas and the undisputed power to regulate access. That wouldn’t have been possible without the LTTE being able to the Sea Tiger force as a legitimate unit. (TNA likely to skip Trinco meeting––The Island of June 10, 2004)

The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003. The LTTE unveiled its ISGA proposals in Oct 2003 in response to the UPFA’s offer of a power sharing plan for the Northern and Eastern Provinces in June the same year.

JVP’s counter-offensive

The TNA/LTTE stand on the ISGA brought the UPFA under tremendous pressure with the government seeking the support of the Norwegians to explore ways and means of bringing the LTTE back to the negotiating table. The JVP reacted angrily. Its leadership felt cheated. Amidst the UPFA and the UNP indicating their willingness to cooperate on the national issue, and reiterating their support for the Norwegian initiative, the JVP launched a counter-offensive on its own, to discourage the UPFA from giving in to the LTTE demands. The JVP found itself in an extremely difficult situation.

With the TNA having 22 members in Parliament, the LTTE was able to manipulate the House to its advantage. There couldn’t be a better example than the TNA’s role in helping UNP stalwart W. J. M. Lokubandara secure the post of Speaker.

Acting on the orders of the LTTE leadership in KIlinochchi, the TNA voted for Lokubandara (TNA backs Lokubandara on Tiger orders––The Island of April 23, 2004). The Badulla District MP was automatically elected Chairman of the 10-member Constitutional Council with powers to recommend members to the four independent commissions to run the judiciary, police, public service and election office. This was in line with the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa did away with after having militarily defeated the LTTE.

Of the 22 TNA parliamentary group, 21 voted for Lokubandara. Newly elected Batticaloa District MP Kingsley Rasanayagam didn’t vote as he had been ordered by the LTTE to quit. Rasanayagam’s crime was his perceived close relationship with Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, who caused a devastating split in the organisation on March 2, 2004. Rasanayagam polled a respectable 38,633 preferential votes in the Batticaloa electoral District, though the LTTE felt he couldn’t be trusted or expected to toe the LTTE line. The LTTE summoned the entire TNA parliamentary group to Kilinochchi on April 20, 2004 to instruct members on the future course of action. Rasanayagam was given the opportunity to either quit on his own or face the consequences. He compiled.

UPFA wrong-footed

The LTTE/TNA move wrong-footed the government, which wanted Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) General Secretary, Dew Gunasekera as the Speaker (Speaker automatically heads Constitutional Council – The Island of April 21, 2004).

By manipulating the House, the LTTE to some extent offset the damaging split caused by Karuna, whose operatives struck in various parts of the Eastern Province. Although the government wasn’t too keen to exploit the fight between Prabhakaran and Karuna to its advantage, a section of the military worked with the breakaway faction.

In the wake of Lokubandara’s election as Speaker, the then Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe declared that the UPFA couldn’t survive without the UNP’s support. Samarasinghe warned that the combined Opposition had the strength to bring the UPFA to its knees. The Kalutara District MP said that the Opposition would hit back hard if the UPFA resorted to unilateral action (Govt. at our mercy––The Island of April 23, 2004).

At the election to the post of Speaker The UPFA succeeded in enticing two JHU monks to its ranks, while the JHU (formerly Sihala Urumaya) threatened to retaliate. But the UNP managed to secure the support of the SLMC, the CWC, the Up Country People’s Front (UPF) and most importantly, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). The JHU, which didn’t show its hand at the first round as it felt the UPFA nominee could win with the support of the SLMC, CWC and the Up Country People’s Front, voted for Lokubandara in the second round.

Lokubandara polled 110 votes, whereas Dew obtained 109. The JVP was of the opinion that whatever the dispute between the SLFP leadership and the JHU, it shouldn’t have voted for Lokubandara knowing the LTTE/TNA complicity in the operation (JHU backed WJM under flimsy pretext-JVP – The Island of April 24, 2004). The solitary spoilt ballot paper in the first poll bore the name of W. J. M. Gunasekera––Lokubandara’s initials with DEW’s surname. But there was no signature. But in the second round, the same person voted with the UPFA. Although UNP National List Member Navin Dissanayake was accused of being the collaborator, he strongly denied the charge.

