With the debate continuing on who should be the opposition leader in Parliament, the Tamil National Alliance, which had recently told the Speaker that the post should go to its leader R. Sampanthan, insisted that there is no reason why the Tamil party should not get the post. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Tamil National Alliance MP, M.A. Sumanthiran said that the TNA had not run after Ministerial posts and had declined positions even when they were offered, and that they will always stand up for the rights of the Tamil people. He also said that there need not be a rush in implementing the 20th amendment, and for the time being the 19th amendment should be passed.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: With the TNA having made proposals to the speaker regarding the eligibility of party leader R. Sambanthan for the position of the leader of the opposition, what has been the progress of that proposal?
A: We have not had any progress so far. We have given in writing to the speaker our position with regard to the post of the opposition leader, but we have not heard from him as yet.
Q: There are some concerns regarding the TNA being given the position of the leader of the opposition as there is an allegation that the TNA supports the LTTE and their ideology. Is this so?
A: No we do not have any allegiance to the LTTE nor are we committed to their ideology. We stand up for the rights of the Tamil people but we are not in favour of terrorism nor do we encourage it and everyone knows this.
Q: There is talk of a split within the TNA, based on differences of opinions between moderates like yourself and R. Sambanthan and members with more extreme views. How would you respond to these assertions?
A: No there is absolutely no split within the TNA and these are all rumours that are being spread.
Q: What does the TNA think of the newly elected government, and are you satisfied with their form of governance so far?
A: This is a change that we ourselves worked for and we brought about, but we cannot say that we are totally happy with the way things are moving and we have our own concerns, especially concerning the return of normalcy to the North and the East, and things are not moving as fast as we would like it to move.
However having said that, it should also be noted that this government is moving in the right direction. Hence we would urge the government to do more but we are certainly not going to pronounce that this government is a failure or anything like that, and we are certain they are moving in the right direction and they need a little more time to correct all the mistakes made. We have to give them that time and space to rectify the shortcomings and move in the right direction at the required pace.
Q: With regard to the 13th amendment and the promises made to the Tamil people, what is the progress made so far and is the TNA happy with what has been done so far?
A: The 13th amendment is part of the constitution and it is not a separate thing. Hence there is no need for anyone to promise to implement part of the constitution as they have all sworn to uphold the constitution and it has to be implemented. If any government is not implementing it then they are guilty of violating the constitution.
Q: With regard to the removal of the army camps and the reducing of the military presence in the North, which was a constant demand of the TNA, has there been any positive progress?
A: Our position is that large sections of civilian lands are being kept by the military for various purposes other than for security purposes. On the contrary we have never said that army camps that are required for security purposes should be removed. Whatever camps that is necessary for National security must be maintained.
However several thousands of acres of lands are being kept by the military and the army is cultivating on them and other recreational facilities are being built on these lands and various other activities which cannot be justified. These lands belong to the people and they should be able to now go back and live on their lands, now that the war has ended.
The government agreed to those conditions even before the elections were held, and in accordance have taken measures to release those lands gradually, stage by stage. However it is a very slow progress and what we are pressing them about is to speed up the process as these people who were dislodged from their lands need to be resettled fast in order to recommence their lives. Nevertheless even at snail pace there still is some progress and we are happy with that.
However having said that a lot more needs to be done urgently because there is no justification whatsoever for the army to be cultivating on these people’s lands and making money off it while these people are displaced and have been lamenting in refugee camps despite the end of the war.
Q: While we celebrate the end of the war and terrorism in this country, there have also been concerns being expressed regarding the possible return of the LTTE and their attempt to regroup. Do you think there is valid reason for concern?
A: No there is no need for concern regarding the return of the LTTE. This is just an attempt by certain parties to create fear among the people. There is absolutely no truth in the claims that the LTTE is attempting to regroup. But even if there is such a move the people will not allow it or support it as it is they who have suffered the most during the war. Therefore the people are quite steadfast in not allowing such terrorism to begin again as they know that they will be the ones that are worst affected.
Q: There have been lots of concerns regarding the 19th and 20th amendments to the constitution, with the SLFP stating that a 20th amendment should be presented simultaneously with the 19th amendment, regarding a new electoral system. What is the stand of the TNA?
A: Well the 19th amendment can now be passed because that contains the first two promises that President Maithripala Sirisena made during his election campaigning. These are to abolish the limitless powers of the executive president and restore other independent commissions. Hence there is no controversy over these and the bill is before parliament and it can be passed. The other is the promise of electoral reform, and this need not be tied up with the other two.
Yes there needs to be electoral reform but there need to be discussions with the other political parties where there is an agreement. However a lot more details need to be worked out and a lot more needs to be done in a proper manner. Hence merely because that is delayed for good reasons one does not have to hold the 19th amendment up for that reason. It is the opinion of the TNA that the 19th amendment needs to be passed irrespective of the electoral reforms. The electoral reforms also will happen in good time.
Q: Parties like the JHU were concerned that while reducing the powers of the executive presidency, there was a move to increase the powers of the Prime Minister. Is there such a concern within the TNA?
A: Within the 19th amendment there is no executive prime ministerial position being created and that is very clear after the Supreme Court determination, and there is not going to be an executive prime minister in any way or form. The executive powers are retained in the presidency but just that it’s exercised in a more moderate manner and in consultation with the prime minister.
Q: The UNP has come under criticism for grabbing some of the key positions within the new government, and allegations are being levelled that they have not shared the posts with the other parties within the coalition. Does the TNA too feel the same?
A: We have nothing to comment in that regard as we are not part of the government and we are not vying for any positions. Sharing of power is up to the UNP and the president and so long as the president and the prime minister agree that is what will prevail. We were offered positions within the coalition but we have refused them.
Q: At the next general elections will the TNA contest on their own or will they join with any other party or group?
A: We will contest on our own and we have no intention of contesting with any other party or coalition.