By Ratnajeevan H. Hoole –
Bad News for the UPFA.
The TNA has decided to support the Common Candidate, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. It is good news indeed for all of us who are excited about a common opposition to the Rajapkse family regime that is built on a return to democracy, good governance, an independent judiciary, etc.
Mr. Sirisena is expected by TNA analysts to get 75% of the vote in the North. The EPDP has a fixed vote bank of about 30,000 voters, most of whom will vote. For the rest of the North, of the 450,000 registered voters, about 200,000 to 250,000 are expected to turn up to vote based on the best turnout so far at the Provincial Council elections. Thus the turnout is key – the more the turnout, the less the UPFA percentage will be, probably 12 to 15%.
The opponents of Mr. Sirisena are not making this election easy for him. In Jaffna, Mr. Sirisena’s posters are immediately taken down by unknown persons in the night. Full page advertisements in Jaffna newspapers by another presidential candidate, A.R. Sirisena, seem designed to confuse the electorate and draw votes away from Mr. Maithiripala Sirisena. Despite this, Mr. Sirisena seems to be a popular candidate. Today’s (Jan. 02) public meeting at Muthiraichanthai, my cousin reports, attracted some 5,000 cheerful people who came (on their own, might I add) in support of Mr. Sirisena.
The TNA is yet to launch an active campaign for Mr. Sirisena. It is mainly Mr. Samapanthan, Mr. Sumanthiran and Mr. Mavai Senathirajah who have publicly spoken up for him. On the other hand Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s Tamil Congress, which goes by multiple names like the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) and the Tamil Civil Society, add to the confusion as they call for a boycott of the election under their multiple names. The Tamil Congress believes that all the candidates are bad. However, I am confident that the momentum of the pro-democracy movement will offer Tamils greater agency in directing our affairs. Even if not, and, for arguments’ sake, if all this is indeed part of a political circus as they argue, does the TNPF not concede that a free judiciary and the rule of law alone will help us Tamils to secure our rights and safety, and that that is more likely to happen under Mr. Sirisena? As remarked by Aahithyan Ratnam in these columns, there is no perfect candidate and we must vote for the best; and Chandrika and Ranil being leaders of the Common Opposition makes it unlikely that the democracy project can be derailed easily. Despite the presence of General Fonseka whose record on human rights is extremely poor, I do not think his ideas can overawe the others in the pro-democracy Common Opposition. The best candidate remains Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as the TNA has stated.
As good people have fled Sri Lanka on account of the murder and mayhem that had free rein these last decades, the TNA itself has made a major mistake in taking in all kinds of thugs and known murderers – perhaps for lack of good people and the practicality of wide appeal. A case in point is the Pradeshya Saba in Point Pedro, which has former EPDP hooligans now officially in the TNA. It was reported to me (by TNA supporters) that when the Sabha Councillors go, supposedly to help the helpless, accompanied by camera crews, the people being helped turn out to be their own relations and in-laws. Bribery is said to be their norm in making contracts. Given these circumstances, it is no surprise that the UPFA is offering Rs. 20million to each TNA politician who crosses-over and has even had some degree of success. Thankfully most TNA persons cannot be bought over so easily as seems the case in the South. The biggest thorn for the TNA is Provincial Councillor Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of the missing LTTE leader, who is not amenable to party discipline and has outrightly joined the TNPF’s call for a boycott. News reports from Jaffna say that when Mr. Senathirajah confronted her – she fainted. Touted as a feminist candidate, that fainting did not do women credit.
The TNA decision to support Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature was soon followed by worse news for President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose electioneering is in the hands of low IQ goons. The second day of the new year did not augur well for the President in Jaffna when he came to campaign.The opening of the railway extension from Jaffna to Kankesanthurai was planned as a part of his electioneering. A large crowd had been gathered at Duraiappah Stadium. Samurdhi recipients participating in the crowd testified that their Grama Sevakas (Village Headmen) had claimed that their doles would be cancelled unless they turned up for the opening. 450 buses had been organized to transport Samurdhi participants to the stadium – some from as far away as Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu. To add insult to injury, lunch packets were thrown at the crowd as food is in a zoo. At the same time, it turns out that the President was having a sumptuous lunch with professionals at the so called Momentum Forum at Trico Hotel to exchange views and advance the cause of “A Stable Country. Continuing Development.” [So desperate was the UPFA for a crowd at that forum and so free with money that the written invitations told invitees to feel free to invite their friends for the 4-star hotel lunch after an RSVP telephone call.]
After the crowd at the stadium, estimated at some 20,000, had stood in the burning sun, SLFP Jaffna organizer, Angajan Ramanathan, had given them blue t-shirts to wear. These had the words “Blue Force Regiment” (Neelap Padai Ani) in Tamil and the President’s picture. This regiment is associated with the President’s son Namal. When those who had been forced to attend by Douglas Devananda, Angajan’s UPFA rival for Rajapakse’s patronage, were asked to wear these shirts, there were fisticuffs between Angajan’s and Douglas’ goons. Douglas’ brother is said to have been badly assaulted. The crowd was tense.
With that treatment the people forcibly gathered looked rather sullen for a supposedly enthusiastic cheering party. When the announcer made several requests to clap for the President there was no response. Later, the President, described in news reports as ‘heart-broken’ because the crowd did not clap for him, had left the arena without doing the journey by the new train service as originally billed. That had to be left to Minister of Environment and Renewable Energy Don Susil Premajayantha and Minister for Transport Kumara Welgama to make.
The UPFA does not realize that people forced to attend rallies or sign petitions, often while being treated poorly, are unlikely to actually be persuaded to vote for Rajapaksa when the time comes.
