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Question mark over UNP joining Govt

The substantive issue of UNP's joining the Lanka Govt is yet to be resolved, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Oct 08, 2006 15:51 IST

The tentative deal between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) concluded early this week is sound from  a broad and theoretical point of view.

However, the substantive and critical issue of the UNP's joining the government is yet to be resolved.

It is in this context that the supporters and the opponents of the deal are waiting anxiously for the outcome of the proposed meeting between the Leader of the SLFP, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the UNP chief, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Colombo on Wednesday.

Although the 14-member joint SLFP-UNP panel has agreed on the Common National Agenda for cooperation within and outside parliament, the crucial issue of the UNP's participation in the government by taking up ministerial positions, remains to be settled at the highest level.

Rajapaksa's eagerness 

Rajapaksa is believed to be keen that the UNP takes up ministerial posts. His main concern seems to get the annual budget in mid-November passed, in the face of a possible vote against it by the 39 member Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

The JVP has been at odds with the Rajapaksa government for some time now over a range of issues including the ethnic issue and the role of the international community in it.

Rajapaksa believes that a tie up with the UNP's 63 MPs will obviate the need to keep the JVP on board. 

The SLFP chief is keen that the UNP comes on board quickly, also because of an astrological prediction that from mid-October onwards, his government will be having a tough time.

This is the reason why the SLFP is keen that the MOU on bi-partisan cooperation be signed on or before October 15.

Wickremesinghe's agenda

UNP leader Wickremesinghe, however, is not eager to keep Rajapaksa in power by joining his government and beefing up his strength in parliament.

Wickremesinghe is not averse to supporting the government on specific issues, like the ethnic issue and some new instruments of good governance. And towards this end, he has proposed the setting up of a supervisory system in the form of  'Oversight Committees' for each ministry, in which the opposition would have a dominant representation.

But cooperation cannot be at the cost of the individuality of  UNP, he asserts.

He does not want the UNP to be tainted by the bad deeds of a government dominated by the SLFP. The UNP should not be a victim of the incumbency factor in the next election.

Then there is the astrological factor. According to The Nation Wickremesinghe believes that the Rajapaksa government will fall on or around November 19, budget time.

Some UNP stalwarts believe that there is a possibility of the annual budget being defeated, if the JVP, which is currently at odds with the Rajapaksa government, votes against it.

It was with the intention of defeating the SLFP-led government during the budget, that some UNP MPs started a dialogue with the JVP. 

Significantly, the dialogue is still be abandoned.

However, Wickremesinghe will have to contend with the fact that a majority in his party wants to participate in the government.

This is because of a widespread belief in Sri Lanka that, astrology or no astrology, Mahinda Rajapaksa will be in power for two terms at least, given his manifest popularity among the majority community, the Sinhalas.

The armed forces' successes against the LTTE since April 25, have only beefed up popular support for him among the Sinhalas.

UNP may split

One scenario that is envisaged is that the UNP may split, with one group joining the government as defectors, and the others staying put in the opposition as UNP proper.

But this may not be entirely to the discomfiture of the Rajapaksa government because it will have got 15 to 20 extra supporters in parliament. And the JVP will not have been alienated totally.

The JVP's enemy number one is not Rajapaksa but the UNP. As its leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said recently, the JVP might be carping in its criticism of the Rajapaksa government, but it would not withdraw support to it, if withdrawal meant the installation of a UNP government.

The JVP views the UNP as being insufferably pro-West and pro-right and given to appeasing the international community and the LTTE.