P’karan’s masterstroke

Whatever the circumstances, it was a masterstroke on the part of the LTTE. Having studied the political relationship among the UNP, SLMC, CWC and UPF, the LTTE used the TNA to back the Opposition. As MP Mahinda Samarasinghe said, the UPFA found itself at the mercy of the Opposition, which stepped-up pressure on President Chandrika Kumaratunga as the JVP threatened to quit the coalition over a simmering dispute as regards the peace process, ISGA proposals and the Norwegian role. The government struggled on the political front. The Colombo based diplomatic community and civil society organisations, too, felt that the UPFA was on the verge of collapse even before the forthcoming Budget vote in Dec 2004. The UNP openly encouraged the UPFA to ditch the JVP. A section of the UPFA, too, believed that the UPFA could reach an understanding with the UNP. Both parties pushed the JVP to quit the alliance to pave the way for a greater alliance, which they believed could lead to a lasting political settlement. In spite of being humiliated, the JVP remained in the alliance until President Kumaratunga decided to go ahead with P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure) in June 2005 to facilitate resumption of talks with the LTTE. The JVP quit on June 16, 2005.

Having secured the Speaker’s post, the UNP offered its support to President Kumaratunga to go ahead with the peace process. UNPMP Rajitha Senaratne declared that the UPFA shouldn’t worry about the JVP quitting the coalition, as its exit would be beneficial to the negotiating process. When Speaker Lokubandara told President Kumaratunga that the UNF and UPFA had about 200 members in Parliament and there couldn’t be any trouble in reviving the Norwegian initiative, the President was quick to point out that she wasn’t counting on the 39-member JVP parliamentary group. (Even if JVP quits, UNP will support SLFP for peace-Rajitha––The Island of May 13, 2004). At that time, the JVP had the second largest parliamentary group within the UPFA.

In a desperate bid to thwart a UPFA- UNP political marriage of convenience, the JVP explored the possibility of forming a pressure group within the alliance. The JVP emphasised that the government should never accept the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, though the group could be the main party at future negotiations with the government. The JVP struggled to launch a protest campaign against UPFA-UNP alliance. It highlighted how the LTTE had manipulated the House through its agents, though some of those in power acted as if they weren’t aware of the LTTE strategy.

Having experienced a defeat at the election of the Speaker, the UPFA moved to strengthen its parliamentary group. The UPFA quickly won over the SLMC and CWC, which had contested the general election on the UNP ticket, much to the consternation of the UNP. The SLMC and the CWC also shared six National List slots among them.(UNP questions constituents’ moral rights with strap line SLMC, CWC seeking to negotiate separate deals with government - The Island of May 17, 2004).

On the night of May 15, 2004, President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa met JHU members at the official residence of the Mahanayake theras, Charikaramaya, to seek their support. It was the first official meeting between the two parties since the JHU voted for Lokubandara. President Kumaratunga and PM Rajapaksa obviously had no option but to sink their differences. Their failure would have caused the collapse of the administration. PM Rajapaksa found it difficult to work with the President due her attempts to deprive him of the premiership.

The JHU maintained its relationship with the UNP. The LTTE/TNA alliance worked to a common plan beneficial to the grouping, whereas the UPFA and the UNP jostled for control with the SLMC, CWC and UPF exploiting the situation. The TNA, which threw its full weight behind Lokubandara’s candidature for the post of Speaker, indicated that it couldn’t do the same in the event of the UNP contesting the post of Deputy Speaker. The UNP’s last minute decision was prompted by its apprehension that it would not be able to muster the required support. The UPFA, too, endorsed the UNP move. An angry JVP lashed out at the UPFA, with the then party heavyweights, Wimal Weerawansa and Nandana Gunatilleke confronting PM Rajapaksa. The JVP leaders met PM Rajapaksa on May 20, 2004 to discuss the issues, including a common front against the LTTE/TNA alliance, though both parties remained suspicious of each other. The JVP pushed PM Rajapaksa to take a strong stand, though he wasn’t in a position to do so, due to several reasons. Although President Kumaratunga and PM Rajapaksa worked together to secure the JHU’s support, they remained on a collision course on many other issues. Their hostility towards each other increased as the countdown for the next presidential polls began, with the SLFP sharply divided over the election schedule, as well as the candidate.

Having failed to prevent Mahinda Rajapaksa from being the Prime Minister, the JVP reluctantly sought to establish a working relationship with him. The JVP realised that it wouldn’t have any option than to back PM Rajapaksa. (The issue was discussed in a previous article)