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'The Two Main Parties Must End the Separatist War'
Web-only interview with political analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

October 12, 2000
Web posted at 11:50 a.m. Hong Kong time, 11:50 p.m. EDT

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Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is a political analyst and columnist for the Sunday Leader, a weekly English newspaper. He is also an executive director of the non- government Center for Policy Alternatives, a think-tank in Colombo. He offered his thoughts on the Sri Lankan election to TIME reporter Waruna Karunatilake. Edited excerpts:

TIME: Why is every election seen as being a turning point in the country's history?
Saravanamuttu: The reason for this election being crucial is simply that the new parliament is going to have to decide on a new constitutional order for Sri Lanka. This will entail two things; firstly, restructuring the state, that is, getting rid of the executive presidential system and returning to a full parliamentary democracy. Secondly, moving away from a unitary state to a devolved quasi-federal, or full federal division of powers which effectively constitutes a political settlement to the ethnic conflict [with the Tamil rebels].

TIME: What were the key issues in this campaign?

Saravanamuttu: There was no substantive difference between the two parties as far as the key issues of the day were concerned. What was always important was the free nature and fairness of the poll. Another key issue has been the tendency on the part of the government -- in fact not just the tendency but the avowed plan of the government -- to try and link the opposition United People's Party to the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam].

TIME: What do you think will be the outcome of this election?
Saravanamuttu: I believe it would be beneficial if the electorate sent a clear message to the two main parties that they have to work together, search for a consensual solution to this [separatist] problem, and that the parties heed that message. But all the available evidence suggests that that isn't going to happen. So there's every likelihood that we might limp along without a definite or decisive election result, limp along until a general election in the near future clarifies the position.

TIME: If the outcome of the election is a hung parliament, what kind of constitutional crisis do you foresee?
Saravanamuttu: If there is no clear victor the constitutional provisions allow the President to decide whom to call upon [to lead]. Furthermore, the division of powers, as far as the current Constitution is concerned, is heavily weighted in her [President Chandrika Kumaratunga] favor. She is already the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Finance, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. She also appoints cabinet ministers.

TIME: How was the election conducted? And what is your reading of the election?
Saravanamuttu: There were serious problems with regard to the conduct of the election. In certain provinces and electoral districts -- according to information received by the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) -- there were serious violations including murders, bombings, stuffing of ballot boxes, removal of ballot boxes... We have in fact written to the Commissioner of Elections and asked him to annul the poll in 11 electoral divisions. We have identified 210 polling centers in 57 electorates as being especially problematic.

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