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After E-Day, Peace Or War? 

V.Thangavelu 

Comrade Somawansa Amarasignhe, leader of the JVP has resurfaced in Sri Lanka after an absence of 12 years,   thanks to President Chandrika  who provided him with a brand new passport. Not long ago President Chandrika and her PA held photo exhibitions in towns and villages in the South to expose the campaign of terror   carried out by the JVP during 1989/90. 

President Chandrika is also on record of accusing the  JVP being  responsible for the murder of her own husband (albeit she sometimes attributes the crime to the UNP). Now  an urge for political survival  had compelled President Chandrika to get into bed with the JVP leader. 

Comrade Amarasinghe is a self-confessed murderer of 6,000 civilians out of a total of 60,000 within a period of 2 years. Though he has denied attacking the Dalada Maligawa (only the police post was attacked he says),  Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratna has a different story to tell.

Within days after the return of self-exiled Comrade Amarasinghe, Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratna told a news conference in Kandy that the JVP was responsible for the first attack (a  closely kept secret till now)  on the Dalada Maligawa during the terror period. Soon after this news conference, a grenade was thrown at the official residence of the Diyawadana Nilame causing damage to the kitchen on Wednesday night (November 28,2001) which coincided with the day the JVP held its campaign rally in Kandy.

President Chandrika is a bundle of contradictions.  Lying has become her full time job as President. She lies through both corners of her mouth without even batting an eye lid!  

Her accusation that the Elephants have a secret pact with Tigers is a lie. She said that in the elections held in 2000 as well.  If there is a pact, then there should have been some negotiations between the UNP and LTTE either in Vanni or Colombo. But such negotiations  cannot take place without the knowledge of the government and its intelligence agencies. And Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a political nitwit to commit such hara-kiri.  President Chandrika knows what she says is a lie. But she repeats the lie in the hope the Sinhalese voters will swallow it. She is relying on the poor I.Q. or memory loss of the voters. Otherwise one cannot comprehend the paradox of how she was able to romp home during elections in 1994 on a peace podium and  then win the 2000 elections on an all-out war platform!   

During 2000 election campaign, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, seeking a second term for her People's Alliance  coalition, promised an all-out war against the LTTE if the PA is voted again.   She said her government would crush the LTTE using the military (she falsely accused the LTTE of repeatedly rejecting  all peace moves, including  the Norwegian-backed effort) in an all out war. She said the military had already begun massive drive against the LTTE and she had been assured that troops would defeat the LTTE.  That explained why President Kumaratunga repeatedly turned-down the offer of ceasefire by the LTTE and launched the Agni Khiela military operation within hours of the ceasefire expiring on April 24, 2001. That the operation ended in total disaster for the army is a different story!  

During the current election campaign President Chandrika is again playing the LTTE card to the full to rally Sinhala racist and religious forces against the UNP.   She has said that if UNP is voted into power, Prabhakaran will become President of Sri Lanka within two years! Or if Northeast is ceded then he will conquer the whole of Sri Lanka. Such utterances are not surprising given the fact that the  SLFP itself was formed on the bedrock of Sinhala nationalism (a euphemism for Sinhala racism) and has a long and uninterrupted history of marshalling and marching  at the head of  ultra- Sinhala Buddhist  brigade.

 It is obvious to the discerning individual that President Chandrika’s political fortunes had everything to do with her birth and nothing to do with her brains! Even a mediocre will tell you that Prof.Pieris; former Vice Chancellor of Colombo University will prove a better President and Head of State than Chandrika Kumaratunga. After all Prof. Pieris  is a professor of law and a constitutional expert, though President Chandrika claims that it is she who prepares the budget and he as  Deputy Finance Minister simply reads same  in the parliament. It is a surprise that she has not laid claims that it is not Prof. Peiris, but  it is she who drafted the constitution!

While the elections is centred around LTTE and Prabhakaran, no thought is given to the sinking or nose diving  economy due to  escalating cost of living,  rampant unemployment, hyper-inflation, poor economic growth, falling foreign reserves,  burgeoning foreign and domestic debt, widening trade deficit etc.

