TamilWeek Feb 19, 2006
Geneva, local elections and the
political balance of power

By Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu

Geneva and the local government elections have the
potential to change the political balance of power in the
country. The question is as to whether they will.

The potential of Geneva in this respect is the possibility
that the Mahinda Rajapakse administration and the
LTTE will be able to establish a working relationship
which in turn will have a beneficial impact on the cease
fire and lead to a resumption of political negotiations.

Furthermore, given the high probability of the LTTE
insisting on the disarmament of paramilitaries and of
Karuna, in particular, the success of such a relationship
will be contingent upon agreement regarding Karuna,
reflecting either compromise or concession.

Balance of power

Without one or the other it is difficult to envisage the
establishment of a working relationship between the two
sides, given the LTTE’s position. And were the clipping
of Karuna’s wings to be the price of this, the balance of
power on the ground in the north east will be heavily
tilted in favour of the LTTE.

It will be indeed a continuation of the UNF government
approach to the CFA, of treating the LTTE as a partner
and implicitly acknowledging a sole representative
status. The rest of us will probably not know of whether
this is happening until the second round of talks, since it
is highly unlikely that any outstanding issue in the CFA
will be settled in the course of two days in Geneva.

The success of the first round is the guarantee that
there will be a second round and a third and so on, until
the two sides have exhausted their joint effort to
implement the CFA in full. It is also the case – and here
is the indicator of preparedness and intentions
regarding a return to full blown hostilities – that the
rounds of talks must follow without too much time
elapsing in between.

Political pressures

It does seem to be the case that each side does not see
it as being in its interest to talk about the implementation
of the CFA indefinitely. There are political pressures
arising from constituency expectations and demands to
get on with the job and if that is not possible pursue
other options that might prove to be more conducive to
the attainment of interests.

A protracted series of talks will only serve the purpose of
demonstrating intractability and the arguments for a
resumption of hostilities. It is not clear as to whether the
government side sees the need for a synchronisation of
the progress of talks and the prospect of agreements
with local government elections. True to form, these
elections too will not be fought on local issues but rather
be seen as a national election in microcosm.

The JVP and the PA are contesting separately. They are
vying for the same constituency in the main and the UNP
is in disarray. True to form again, there is the strong
possibility of the party in power at the centre capturing
power in the local councils.

Joker in the pack

The joker in the pack however remains the JVP and its
ability to demonstrate that it does indeed have
tremendous support at the grass root level. A
government delegation that is seen to be soft or softer
at Geneva may give the JVP the chance to capitalise on
the differences between themselves and the rest of the
PA and vice versa.

The SLFP has every interest in demonstrating that it is
not crucially dependent on the JVP to win elections. It is
only after this is conclusively demonstrated that the real
Mahinda Chinthana will be revealed and realised.

A poor showing by the JVP at the local level will make
the prospect of cutting them down to size at the national
one, difficult to resist for the President. A general
election could follow a poor JVP performance at the local
hustings.

Some would argue that it will because a poor JVP
performance will be ensured. President Rajapakse will
be able to argue that the SLFP led PA triumphed in an
election campaign led by him and accordingly, he owes
no favours any more to anyone, faction or other party.

A SLFP-led PA victory at the local polls and at a general
election to follow soon thereafter carries with it the
possibility of a major reconfiguration of the balance of
power in the south. Hopefully, one that will have a
beneficial impact on the chances for a negotiated
political settlement.

Unitary state

A Rajapakse administration sans the JVP Sword of
Damocles over its head could well continue from where
the UNF left off in 2004. For instance, this columnist has
never believed that the President’s championship of the
unitary state is carved in stone.

With the JVP reduced in size, the President will be freer
to move forward and entertain ideas and options that
the JVP and the JHU consider beyond the pale, like
federalism for example. He will also be able to move on
the economy and move he must to salvage it, beyond
the unnecessarily constricting bonds of the current
Mahinda Chinthana.

There are those who will argue that there is no need to
cut the JVP down to size since the President has
succeeded in silencing them at the moment. It is worth
considering that months down the line this silence will be
broken and that if cutting down to size is an option at all,
it is one that can be more easily accomplished now,
rather than later.

The President is politically savvy, pragmatic, et al. There
is no dispute about this. Currently he is riding high, but
on the strength of tactical manoeuvres that have as yet
to be fashioned into a strategy. On his ability to do this
rest the questions of peace and war, prosperity and
political stability.
[The Morning Leader]