For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, a ruling party and the main opposition party have signed a pact to rise above petty politics and cooperate on key national issues, especially the contentious issue of fighting terrorism and finding a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in the island.
The landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in Colombo on Monday by the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP).
A joint statement issued after the signing ceremony said that the agreement would “replace the hitherto existing politics of confrontation with the politics of active cooperation on national issues in the interest of the nation.”
The MOU was signed by Maithripala Sirisena on behalf of the SLFP, and Malik Samaraweera on behalf of the UNP, in the presence of President Mahinda Rahapaksa, who heads the SLFP, and the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who heads the UNP.
The joint statement said that cooperation would be in the following areas:
1. finding a solution to the conflict in the Tamil-speaking Northeast
2. electoral reforms
3. good governance
4. social development.
The UNP agreed to extend support to the government in the latter’s pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the on-going ethnic or North-Eastern conflict while opposing terrorism in all its manifestations and upholding human rights.
There would be a High Level Committee to be headed by the President and the Leader of the Opposition to oversee the implementation of the various agreements. The MOU has been given an initial life-span of two years.
Mechanisms of cooperation still to be finalised
However, the actual mechanisms for cooperation are still to be finalised. The statement said these would have to be further discussed.
Among the ideas discussed so far in this regard are:
1. UNP’s joining the government and taking up ministerships.
2. Forming an Overseeing Committee for each ministry in which they would participate.
3. Forming an Executive Committee for each ministry in which the government and the opposition would also participate
Since these are highly contentious issues on which both the SLFP and the UNP are divided sharply, further discussions have been necessitated.
Not against JVP
It is generally believed that the MOU between the SLFP and UNP is primarily meant to marginalise the radical Sinhala nationalist and Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and get out of its clutches.
The JVP is powerful with 39 MPs in a parliament of 225 members. The Rajapaksa government depends on the JVP for survival in parliament.
But both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe said that the MOU was not against any party.
Rajapaksa said that all parties were welcome to join the new order, and remined the audience that the SLFP and the JVP had cooperated in the last Presidential elections.
However, the JVP and its sister party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) did not attend the signing ceremony.