Leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) Mano Ganesan says it is not acceptable to cause ‘severe damage’ to minority representations by reducing the First Pass the Post electorates to 125.
In an email interview with the Daily FT, Ganesan notes that the minority parties have arrived at a consensus position on a system which will do justice to the mandate received by President Sirisena and to the aspirations of the minor and minority parties. “But suddenly to the surprise of all of us the formula changed on Monday evening at the special Cabinet meeting. A new formula was introduced,” states Ganesan.
Following are excerpts:
Tamil Progressive Alliance Leader Mano Ganesan
Q: Tell us about the new coalition formed by three Tamil parties?
A: Democratic People’s Front (DPF) led by me, the Workers National Front (WNF) led by Cabinet Minister Palani Thigambaram and Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) led by State Minister V. Radhakrishnan have come together as Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA). A MoU has been signed between party leaders. With me as the Leader and Palani Thigambaram and V. Radhakrishnan as Deputy Leaders, we have taken shape. We have a Working Committee and an Advisory Council.
The TPA represents Tamil communities living outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Tamil population in the country is around 31 lakhs. Out of this 1,502,211, around 15 lakhs, live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in the Districts of Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale, Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Badulla, Moneragala, Galle and Puttalam. This is the TPA’s geography.
The demography of the TPA is this. We have three segments of Tamils who live in these areas. First is the Up-Country Tamils who live in central region, second is the Tamils who have migrated from the Northern and Eastern Provinces and settled in the Western Province primarily and thirdly the Tamils who are of neither upcountry origin nor north-eastern origin but born and bred in Colombo who are mostly of Indian origin following Hindu, Catholic and Islam faiths. Our alliance represents these three segments.
Q: What is your objective? Why do you need such a coalition?
A: You raise two matters in your question. On the objectives, I can share certain matters stated in the MoU of TPA. We will develop and establish the collective political leadership to represent the Tamil communities living outside the North and East Provinces, i.e. Central, Western, Uva, Sabragamuwa, Wayamba, Southern and North-Central Provinces.
We strive to end the isolation of the Tamil community living in the above provinces with a special emphasis on the Tamil community which lives in the central up-country regions in the undivided Sri Lanka. We will certainly seek national equality on the basis of socio-economic development, paving the way for affirmative action program for the underdeveloped Tamil working people of the plantations. We also seek a true ethnic and territorial democratic electoral representative system defeating under and over representations at all levels of governance.
The need is this. The country and international community (IC) consider that the Tamil problem in this country centres only in Northern Province. Therefore they consider the TNA as representing all the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both these stances are wrong. The TNA does not represent. Under the wrong assumption, Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces are technically ignored. We three parties in the TPA have been representing the Tamil community living outside the north and east separately. Now we have come together. We wanted to bring these facts to the attention of the brotherly Sri Lankan communities and IC.
Q: Will there be more parties joining you in future?
A: Yes, we have received applications from many groups. The TPA is a voluntary political alliance of political parties, trade unions and social organisations. Member organisations are free to maintain their identities and basic policies subject to their acceptance of the objectives stated in TPA’s MoU. We are now conducting discussions at various levels for the applicants. Anyway the DPF, WNF and UPF are founder members.
Q: Why do you need an ‘ethnic-based’ coalition?
A: Don’t singularly blame us. Make no mistake, most if not all the parties in this country are ‘ethnic,’ including the major parties. Tell the major parties to make policies with the multi-ethnic national vision, we will follow closely. Don’t forget, this country failed to nominate even Lakshman Kadirgamar whom the Sinhalese loved as the prime minister when he wanted it.
I am afraid that the so-called major national parties are not adequately moving towards a Sri Lankan national identity. It is the responsibility of the UNP and SLFP to come truly out of the so-called Sinhala-Buddhist mindset to embrace a Sri Lankan mindset. This country has clear ethnic polarisations. I accept that this isn’t good. But you can’t single us out for blame. Blame history. Blame the big brothers, the major national parties for selecting the ‘Sinhala Only’ path in the 1950s instead of Sri Lankan.