Massacres: The Cat out of the Bag
There was worse to come during Rajapakse’s stadium rally.
Perhaps the biggest shock was when the two EPDP MPs Devananda and Murugesu Chandrakumar (who had when seeking asylum in the UK, openly accused Douglas of several internal murders including that of Thinamurasu Editor Atputhan) openly referred to the massacre and cluster bombing of civilians in the final phases of the war.
Countering claims made by Chandrika and Fonseka to being responsible for ending the war (see article UPFA Admits to Massacres and use of Cluster Bombs in the Last Phase) the two took the stage to challenge their statements and in the process, admitted to large numbers being murdered and cluster bombs being used by the government.
In the background, the President sat smiling, oblivious to what the two faces of his unintelligent Northern electoral campaign were saying in Tamil.
This revelation comes with great satisfaction to those who, amidst great opposition and persecution, continued to attempt to shed light on the cruel murder of innocent bystanders who were most unfortunately trapped in a war that was not their own, but one that was between the LTTE and GoSL.
The Weather Vane: Jaffna University Wakes up
Jaffna University is like a weather vane. After years under various authorities brutally lording over them, some university folk are now good at gauging which way the wind is blowing. There are even some experts at this who are always on the winning side. For the less astute, monitoring their decisions on whom to support is telling of political tides. Their behavior now tells us that the regime will change soon. The VC is appointed by the President and is close to the authorities of the times. The VC then appoints the Heads and only the Heads are eligible for election as Deans who are on the Council. Thus, some of the best weather vanes are on the Council.
These Jaffna weather vanes have sensed the mood. When the President invited academics for a pre-election party at Temple Trees two weeks ago, hardly anyone went from Jaffna. A notable exception was the Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor G. Mukunthan of Agriculture, who characteristically of those supporting the Douglas VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam had been associated with the LTTE Police under previous regimes. Some of the best vanes, always on the winning side, are Dean of Science Prof. S. Srisatkunarajah and his predecessor Prof. K. Kandasamy. Both were, until recently, VC Vasanthi Arasaratnam’s die-hard supporters. They did not go to the President’s party. That they are no longer the VC’s supporters is our cue. One Dean joked that he contemplated going thinking perhaps it may be his last chance to say goodbye to Rajapakse.
Vasanti Arasaratnam’s attempt to dissemble support for Rajapakse (reported in these coumns) has been a disaster. Not a single person signed her petition expressing support for the President. Indeed when the VC, Prof. Vasanthi Arasaratnam, demanded that the Deans get the signatures of the academics on a petition supporting Rajapakse, the politically astute Srisatkunarajah, sensing the changing winds, had sent it to the Elections Commissioner’s office in Jaffna asking what he should do and received instructions not to circulate it. Other academics had sent it to Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe’s office from where a formal complaint was lodged with the Elections Commissioner’s. The University Teachers’ Association headed by Rasakumaran was up in arms. They have now their University Teachers for Social Justice (under FUTA) going as polls monitors. In the end Arasaratnam was left insulting and berating Dean of Arts Prof. Sivanathan in Tamil at the last Council meeting at the end of December for leaking her memo.
The VC’s high handed action only served to expose the abuse of authority and impunity that characterize this government, and the parlous state of governance under this regime. Those who are firmly principled rarely hold office; instead they are active in the unions as the conscience of the faculty – for example, the UTA’s Rasakumaran; also see the statement by the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association, JUSTA, released on Jan. 2, 2015. Those in authority would try their best to keep thinking persons out of the Council. For example, Dr. S. Sivanantharajah, one of the few professionals appointed to the council last time, was left out by Douglas Devananda when stuffing the Council with stooges who cannot even attend Council meetings (for instance by virtue of living in Canada or being an ineffective drunk). After Sherine Xavier in Canada was appointed, she was deemed to have vacated post after missing the first three meetings, and Dr. Sivanandarajah was appointed in her place. But on the orders of Douglas, the VC and Registrar have – unlawfully – refused to send him invitations to Council meetings. Such is the state of lawlessness at the university.
The time was that even Sir Ivor Jennings, the very first VC, always listened to his Registrar Mr.A.M.K.Coomarasamy from Jaffna College. Today we have Registrars who do not know their rightful power and authority to use it for the good of all. VCs, who can lawfully tell the UGC and even the Minister of Higher Education off on grounds of their statutory independence when there is interference, are equally ignorant of their powers.
Maithripala Sirisena’s No Thanks to Douglas
Tamils overwhelmingly are not prepared to vote for President Rajapakse – and very rightly so. Rajapakse knows that he will not be able to rally the Tamil vote, which remains significant in the North and East. The government has sunk so low that the only thing they can do is play and replay the late LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham’s exhortations to the Tamil people in 2005 to not vote for anyone since they are all bad for Tamils. This Balasingham speech is on Dan TV, orchestrated by Maniattam Remedius, formerly of the TNA, who after crossing over to the government has little stock with the people. Now that the people know that that speech was made by Balasingham after accepting a massive bribe from the Rajapakse camp to the LTTE, it has little power for persuasion. The fact is that a boycott is the best the government can hope for. I do not know why the TNPF is effectively rooting for Rajapakse by calling for a boycott of the elections.
The only real worry for the Tamil public is that, as Remedius correctly says, there are communalist parties that are running to the opposition at the last minute. They represent the dangers to the democratic process that is giving momentum to the opposition. However what gives confidence to us who want Mr. Sirisena elected is that Rajapakse is relying on horrible supporters with no standing among Tamils such as Devandanda to give him a third term. In the meantime, reliable reports show that even Douglas Devananda had approached Mr. Sirisena to join him and had been firmly told “No Thanks!”
Such are the President’s supporters. I pity him.