Saturday, Nov 22, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
``What has happened has happened,'' the Opposition spokesman, Sarath Amunugama, told reporters here this morning. ``If we are going to co-habit, we have to forget earlier differences,'' he said, referring to the stands adopted in the past by the PA, headed by the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the UNF, headed by the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Dr. Amunugama also said that the President had indicated a deadline of December 15 for a consensus to be reached, but did not elaborate.
The Opposition's stand comes as an immediate response to Thursday's call by the ruling UNF that the two parties work together on ``main issues'' particularly the peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the economy.
Calling for a ``new approach'' and a ``new culture'' the Cabinet spokesman, G.L. Peiris, told journalists on Thursday that the ruling party wanted a ``role for the Opposition''.
Emphasising the importance of a southern consensus, Prof. Peiris had said there was the need to ``go beyond'' the Liam Fox agreement an initiative by the former British Minister that the ruling party would keep the Opposition informed of the progress of peace negotiations and the Opposition would maintain confidence.
Prof. Peiris had said the Opposition should be more than kept informed and be ``involved in the decision-making process.'' The Government, he had said, wanted to ``put behind us'' the past differences as ``part of history'' and ``move on''. Recalling that there was a ``substantial degree of convergence'' between the two parties, he said ``there seems to be a political will on both sides'' and that they should ``not let it slip away''. In a clear change from the position adopted by the UNF during the early phase of the latest negotiations with the LTTE, Prof. Peiris said the President's party had a ``greater role to play''.
The move by the two main parties towards each other is also against the backdrop of prolonged negotiations between the PA and the radical, hardline Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to forge an electoral pact. Fundamental differences persist between the PA and the JVP on the crucial issue of greater devolution of powers, as a solution to the decades-long separatist conflict.
MoU not ruled out
Calling for clarity in the relationship between the two parties, Prof. Peiris, who is the Constitutional Affairs Minister and the Chief Government negotiator for the peace process had said a memorandum of understanding was ``not ruled out''. An MoU on the way in which the two parties would resolve issues of national importance, specifically economy and peace, was ``an option the Government is considering,'' he had said.
The observations by the Government and Opposition spokesmen are against the backdrop of a Committee of Officials appointed jointly by the President and the Prime Minister to chalk out ways of working together on issues of national importance.
At the core of the recent political standoff is Mr. Wickremesinghe's loss of control over the Defence portfolio after the President, Ms. Kumaratunga, took control over the Ministry on November 4. The Cabinet demand the restoration of the status quo ante and said the Prime Minister would not take responsibility for the peace process, as he did not have control over the Defence Ministry.
When asked if the Prime Minister was again taking responsibility for the peace process, Prof. Peiris, said that he would not be able to do so unless he had complete authority.
Efforts were on to resolve the standoff in a ``fair, balanced and sustainable manner'', Prof. Peiris said, adding that efforts were on to study the French model of power-sharing, particularly in Defence. According to unconfirmed reports one of the options being considered is that while the President holds the Defence portfolio, a Deputy Defence Minister could be appointed from the UNF. During the PA rule, Ms. Kumaratunga held the Defence portfolio and appointed a Deputy Defence Minister.
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