Sinhala Buddhist brethren are the numerical majority in this country. It’s going to remain this way always. I love Sinhala and Buddhism. But a Sri Lankan identity is much greater and superior. I am for a Sri Lankan identity. But when we face unique challenges for being Tamil or Muslim or religious minorities in this country, we are compelled to rally on ethnic lines and identities. I will love to be member in a national party with a pan Sri Lankan identity. This is because I am a true Sri Lankan patriot. But regretfully I don’t find any such in this country today. Conducting politics with a Sri Lankan identity is my dream. Therefore until such a time, we will be Sri Lankan in principle and ethnic in practice.
Q: Some allege you are trying to divide the country once again. Your comments?
A: The racists who wanted to take back the country into the dark era may say this. In fact we are trying to do the opposite. We are trying to address the causes and defeat the tendencies of division. Prime is the isolation of one particular community. As I explained above, we wanted to bring the Tamil community living in the central regions, especially the plantation working people, into the limelight and into the national mainstream. This can’t be an act of division but unison.
The outgoing backward-looking leadership in the plantations wanted to keep the plantation community away from the national mainstream. They prevented them from mingling with the Sinhala community. This is to protect the plantation vote bank for their own selfish interests. Our new forward-looking progressive leadership is changing this situation. We are Sri Lankan patriots who wanted to find placements for our people within an undivided Sri Lanka.
Q: Why are you trying to distance yourself from the mainstream political parties?
A: I am surprised at your question. Where did you get this information? Who told you that I am distancing myself from the mainstream parties? On the contrary I am THE frontline Tamil politician with the mainstream platform.
My policy is double-tracked. One track is that we struggle for the Tamil and minority rights in this country and stand tall against all the injustices. The other is identifying with the national mainstream in the struggles of the Sinhala based progressive democratic forces. We have no room for Sinhala only and Tamil only paths in principle today. My journey is Sri Lankan. Even in the ethnically-charged most difficult war days, we never backtracked from identifying with the mainstream struggles for democracy.
Q: What are your remarks about the 20th Amendment?
A: Some are toying with the thought that the minority parties are blocking the pathway of the 20th Amendment. This is a wrong assumption. President Maithripala Sirisena received a mandate on 8 January. Don’t forget that we are also part of this mandate. Therefore we also want to undo the preferential votes system and bring in a system that will pave the way for MPs to represent specific electorates.
However, we can’t ignore the positive side of the current PR system. This is the best system which paved way to minor and minority groups to get representations in the legislatures from national to grassroots. This is democracy. Now we have to keep the best in this current system and correct the shortcomings. That is what is necessary. It is how 20A should take shape. We support.
Q: What impact will 20A have on minority parties like yours?
A: The 20A or the subject of electoral reform has come a long way. The current scenario is this. We started discussing the 20A based on a document submitted to the Cabinet and party leaders at the National Executive Council by President Maithripala Sirisena.
The formula in the Presidential document is FPP 165 + DPR 31 + NPR 59 to a total of 255. The President wanted us to discuss it. We through discussions developed this proposal to reasonably address the minority concerns. The minorities were assured that new single member and multi member electorates would be carved out by the delimitation commission. We discussed with the President, Prime Minister, various party leaders and Elections Commissioner, experts who are behind the formulation of this proposals.
I thought we had arrived at a consensus position on a system which would do justice to the mandate received by President Sirisena and to the aspirations of the minor and minority parties. This was the scene until last Monday morning. But suddenly to the surprise of all of us the formula changed on Monday evening at the special Cabinet meeting. A new formula was introduced. The new formula is FPP 125+ DPR 75+ NPR 25 to a total of 225.
The FPP 125 dismisses all hopes because with 125 FPP seats we cannot create new electorates. The high point for us is the delimitation process. The last delimitation was held in year 1976. The population of the country at that time was 7.5 million. Now after 40 years, we have passed 20 million. We were hoping for the Delimitation Commission to be established through 20A. We are yet to get Presidential assurances over the delimitation process, that it would be conducted impartially. It is another subject. But we are worried that the Delimitation Commission cannot perform with this 125 FPP seats even if it wants to perform impartially.
