Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A National Government?

It’s one of those things that have always had much ‘public support’ in this country, but many times when such an opportunity has presented it self, Sri Lankan politicians has shied away. It remains to be seen whether this latest opportunity will be examined in earnest or paid only lip service. I am quite expecting the latter.

A potential ‘National Government’ has many benefits, one being the possibility of a much eluded national consensus (and not necessarily a ‘southern’ consensus) on the ethnic conflict; another of course is the availability of expertise and skill currently idling in the opposition from Prof. GL Peris, to Milinda Moragoda to the big fish himself, Ranil Wickramasinghe. Yet another advantage would be the annihilation alienation of the obstructive JVP/JHU parties.

The request itself by His Excellency, much like most things in his administration, is not without its ambiguities. The official word seems to be the president requested the UNP, and other parties to ‘Support’ the government in its efforts to solve the ethnic conflict. Now, ‘support’ can be tendered in various ways and not necessarily through the potentially dramatic step of a ‘National Government’. The local press though, seems to be of the view that the request is along the lines of a National Government.

Whatever the case, the country and its government are in need of clear and direct action along the avenues a negotiated settlement to the present crisis situation. The Rajapakse administration has proven that it’s incapable of handling the situation anything short of all out war. In this light, Ranil Wickramasinghe as the Prime Minister may offer hope in breaking this spate of violence and forcing the LTTE into negotiations once again. His methods might not be terribly inclusive, but he - at least when in government, has proven to be a GTG (Getting-Things-Done) politician, very much a breed in demand. After all these supposedly ‘inclusive’ initiatives like the APC (All Party Conference) and that advisory council of experts has achieved nothing much tangible. Their very existence, particularly of the APC, seems to be for mere cosmetic purposes than for any honest effort to solve the larger or the immediate conflict.

Despite these facts, the UNP is likely to demand the government spell out its parameters for solving the ethnic conflict before saying anything remotely closely to ‘I Do’. It’s always safer to get a concrete compromise out of the President than to just commit blindly for the sake of greater good. Additionally I’m sure, like any ‘good’ party, they would consider factors like the number of cabinet portfolios in the offering, and the bigger picture of the war situation Mahinda has created, which in time may be beneficial for the UNP.

The ‘war’ may be popular and even easier to start but is not so easy to sustain, both in itself and in terms of its popularity. When the heat of the war enters Colombo and the surrounding suburbs, and when the prices of everything from petrol to peppermint inflates, and when the government tries to squeeze for every penny, rupee and dollar to save itself from bankruptcy, and when the ‘masses’ who voted in favor of the present president find that the fertilizer subsidy is no more, they will think twice, thrice and many times and may heed to a future UNP plea to make things right, once again.

The above thinking of course, is along extreme partisan lines and hopefully the UNP is above that. If in fact this offer from His Excellency is to form a National Government, and is genuine, and if (and only if) the government is willing to compromise on some its positions and drop its fake nationalist rhetoric, and if it is genuinely willing to solve both the immediate and the larger conflict, then I think the UNP has a duty to accept it.

However, His Excellency and his government must realize they cannot have all things their way; it’s a pipe dream to think of a National Government if they still wishes to be in bed with the JVP. The government must make a solid decision on which way it wants to take this country. If the government decides to take the JVP route, then it will be a matter of time before they strangle themselves.