By Waruni Karunarathne
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which contested under the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi (ITAK) at last week’s general election secured a landmark victory in the North and the East with 515,963 (4.62%) votes and bagged 16 seats – including two national list slots. The TNA has been considering extending conditional support to the United National Party (UNP) to form a national government. However, speaking toThe Sunday Leader, newly elected TNA MP E. Saravanabavan said they are yet to discuss whether the TNA will join the new government. However, he said that they would support the reconciliation process if the new government is ready to address their concerns.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: How do you view the results of the recently concluded election and the UNP’s victory?
A: People have given a proper mandate, and the TNA has also secured 16 seats and have become the third political force in the country. This is a good opportunity for the UNP to commence the reconciliation process. We also have a good mandate, and we can work together to achieve reconciliation. In order to achieve reconciliation, they should not hesitate to hand back the entire land in the North originally belonged to the people who have been living in refugee camps and sheds for over 25 years.
The Prime Minister has now got the mandate to do so without further delay. They should also give us a proper reply about the missing people. Kith and kin of those who had gone missing are anxiously waiting for some information to latch on to. Their quest has to be put to rest with proper answers. Further, there are about 300 Tamil political prisoners – as far as Tamils are concerned they are political prisoners. They may be criminals for some Sinhala politicians. When the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) committed crimes they were given a common amnesty. These Tamil political prisoners should also be given a common pardon.
This is time for the UNP to take necessary measures. During the interim regime, it is understandable that they were hesitant to take a clear stance in view of the election. But now they have a clear verdict from the people. They should take measures to stop land grabbing and handover the land to the owners. They have to address the issues about missing people and give a general amnesty to Tamil political prisoners. They have to immediately start a reconciliation process, which we will support once they address our concerns.
Q: Are you confident that the new government will address the concerns of the Tamils in the North?
A: We played a big role in the January 8 transformation. We are the ones who appointed President Maithripala Sirisena. If we boycotted, Mahinda Rajapaksa would still be the President of this country. It was an appeal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Sirisena, and they should not forget that they achieved their objective with the help of Tamils in this country. We defeated the dictatorship and handed the country over to a democratic government. If Rajapaksa continued to be in power, everybody would have suffered – all ethnic groups including Sinhalese. So we are confident these leaders will take our concerns as priorities and commit themselves to the reconciliation process without further delay. How can we go for reconciliation without addressing land grabbing issues, militarisation issues, and other issues that Tamils are facing at present? Once they resolve these issues, people will automatically have confidence on the government.
Q: Will you join the new government to form a national government? What are the conditions under which you would extend your support?
A: We are ready to support them for a national government. However, the new TNA parliamentarians have not yet discussed this matter. We have lot of ideas, but we will have to finalise after discussing with our leader. It is still premature for us to decide whether we will join the government. After discussions, our leader will tell what decisions to be made.
Q: The TNA has been demanding for a federal solution. But the new government has clearly declared that they would not accept the idea of a federal system. What is the way forward?
A: We have clearly stated that we are looking at a federal system within a united Sri Lanka with properly devolved power. In many countries all over the world, they have implemented a federal system successfully. For example, in Canada, India and Switzerland, and in many other countries where they have two or several different communities, they have implemented various forms of the federal system in which people live peacefully.
We also can do that. Sinhala government that comes into power always opposes any solution given for this issue. Why are they scared? They have to accept that there have been two communities in this country since the time of the British. Majority Sinhala politicians always suspect the Tamils.
There is about 70% Sinhala population in this country and the Tamil population is close to 30%. The North and the East are predominantly occupied by Tamils for more than 2500 years. In this context, you have to share power under a federal system. Why do they want to suppress the minority Tamil community? Our manifesto was totally endorsed by people without doubts. Therefore, without making adverse demarks, the new government should consider our demands.
Q: The TNA has received a clear mandate from the people in the North and the East. How do you expect to carry forward that mandate to meet people’s aspiration in parliament?
A: For development all what we need is finance. We have a provincial council. I think the government should approve a bank under the provincial council. We have got means to invite people to invest and develop these areas and bring in money to these areas. What the government should do is to allow the North to handle the finance of the province under the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.
President Sirisena has approved that, but the Northern Governor has not given his approval yet. In order for us to move forward, we need a system to handle our funds. Then, there are powers with the centre. We have to work with the centre, we have to give projects and develop it here because we do not have sufficient funds. During Rajapaka’s time, it was completely neglected. We do not have factories in these areas. Even though we had factories earlier like Kankasanthurai (KKS) cement factory, chemical industries, glass factories etc, noting is now functional.
Small-scale work has started. To date, the government has not taken a proper initiative to start factories and create employments. The government has no plan to provide opportunity for Tamils – either through self-employment options or creating employments by bringing back exiting factories that are dysfunctional.
After the war they have not rehabilitated these areas and have not invested money. There have been a lot of discriminations. Now, they have to first develop infrastructure. How do you expect us to develop these areas without the support of the government? We will push these matters forward in the new parliament.