Deep differences within Sri Lanka's government over peace moves with Tamil Tiger rebels spilled into the open yesterday with outgoing President Chandrika Kumaratunga publicly slamming her premier.
Kumaratunga accused Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, the ruling party candidate for presidential elections, of committing their party to a U-turn on sharing power with minority Tamils to end ethnic bloodshed.
In an interview with the privately-run Daily Mirror, Kumaratunga said that a deal sealed by the premier with the main Marxist party on Thursday was "unconstitutional" and that she opposed it bitterly.
Rajapakse signed a 13-point pact with the Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, agreeing to drop power sharing with Tamils under a federal system if he is elected president at polls to be held by November.
The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam reacted sharply and accused the premier of shattering chances of a resolution of the three-decade-old conflict that has claimed at least 60,000 lives.
Kumaratunga told the newspaper that the premier had kept her in the dark over the deal and informed her only an hour before it was signed.
"That is not the way to inform the president of the country about the pact," she was quoted as saying.
"This pact is unconstitutional, and it violates several policies of the party," she added.
Kumaratunga, who is also the leader of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, had maintained that she is committed to a federal structure for the ethnically divided South Asian nation to end the conflict.
The president had also written a strongly-worded letter to the premier demanding his explanation and vowed that she will not allow elements of the JVP pact to be included in their party's election manifesto.
"The president is not willing to throw away 11 years of work in a mere election promise," an official in her office said on Friday. "She is committed to devolution and does not want the party to change its stance."
The open row between the two leaders is seen by political analysts as a setback to Rajapakse's election campaign.
He is yet to unveil his full election platform, but analysts have said the deal with the JVP amounted to a virtual manifesto promising to drop plans for a federal state and to stop privatization of state enterprises.
Tamil tiger rebels and the government agreed in December 2002 to a federal state and to share power, but peace talks have been put on hold since April 2003.