Prospects of political stability and economic development in Sri Lanka brightened on Thursday, with the country's main opposition party, United National Party (UNP), agreeing in principle to join the Mahinda Rajapaksa government on the basis of an agreed Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
Senior Cabinet Minister, Nimal Sripala de Silva, told Hindustan Times that there had been an agreement "in principle" between the accredited representatives of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP, but a MOU remained to be signed.
The MOU would follow the ratification of the agreement by the UNP's Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and his lieutenants, he said.
According to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake the MOU would be signed before October 15.
A top source in the UNP told this correspondent that the agreement was for a period of three years, initially.
Sixteen UNP members would be inducted into a 40-member cabinet, he added.
However, there is still some uncertainty in the air because there are dissidents in both the camps.
The dissidence is more acute in the UNP because the Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, himself, is rather cold to the idea.
But he might have to yield to the majority opinion in the party which is in favour of joining the government given Rajapaksa's great popularity among the majority Sinhala community in the South, Centre and West of the island.
The coming together of the SLFP and the UNP is a great blow to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which was having a great deal of influence on the Rajapaksa government because of its 39 MPs in parliament. Rajapaksa was having difficulty governing the country given the ultra-leftist and ultra-nationalistic policies of the JVP.
The JVP has been agitating against the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE, and has also been wanting the ouster of the Norwegians and the international community (the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo donors' conference) from the peace process.
Its trade unions have been holding the government's public sector to ransom.
With the 63 MPs of the UNP on board, the Rajapaksa government will be very comfortable in parliament, which has a maximum strength of 225.
SLFP-JVP talks failed
The SLFP held talks with the JVP just like it did with the UNP. The government wanted the JVP to join its ranks on the basis of a CMP.
But the talks failed on the core issues alluded to. The talks also created tension within the JVP.
One of its top leaders, Nandana Gunatilleke, has virtually defected to the government side.
However, the JVP said that it would continue to support the government in the House, perhaps hoping that the SLFP-UNP talks would fail as before.
Contours of the SLFP-UNP Common programme
The CMP covers the ethnic issue, governance and electoral reforms.
As per the draft published by one of the weekly papers, the programmes are vaguely worded for the sake of flexibility and general acceptance by the majority of Sri Lankans who are Sinhalas.
There is nothing specific for the minority Tamils or the Muslims, as any specificity will only invite controversy.
Augurs well for economic growth and international acceptability The agreement augurs well for the economic growth of Sri Lanka by guaranteeing political stability and uniformity of policies for at least three years.
The government would be Left of Center, more Centre than Left.
The international community would bless the move because it has been crying hoarse about the lack of political unity and uniformity in Sri Lanka.
India, particularly, has been seeking a bi-partisan approach to all issues, especially the ethnic issue.
If the coalition works, Sri Lanka will be spared another election, which is expected to cost SLRs 1 billion (INR 500 million)
LTTE will be in a quandary
Although the LTTE has been saying that the Tamils have suffered because of SLFP-UNP disunity, it has itself gained by the disunity.
It has been able to carry on its armed struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam pointing out to the endemic disunity among the major Sinhala parties.
What one party had agreed to do for the Tamils, the other party would agitated against, scuttle or dishonour, thus supporting the LTTE's thesis that the Tamils would get nothing from the Sinhala-dominated governments of Sri Lanka.
The current SLFP-UNP agreement will put both the LTTE and the JVP is a spot.
As to how they will tackle the new situation is a million dollar question for which only time will give an answer.