The reason being given to keep the 225 number of Parliament is not acceptable to us. Some say that people will be disgruntled to witness an increase in Parliamentary seats from 225 to 255. I don’t agree. What the people want is to get rid of the preferential system and get MPs to represent electorates. These two are the prime expectations of the people. An increase of 30 seats is necessary to accommodate the overhangs in the new system proposed by the President.
As long as we get rid of the preferential system and get MPs to represent electorates, an increase of 30 is no matter. You can’t do severe damage to minority representations by reducing the FPP electorates to 125. It is not acceptable. It is the issue today. We have consensus in other areas of the proposals. This is where the 20A proposals stand today.
Q: Do you think there should be an election soon? Why?
A: We have a new, fresh President. But the Parliament is a matter of the past. We for specific reasons such as to pass certain laws needed to travel with this set of Parliamentarians. But this has a limit. This is because the mandate we received on 8 January is technically against this Parliament. Now time is lapsing.
The Parliament today has passed its expiry date. We have to face the election to elect a new, fresh Parliament to work with this new, fresh President. The members of the current Parliament need to face the people who elected them, if they wish for a comeback. But I have a gut feeling that a sizeable number of them are not going to come back.
Q: What do you think about this Government?
A: The Government is doing the best a government can do in such a situation. More than anything, we have brought back a sigh of relief in the minds of the citizens. This country was slowly sliding towards becoming an informal kingdom. We have turned the wheel towards the republican path.
The Police, Judiciary and Public Service are neutral and the media is free. We have reduced prices and increased wages to the best of our abilities. What more can a Government do at this juncture? Don’t forget; this an interim government. Our best is going to come later after the elections and formation of our true national government. Any shortcomings today are due to the acts of vengeance of the defeated Rajapaksa clan.
Q: In an upcoming election, will you be contesting with a mainstream party or will you be contesting alone?
A: We have not finalised our dialogue and arrived at any decisions. But we will act as the Tamil Progressive Alliance, the TPA, within or outside any alliances with other parties. We will contest in Nuwara Eliya, Colombo, Kandy, Badulla and many districts outside the North and East Provinces. We are ready for both the current PR system and the new mixed system of elections. Our people are with us. The TPA will surprise many in this country.
Q: What are your thoughts about the no-confidence motion against Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: It is nothing but an act out of a sense of vengeance to bring chaos in the House. You have a Government in seat just for five months. You bring a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister. The architects of this motion have some serious problems in their heads. They should have tried some other tricks.
Q: Are you satisfied with President Maithripala Sirisena’s reaction to the current political deadlock?
A: Yes. I compare him with Ronald Reagan. Reagan went into the White House and changed the world order. Maithripala went to take the Sri Lankan presidency and changed the Sri Lankan ground order. It is beginning with cutting down his executive powers and trying his best to keep his main promises given to the voters within the interim period before facing the elections. We have seen presidents breaking promises. Mahinda who also promised an end to the executive presidency shamelessly strengthened the presidency with the 18A. Let us look at Maithripala in the backdrop of this hard truth.
Q: Don’t you think President Sirisena is responsible for the chaotic situation in the local political scene?
A: There is no chaotic situation in the country. There is no chaotic situation in the general local political scene either. The country is at peace. People are happy. Political parties are at liberty to conduct rallies, processions and media conferences and use any language to criticise either the President or the Prime Minister. There are some chaotic conditions prevailing in the heads and minds of the defeated Rajapaksa clan. They bring it into Parliament too. This will reach the natural end soon. Let us not confuse ourselves.
Q: Do you think President Sirisena should not have taken the leadership of the SLFP?
A: To my knowledge the Constitution of the SLFP says that the President of the country, who is a member of the SLFP, should head the party. Right along, then Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena maintained the position that he held the SLFP membership and he did not cross to any other party. Therefore the President and his party both are acting according to the law of their party. I can’t say anything more than this.
– See more at: http://www.ft.lk/article/432351/Mano-Ganesan-on-TPA–20A-and-Government#sthash.qp99ZlmG.dpuf