State of suspense

THE snap election called by Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga, three years ahead of schedule, has predictably thrown the island’s political parties into confusion.

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Published: Mon 9 Feb 2004, 12:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:14 AM

Not that they are unaccustomed to whims and fancies, but what they are finding hard to fathom are the reasons behind the decision. Fresh elections can defuse the political crisis only if voters return the main opposition party - led by Kumaratunga - to power with a solid majority, thus ensuring unity of views between the executive and the president. But thus far there is little hard evidence that Kumaratunga’s decisions, starting with the November 4 seizure of key cabinet ministries, have endeared her party to the electorate. Although the explanation given was that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was making too many concessions to the Tamil rebels, most Sri Lankans seem to be less bothered by the nitty-gritty of the peace process than by its tangible achievements, to say nothing about its potential benefits. A bonanza totaling $4.5 billion in reconstruction aid pledged by international donors has been held up because of lack of progress on the peace front. Moreover, there is the cost factor: holding frequent elections is a luxury that cash-strapped Sri Lanka can ill afford. Fortunately, the ceasefire accord signed between the LTTE and the government still holds firm and the island has been enjoying its longest violence-free period in recent memory. Also, the animus between the president and the prime minister - they belong to rival political parties were elected separately and have a long history of squabbling - has not spilled into the public sphere. But there is no guarantee that the situation will not deteriorate given the country’s history of violent election campaigns. As for the ethnic strife, one can only hope it has run its course.

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