Despite securing a key position in parliament as the opposition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is seen going through a rough patch trying to get their act together. However, PLOTE leader and TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan told The Sunday Leader that there is no significant difference of opinion within the TNA and all four parties of the TNA are in support of an international inquiry. However, he admitted that the all four parties of the TNA coalition have not yet come to one table to discuss the matters recently – therefore they have already requested for a meeting with the party leadership.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
By Waruni Karunarathne
Q: There are differences of opinion within the TNA on having an international investigation into alleged war crimes and human rights law violations of Sri Lanka. At present, where does the TNA stand on that matter?
A: I do not see differences of opinion within the TNA in a big scale about the need to have an international investigation. Even in our election manifesto, we clearly mentioned the need to push for an international investigation because we do not trust or rely on a local mechanism. It has been a long standing demand of the party. Even after the election, at a meeting in Trincomalee, Leader of the TNA, R. Sampanthan mentioned the need to have an international mechanism. Therefore I do not think that there are differences of opinion as such.
Q: However, recently a few members of the TNA including M.A Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathiraja said that the international investigation has already taken place under the commission appointed by the UN – and they are awaiting for its report which is due this month. How do you view their stance?
A: Well, it is true that it was an international inquiry which is an initial one. Yet once the report is out what is the step afterwards as the remedy to the concerns and how can we to meet its recommendations? Let’s say if the report holds someone accountable. Then what is the next step? There has to be another process. The UN report alone will not serve any purpose of the Tamil community in this country. The truth must be revealed. For that we cannot rely on a domestic process but we need an international mechanism.
Q: Three parties of the TNA except the ITAK have signed a document demanding for an international investigation which was sent to Geneva recently. What was the reason for the ITAK not to sign that document? Doesn’t it show the rift in the TNA at present?
A: Well, if you want, you can see it that way too. However, three parties except the ITAK met only to discuss some matters related to the national list. The ITAK appointed the nominees to the TNA national list and other parties had differences of opinion regarding that. The exact reason why we met without the ITAK was to discuss regarding the national list appointments. At that meeting, we also took up this issue about the need to push for an international investigation before the UN report was out. Therefore, then and there we prepared the document without delaying it further and decided to have a proper discussion with all the TNA parties later. The three parties who met at that point sent that document as it was urgent for us to get it to Geneva before the sessions. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. Soon after that we issued a statement regarding that – plus, we stressed the need for the four parties in the alliance to come together and strengthen the alliance. Besides, ITAK MP S. Sridaran has signed the signature campaign which is right now ongoing in Jaffna led by Gajen Ponnambalam demanding for an international inquiry. Sridaran being an ITAK member signing that document says that ITAK is also in favour of an international inquiry. Last Thursday (10th) there was a march from Killinochchi to Nallur temple led by Sivajalingam and few others and Sridaran also joined the march. Therefore, ITAK is in the same stance as we are because we see ITAK members also taking part in the campaign for an international investigation. It is possible that some members of the ITAK may be having a different opinion. But I do not quite know that.
Q: Representatives of the three parties in the TNA coalition expect to attend the UN sessions in Geneva. What is the purpose of that visit?
A: I wouldn’t want to say it is as a decision of only three parties. The TNA consists of four parties and some of the members of the TNA want to go to Geneva for the sessions. I am not planning to go. It is not that I am not interested. I do not know exactly what the purpose of their visit. The report is already prepared and I personally feel that there is nothing much that they can do at the sessions.
Q: Have all the four coalition parties of the TNA come to one table to discuss these matters of concerns related to the international inquiry and about the TNA national list?
A: Not yet. We have not been able to meet. We have asked for a meeting from the TNA coordinating committee. They will have to speak to Sampanthan and arrange the meeting. We are expecting it anytime soon.
Q: Don’t you think it is important for the TNA to have the discussion before the UN sessions in Geneva?
A: Indeed we do. That is why we have asked for a meeting from Sampanthan and we are still waiting for it to take place.
Q: The TNA has now got a better mandate in parliament – and as the Opposition, you have better strength in parliament. With the power that you recently gained, how do you expect to meet the aspirations of the Tamils in the North?
A: On the very first day Sampanthan was appointed as the Opposition Leader, in his statement, he said in parliament that he will give priority to solving the Tamil national issues and look after the interests of the Tamils. I definitely believe that he has the calibre to continue as the Opposition Leader and deliver his promise by trying to win the rights of the Tamils. He will at least try to bring about some solution for the Tamil people in the North.
Q: The TNA is now the Opposition in parliament and Sampanthan is the Leader of the Opposition. Do you think it is fair by the people of this country if he is only committed to looking after the interests if the Tamils?
A: I am not saying that he will look after the interests of the Tamils only. Whatever said or done, he is appointed to this position because of the Tamil votes. Therefore he is duty bound to see to the interests of the Tamil people – but by saying that I do not mean he should ignore the other part of the country.
Whatever said, for last 40 to 50 years, we have been struggling to find a solution for the Tamil national issue in this country. Just because he has now got into the position of the Opposition Leader, he cannot simply abandon that cause. At the same time, in that process, he will not treat the other parts of the country in an unfair manner. He will definitely balance it. He will negotiate with the government and think of a solution that could be acceptable to the Tamil community as well as to the other communities in the country.
Q: Other than the demands of the Tamils, what are the other issues that you expect to raise in parliament as the Opposition?
A: It depends on the demands and needs of the people in the other areas. Unlike ours, the primary issues related to people in other parts of the country could be related to economic development, political reforms, legal reforms and political or economic suppressions which we will definitely take up in parliament. We will have to look after those issues on behalf of those people as well. This is not the first time a Tamil leader was appointed to a key position in parliament. In 1977, A. Amirthalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) became the leader of the opposition. He managed to look after the interest of both sides. Therefore, I am confident that Sampanthan has the calibre to do so too.
Q: What preparations has the TNA made in view of the local government election in early next year?
A: Definitely, we will contest under the TNA with all our coalition parties. We will fairly allow candidates of all four parties in our nomination list and contest the election like in the past.
Q: Women’s Groups have been demanding the parties to support necessary reforms to increase giving nominations to women at least up to 30% to contest the elections – especially in view of the local government elections. Where does the TNA stand on that matter?
A: Certainly, we have to give women enough representation. There is no query about that. It has to be done and we will definitely support that move. Every election we also tried giving nomination. But I do not know why they do not seek for nominations. When it comes to social work, there are large numbers of women working in the field but they hardly come forward to contest to get into political institutions. I do not know as to what the reason is.
They do not show much interest in coming to politics. Women do lot of social work and they work with a lot of people but we cannot find enough candidates to contest the elections. Certainly we are committed to increasing the number of nominations given to women. We look forward to having women candidates in a large scale. We cannot do without them. Women are more than 51% of the population. It is not fair by them if they do not get enough representation.