The average annual export growth rate of Sri Lanka in 1995-2000 was 9.8 per cent and it was lower than  many other countries in the region.  Although exports rose by 19.8 per cent in 2000, they are expected to decline this year. In the first nine months of 2001, exports in dollar terms have declined by 8.1 per cent over the corresponding period in 2000. The principal export - textiles and garments - has dropped by 10.6 per cent. It  is reported that some 80 factories have ceased to operate while about 100 others are providing work only for two weeks in a month. Agricultural exports dropped by 6.0 per cent. Tea prices in dollar terms were 16.0 per cent lower in September than a year ago.

The total domestic and the foreign debt now exceeds the GDP. In 1990 the total public debt was Rs 310 billion. In 1996, it has more than doubled to reach Rs 708 billion and now in 2001 it has nearly doubled again to reach Rs 1372 billion.  The per capita public debt has reached the astronomical figure of Rs72,282 in 2001, as compared to Rs 18,235 in 1990 and Rs 32,352 in 1994, when the PA came into power. Debt burden of every person in the island now exceeds Rs 72,000. 

Tourist arrivals which declined from 436,440 in 1999 to 400,414 in 2000 or by about 8 per cent are expected to drop further particularly as a result of the global downturn and the fear created by   attacks at Katunayake airport. Tourist arrivals for first 9 months  were 6.9 per cent less than in the corresponding period last year.  Receipts from tourism generated  US$ 252 million in 2000, will be well below $ 180 million this year.

 Sri Lanka’s average annual current account deficit in the balance of payments in 1995-2000 was 4.1 per cent of GDP. In 2000 it was  $ 989 million or 6.0 per cent of GDP caused mainly by a large trade deficit of $ 1798 million. Current account deficits have been covered by using the country’s official foreign exchange reserves which fell from $ 2063 million in 1995 to $ 1202 million in September 2001 or by 42 per cent. There was a commitment to the IMF to rebuild official reserves to $1.5 billion, but these reserves are around  $ 1 billion now.   Official foreign exchange reserves fell to as low as $ 942 million at the end of March 2001 - the equivalent of 1.6 months’ imports. 

The IMF standby of $ 131 million, out of a total of  $253 million,   in April, 2001  increased the reserves to $ 1202 million by September—the equivalent of 2.3 months of imports. But further drawings ( $61 million) have been postponed as Sri Lanka  failed to comply with IMF conditions.  Total external assets, i.e. including those of commercial banks have fallen from $2902 million at the end of 1995 to $ 2131 million at the end of 2000 and risen slightly to $ 2265 million by September.

The large current account deficits are also a major cause of the depreciation of the rupee from $ 1 = Rs. 54.0475 in 1995 to US $ 1 = 74.3235 in 2000 and US$ 1 = Rs. 92.7400 in November 2001. The constantly depreciating rupee tends to increase prices of all imported goods and raise the general price level in the country. Colombo Consumers Price Index in November 2001 records an inflation rate of 14.3 per cent.

Defense expenditure since 1994 has soared coupled with severe losses of territory, equipment and men. The war is costing the PA government  Rs. 83 billion in 2000 out of a total government expenditure of  Rs. 320 billion rupees. This figure is likely to rise to Rs. 85 billion during 2001.   As a percentage of GDP  defense expenditure rose to 5.4 per cent s compared to 3.9 per cent in 1990-1994.

But a brave-faced President Chandrika brags that GNP has doubled (100%) since 1994! But  that is GNP at current factor cost prices. GNP at constant factor cost prices or in real terms rose by only 34 per cent.

But how do you tell all these to the Sinhalese voters who line up to cast their franchise on the morning of December 5,2001 to elect a new parliament?  Racist politics has paid rich dividends from the days of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike, J.R.Jayewardene, Ranasingha Premadasa and now Chandrika Kumaratunga. After  E-Day- Peace or War ? The choice lies with the Sinhalese voters in the south. (Homeland-December, 2001)