Wednesday, Nov 12, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
Announcing Mr. Wickremesinghe's decision to accept Ms. Kumaratunga's invitation sent on Monday, the Cabinet spokesman, G.L. Peiris, said the meeting would be an attempt to "minimise damage" and chalk out "practical ways" of "nurturing and continuing" with an "already fragile peace process". Mr. Wickremesinghe would look at "practical ways of salvaging the peace process" and emphasise that there was "no need for changes" as he enjoyed a "strong and absolute majority" in the 225-member Parliament, Prof. Peiris said. The island nation plunged into political turmoil on November 4 after Ms. Kumaratunga's constitutional takeover of three Cabinet portfolios Defence, Interior and Mass Communication. Mr. Wickremesinghe's Cabinet has demanded restoration of the pre-November 4 situation.
Though Mr. Wickremesinghe's administration said that it was "not embarking on a confrontation course," there are no signs of reconciliation, with Prof. Peiris coming down heavily on Ms. Kumaratunga's November 4 move. "It was a thinly-veiled attempt at power-grabbing. Nothing else. There was no security threat," he said.
Prof. Peiris termed Ms. Kumaratunga's constitutional moves as making "fundamental changes" to the peace process, which "has been damaged" and "put in jeopardy". Ms. Kumaratunga must take "remedial action", he said.
The meeting will be watched for possible compromises between the two arch political rivals, but there are no indications of a climbdown by the Prime Minister's United National Front (UNF) as yet. Though Prof. Peiris said the issue involved was "not the return of the portfolios, but the stability of the peace process", it does not dilute the Cabinet's demand.
With Ms. Kumaratunga's position being strengthened by a recent Supreme Court determination that she held plenary powers over a Defence Minister, one possible scenario is that she could appoint a Deputy Defence Minister, with the clear signal that her decisions will prevail. During the earlier People's Alliance Government, she held the Defence portfolio, but for all practical purposes, a Deputy Defence Minister ran the Ministry.
Reconvene Parliament: UNF
The UNF today wrote to the Speaker demanding that he re-convene Parliament before November 19, the date when the President's prorogation of the House expires.
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