Rajapakse relaxed after LTTE speech

So Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) didn’t do what most people in Colombo widely expected — call off the ceasefire. Tensions were running high in elite circles and amongst the business community that he would withdraw the three-year-old ceasefire because Mahinda Rajapakse had been elected. Panic buttons were triggered and the stock market lost over Rs 100 billion on the Rajapakse win as businesses preferred opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe instead.

However, the wild speculation over what Prabhakaran would declare on Sunday in a widely awaited speech to market the annual Heroes Day celebrations and his 51st birthday commemoration ended rather tamely. The rebel leader said he believed Rajapakse was a realist and wanted to give him a chance to see what he has to offer to the Tamils. He said if Rajapakse didn’t come up with a reasonable political framework that would satisfy the minority Tamil community, the rebels would intensify their struggle next year.

No one would have thought that Prabhakaran would label the new president a “realist” given the liberal name calling of Rajapakse and his coalition during the election campaign. The campaign rhetoric made it that while Wickremesinghe would save the minorities, Rajapakse would be doomsday for the minorities.

In fact fears of a possible onslaught by the Tigers after Prabhakaran spoke led to heightened security in Colombo. Prabhakaran said a critical evaluation of Rajapakse’s policy statement revealed that he had failed to grasp the fundamentals, or rather, the basic concepts underlying the Tamil national question.

Whether the rebel leader will carry out whatever unnamed threat he has couched in diplomatic language, remains to be seen but it is most unlikely that the rebels will call off the ceasefire in the next six months unless the Rajapakse administration resorts to hardline tactics. That too is most unlikely since Rajapakse has indicated a desire to hold direct talk with the Tigers.

The government and the rebels have benefited from the ceasefire. However, the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and wrangling over the peace process negated their efforts to gain international recognition with the European Community. The LTTE isolation from the world community worsened when they enforced an unofficial boycott of the polls in the northeast.

Sripathy Sooriyarachchi quit moments after he was made a deputy minister in anger that he was not given a portfolio instead for being an active member of Rajapakse’s team. Another headache for the new president is former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s sudden about-turn. She wants to continue as a politician. Rajapakse’s obvious concern is that Kumara-tunga and her brother, Anura, could make another attempt to oust him.

Rajapakse for the first time can sit back and relax, relishing the thought that the LTTE after all sees him as a man of peace. Rajapakse now has a major challenge of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo