TNA’s Decision And The Tamil Vote

VOTE MITHIRIThe decision of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to fully support the Joint Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena against incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 8 Presidential election has irked sections of the Tamil Diaspora and its fellow travelers in the Northern Province.

Media nets run by the pro-LTTE extremists such as Tamilnet have lambasted TNA leaders R. Sampanthan, M.A. Sumanthiran, Mavai Senathirajah, Selvam Adaikalanathan, Sivasakthi Anandan and R. Sidharthan for their decision to come out openly in support to one of the candidates, when ideally, they should have asked for a boycott of the election on the grounds that neither Rajapaksa nor Maithripala will meet the Tamils’ demand for the right to self determination (read a separate Eelam) and an international investigation into charges of war crimes.

Tamilnet said: “A few personalities claiming to represent the so-called majority view have imposed their decision as TNA decision on the Tamil people. “The political parties comprising the TNA have failed to learn the views of the Tamil people. Instead, they have only sought to manipulate the views before announcing their pre-determined decision. Tamil people should realize that this group is trying to transform the nation of Eelam Tamils into a minority in the genocidal Sri Lanka. Some members of this group have already been promised with ministerial portfolios.”

“Both the opposition candidate Sirisena and the incumbent SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa are opposed to international investigations and a federal solution to the national question.”

While the US-based Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) led by V. Rudrakumaran has been silent on the issue, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) led by Father Emmanuel and Suren Surendiran, has said that the Tamils should participate in the elections but without telling the voter who he or she should vote for.

The GTF said that it “strongly urges the Tamil people in Sri Lanka to use every vote carefully during the January 8 Presidential Election. Tamil people have a long history of voting based on principled considerations. The upcoming Presidential election is no different.”

It then went on to say: “The GTF is fully aware that in the post-independent Sri Lanka, Tamil people have continuously lost their rights under a flawed majoritarian electoral system. Their desire to have a degree of control in the Tamil majority areas was never granted, despite repeated democratic expressions of their wishes through all available electoral means.”

“Nevertheless, from our perspective, whether Sri Lanka should continue in the same path or whether change should be taken at this juncture to stop and reverse this trajectory is the fundamental question facing the electorate. Thus, GTF urges every Tamil speaking person, up and down the country, to fully participate in this decision and to vote in this Presidential election”.

The representatives of the Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam-led Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) had also initially asked the Tamil people to boycott the election, but later, asked them to vote stopping short of recommending a candidate.

However, recently, the TNA’s Northern Provincial Council (NPC) member, Ananthi Sasitharan, asked the people to boycott the election. She had earlier gone to Geneva to attend the UN Human Rights Council session defying a TNA decision to keep away from it.

NPC member M.K. Sivajilingam would have liked the TNA to refrain from announcing support to any particular candidate but to simply ask the Tamils to vote according to their conscience.

Explaining his stand, he said: “Neither candidate has a programme to alleviate the sufferings of the Tamils or to meet their basic political demands. But the country and the Tamils need a change just to have people with a fresh mind sitting at the top. That is why it is important for the Tamils to vote. But an open commitment to one candidate can land us in trouble later. For example, because the TNA openly supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 election, Rajapaksa began saying that if the TNA could accept a military leader as the President of the country, why could it not accept a military man as the Governor of the Northern Province? We have had no answer to that!”


TNA’s rationale

Announcing the decision to support Sirisena at a media conference on Tuesday,  TNA chief R. Sampanthan said that the Tamil question which he called the “National Question”, can be solved only in a democratic set up and not under a dictatorship or a totalitarian system, whether of the Rajapaksa or the LTTE variety.

Under Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has inexorably moved towards dictatorship and totalitarianism, he charged. The judiciary and other state institutions are   subverted to make them subservient to the Executive Presidency. Parliament is devalued as an oversight body by “enticing” opposition MPs to join the government; and restraints are put on the media, he said.

On the other hand, the Joint Opposition Candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, has promised to restore democracy, Sampanthan pointed out. Sirisena is to dismantle the 18th Amendment, which had done away with Independence Commissions overseeing key government institutions. He is to abolish the Executive Presidency and reinstitute the Rule of Law.

The TNA leader said that the restoration of democracy will enable free and fair discussion of the Tamil question, which will help the country arrive at a durable, workable, generally acceptable, and just solution within a united and undivided Sri Lanka.

He made it clear that the TNA does not believe in finding a solution to the Tamil question through secret and backdoor deals. It should be based on open discussions with all stakeholders, he said.

After the exit of the LTTE from the political sphere in 2009, there came into being an atmosphere for free and fair discussions. But President Rajapaksa not only did not make use of the opportunity, but actively subverted democratic structures to render any free and meaningful discussions impossible, Sampanthan said.

Asked if there was enough time for the TNA to convince the Tamil people to vote for Sirisena, Sampanthan said that the people have already decided to vote for Sirisena because they know that, first and foremost, democracy has to be restored in Sri Lanka.

In defense of their stand, TNA leaders said that the Tamils are rearing to seize any opportunity to put Rajapaksa in his place given the fact that they have suffered war, destruction, displacement and discrimination under his rule since 2005. To ask them not to vote will not be fair. The other reason is that Maithripala Sirisena and his supporters have promised to restore democracy which will enable the Tamils to express themselves and negotiate with other sections of Sri Lanka for a just solution.

Sampanthan openly admitted that the Tamils did not have this freedom under the LTTE. Even the various governments in Colombo did not have the freedom to take rational and just decisions because the Tamils as well as others were under the thrall of the LTTE. Governments were forced to negotiate with the LTTE and seriously consider its terms. To win the 2005 Presidential election, Rajapaksa had to negotiate with the LTTE to secure a Tamil boycott. With the exit of the LTTE in 2009, such compulsions do not exist now. Yes, Rajapaksa throttled democracy during his rule, but now with Maithripala on the ascendant, there is light at the end of the tunnel, which the Tamils should see and make use of, Sampanthan said.


Impact on Tamils 

According to TNA activists, Tamils are all fired up to vote for the Joint Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena after the TNA broke its silence and declared wholehearted support to Sirisena.

Before the announcement, the Tamil mood was somber. The silence of the TNA had also dampened the Tamils’ enthusiasm for change. But Tuesday’s announcement by the TNA in support of Sirisena has given rise to a sea change in the political atmosphere in the North and East, TNA leaders say.

“The voting percentage could be as good as it was during the 2013 Northern Provincial Council elections which the TNA swept. At least 80 percent will turn up to vote,” the Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph said. Previously, the polling was expected to be between 45 and 55 percent, very low by Lankan standards.

“We are appealing to the people to come out and vote overcoming physical obstructions, money power and calls for boycott given by some groups,” the Bishop said.

Krishnanantham of Mulliwaikkal said that she wants “change” because “a new regime might look at the Tamils’ plight in a different light.”

Uthayanathan, a government servant at Mulliwaikkal, said that the trend was clear from the postal voting pattern. “Tamils here have stories of difficulties which need to be told,” he added ominously. As regards the country as a whole, Uthayanathan said that Rajapaksa’s “family rule” is threatening to become “dynastic rule” causing public concern.

However, independent reports from the North speak of a general indifference or non-involvement of the Tamils in the election process. The feeling that nothing will change whether Rajapaksa continues or goes seems entrenched. “The condition of the Tamils will remain the same. So why bother to vote? Let the Sinhalese decide who they want,” is the general thinking a source said.

The TNA will have to get into battleground and canvass vigorously if such ennuiis to be dispelled. But till date, it has not started to campaign.  The expectation is that people will come out and vote on their won as they did in the 2013 NPC elections. But political experts say that this may be too much to expect under the present circumstances when both the principal candidates are very distant from the Tamils.


Rishad Factor

Meanwhile, the defection of the “anti-Tamil” Muslim minister Rishad Bathiyutheen to Sirisena‘s side, and the high praise Bathiyutheen had received from Sirisena on public platforms, have put off a section of Tamil voters in Mannar and Vavuniya Districts where there is Tamil-Muslim tension.

Tamils accuse Bathiyutheen of vigorously pushing the Muslims’ case on land and other resettlement issues at the expense of the Tamils who had suffered more during the war.

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