MonitorsPublished on Apr 06, 2008
Two politically significant events took place this week. First was the filing of the nomination papers by People¿s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT), the political wing of LTTE set up in 1998. Second was the split in the only Muslim party,
South Asia South Asia Weekly 13

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Poll Vault

Two politically significant events took place this week. First was the filing of the nomination papers by People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT), the political wing of LTTE set up in 1998. Second was the split in the only Muslim party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), with one group joining the opposition United National Party (UNP) and the other siding with the government. This split will mean a division of the Muslim votes which would have a substantial impact on the elections. Both the nationalist parties, UNP and SLFP, however, have guaranteed the Chief Minister’s post to their Muslim partner, much to the chagrin of  Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).
On the conflict, the general feeling is that it was unlikely to end soon as Sri Lanka was busy replenishing its depleting stocks of weapons from Pakistan and China. In the first three months of 2008, Sri Lanka Army claimed to have recruited nearly 12000 soldiers and is in the process of adding another 8000 in the second phase of recruitment to be begin this month. But the gloomy war scenario and the high cost of living coupled with the global economic slump does not augur well for the economic growth of Sri Lanka which is likely to come down to 6% in 2008-09 from 6.8% in 2007.

< class="maroontitle">Protest to free Leaders

The week saw a wave of protests demanding the release of two former Prime Ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. Though both Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League (AL) have been pressing the government for the immediate release of their party heads,  they are figuring out whether it was an appropriate time for a nation-wide protest. The workers, however, favour a mass movement to free their leaders and have already begun separate movements on behalf different party units.  The student wings of the two parties have been holding rallies in university campuses in the recent past. The government, on the other hand, is keen on talking to the parties to maintain a semblance of order .

< class="maroontitle">No respite in violence

With the election date coming nearer, violence between the parties has witnessed a steady rise, especially in the eastern and Terai region, threatening the electoral process itself. The government claims to have tightened the security situation but there are no signs of it on the ground. Even the political parties, the Election Commission (EC), international observers, civil society and members of the international community have expressed concern over the rising violence. The EC discussed the issue with senior leaders of the three major parties; Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal and Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) chairman Prachanda. The commission urged the leaders to refrain from violating the code of conduct. The commission warned of serious consequences if the elections were to be deferred due to violence. The leaders assured their cooperation for holding the elections peacefully. They signed a 10-point agreement on April 1 to abide by the code of conduct and restrain from making provocative statements. They directed their cadres to refrain from anti-election activities. They formed a committee comprising members from civil society to monitor incidents of violence and violations of code of conduct. A three-member task force has also been formed with leaders from the three parties to oversee the implementation of the new agreement.

But there are already visible signs that despite such assurances, there is no sign of the party workers adhering to the code of conduct. The newly-formed civil society committee and the task force failed to prevent the Maoists- affiliated Young Communist League (YCL)  cadres from openly flouting the code of conduct and preventing other parties from holding election campaign in their strongholds. Interestingly, the UML and NC cadres are also toeing the YCL line. Besides, some armed groups in the Terai are out to   sabotage the election process. Repeated incidents of blasts inside a mosque premises in Biratnagar and serial blasts in Kathmandu on April 5 are indications of a worsening law and order situation merely five days before the elections.

< class="maroontitle">Slow progress 

A positive development on the legislative front was the Special Majlis passing the Bill putting Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) under the supervision of the parliament (Majlis). Though other amendments related to army redundancies, their punishments and arms purchases were not passed, the step can viewed as an attempt by the government to make the armed forces accountable indirectly to the people. The Draft Constitution of Maldives, however, remained stuck between the ruling and the opposition parties. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), meanwhile, painted a dim picture of the Maldivian economy suffering from mounting government expenditure, unskilled labour and economic inequalities between Male and other atolls. The bank put the  growth rate for 2008-09 at 8%,  assuming a booming tourism sector and a rebound in a fish catch to normal levels.

< class="maroontitle">Gillani’s 100-day challenge

Prime Iftikhar Gillani finally got a cabinet of ministers and key administrative officers to run a coalition government with lot at stake, and much to deliver to the people of Pakistan. Gillani, sensitive to the high public expectation from him, has put forward a 100-day programme comprising political, economic and security milestones which might seem over-ambitious but clearly an indication of his intentions. Of the three elements, Gillani and his ministers have been quite vocal about the sensitive issue of the war on terrorism and the US involvement. The Gillani government has made it clear that it will, first, review the anti-terrorism strategy followed by the Musharraf government, will not allow the US to operate from and on the Pakistani soil and will open dialogue with militants. The problem for Gillani is walk the talk here; the US has been holding the Pakistan economy with generous helpings, both overt and covert, over the past seven years and has to continue the generosity over the next few years at least to keep Pakistan on its feet. Gillani’s challenge would be, as Musharraf’s was till now, to keep the dollars flowing and let the people know who is taking out the militants from the tribal areas.

< class="maroontitle">Contributors

  • Anjali Sharma                  – Sri Lanka, Maldives
  • Joyeeta Bhattacharjee – Bangladesh
  • Paul Soren                       – Nepal, Bhutan
  • Wilson John                    – Pakistan


The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.