President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s decision to hold presidential elections 10 months ahead of schedule is “a calculated risk,” said the English-language, independent Deccan Herald of Bangalore on Oct. 22, especially now that the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have humiliated the Sri Lankan army in a series of defeats in the northern jungles.
Sri Lanka’s 16-year war escalated in early November when LTTE forces managed to recapture 10 army-controlled towns in the north. Hundreds of Sri Lankan soldiers were killed, and “thousands...torched their barracks and fled south in panic,” reported the English-language Tamil Guardian of London on Nov. 6. The rebels reportedly pursued deserting troops into the jungle.
President Kumaratunga has promised a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict for years, but so far she has not delivered.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe of the united National Party said he holds Kumaratunga “solely responsible for the military setback,” reported Madras’s conservative The Hindu on Nov 11. He also promised that if elected in December, he would make every effort to hold peace talks with the rebels. “I am not promising peace in 24 hours,” he said. “But I am willing to take the first practical step.”
An editorial in the independent Island of Colombo on Nov. 14 cautioned that it may be necessary to postpone the elections until this crisis passes. In that case, the LTTE would be unable to “maximize the advantage of its military gains...while the two major parties are at each other’s jugulars [and] while the country is facing the most formidable crisis in its contemporary history.”