Politics and politicking seem to be the order of the day with President Mahinda Rajapakse. After signing a unity treaty with the opposition United Nationalist Party (UNP) to develop a “southern consensus,” Rajapakse lure 19 opposition party members into the government with cabinet posts so his government will now enjoy a simple majority. Ina major cabinet reshuffle, he rewarded the defectors with cabinet posts and removed dissenters within his Sri Lanka Freedom Part (SLFP) from the cabinet sending a clear signal that dissension, disagreement, and moderation is not required. Mangala Samaraweera was stripped off his Foreign Ministry position as he opposed Rajapakse on many issues. With this move, when the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe away in New Delhi for consultations, renders whatever consensus that emerged from the October unity meetings, including the Memorandum of Understanding, irrelevant. With the reshuffle, Rajapakse now has a jumbo 104-strong Council of Ministers with 52 Cabinet members including 10 from the defector list.
The upside to this move is that Rajapakse does not need to depend on the extremist Janatha Vimukthi Peramunna (JVP) support any more. The JVP had a dagger to Rajapakse’s throat and this bribed-defection will win him some respite. How he uses this freedom is something that needs to be seen.
If Rajapakse uses the freedom to bolster his military campaign to make territorial gain, the humanitarian crisis enveloping the North and East will deteriorate rapidly. If he uses the freedom to tone down the military option and seek a political compromise, then he will be able to access the aid money to rebuild the broken economies. Rajapakse may be tempted to take advantage of recent military wins in the East to consolidate power and legitimizing the his proxy (the Karuna group) and therefore show progress to gain access to funds that he may then use against the LTTE in the North. After all, Rajapakse has already publicly said that he will build up the recent military gains onto a larger onslaught on the North. As tempting as it is for the India Government to watch the LTTE disappear, the legitimizing of the Karuna group is only to supplant the LTTE with that organization which is no better.
India should ask the SLG and perhaps work a track-III initiative with the LTTE to work on a compromise limiting the LTTE’s scope to the North and the government’s scope to the South and East. If both sides work on an administrative compromise to access funds that is closely monitored and used only for development and not for military use, there is a possibility that some succor is brought to populations long trapped between the warring parties.