'We are exploring all options to stay in power'

COLOMBO, AUG. 30. After the failure of its talks on power-sharing with the United National Party (UNP), the minority People's Alliance Government is now exploring ``all options'' for its survival when the prorogued Parliament reopens on September 7.

``There are several options before us. We will discuss and choose the one that is in the best interests of the nation,'' the Minister for Urban Development, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, said at a press conference on Wednesday. And a tie-up with the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was a ``serious option.''

The JVP has offered to support the Government for one year on several conditions, one of which is that it should not commence peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during this period. It has said that its offer is open till Friday.

The JVP, which has a violent past and an ideology that is a curious mixture of extreme left and extreme right, is also opposed to privatisation and other economic reforms that the donor community wants Sri Lanka to implement.

The immediate challenge for the PA is to avert or overcome a UNP- spearheaded no-confidence motion. It was to avoid this that the President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, prorogued Parliament for the maximum permissible period of two months on July 10.

Mr. Samaraweera said proroguing Parliament for another two months was also an option that the President could exercise. That would take the Government safely to October, when the current Parliament would have completed a year, enabling Ms. Kumaratunga to dissolve it and call for fresh elections.

Asked why the Government did not take the path of least resistance and face the no-confidence motion to prove its majority on the floor of the House, Mr. Samaraweera said just because a few of its members had defected, thereby turning it into a minority, it did not mean that the PA had lost its mandate to govern.

However, the UNP contention is that the PA did not receive a mandate to govern the country as its vote share was below 50 per cent in the last elections. ``Let them not forget that their Government was put together in Parliament,'' said Mr. Tyronne Fernando, a UNP parliamentarian who participated in the power- sharing talks with the PA.

The UNP has demanded that Parliament be resummoned and the no- confidence motion be taken up on the first day. ``No more monkey business, no prorogation,'' said Mr. Fernando.

Despite the confidence projected by the UNP, it is not certain if it has the required numbers to topple the Government. Though the number of the combined opposition parliamentarians is 115 - more than the Government's 109 in the 225-member House - the success of the no-confidence motion is not certain because the JVP, which counts itself as part of the combined opposition, has not yet come out in favour of the motion. Even if the party does not reach an agreement on support to the Government, whether it will back the motion if and when it comes up in Parliament is doubtful.

As the success of a no-confidence motion depends on the number of members present and voting, the JVP needs only to abstain for the Government to pull through. But even if the Government survives the vote, an early election seems the most likely outcome of the entire imbroglio.