By Easwaran Rutnam
The recent local government elections and statements made by the government as well as some of their actions have been seen as having a negative impact on the reconciliation process.
Tamil diaspora groups like the very influential Global Tamil Forum in London have expressed frustration at how the unity government has progressed since 2015 despite showing a lot of promises.
The spokesman of the Global Tamil Forum, Suren Surendiran told The Sunday Leader that if this government does not correct itself, yet another dictatorial and corrupt Rajapaksa backed government will return.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: How do you see the outcome of the recent local government elections?
A: Extremism gaining strength and moderation weakening! A thumbing protest vote against the President, Prime Minister and the coalition government for lack of leadership, for going against their manifesto promises, corruption, not bringing credible charges against the previous regime and lack of economic progress! Tamils again showed their frustration by not engaging in the election which resulted in lower turnout and almost as spoilt votes, voted for parties who have impractical and undeliverable claims in their manifestos. Tamils, again as protest vote, against the lack of progress in resolving the Tamil National Question through a new constitution, lack of progress in implementing the UNHRC resolutions and no permanent resolutions to their economic and social needs.
Q: Is it, as many say, a confidence vote on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: I don’t want to take the shine off the former President’s comeback victory but I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that this as a confidence vote, when his % vote has dropped from his performance in 2015.
Q: How will the outcome of the election impact the reconciliation process and efforts to establish real peace?
A: This is only local municipal council elections and not general or presidential elections. Therefore, I wouldn’t want to overplay the effects of this as too negative on the reconciliation process or on establishing permanent peace. However, unless the coalition course corrects itself very fast, yet another dictatorial and corrupt Rajapaksa-backed government could be a reality soon.
Q: Do you think the unity government missed a golden opportunity or is there still room to make things right?
A: Of course they are spectacularly failing in front of our eyes and missing this great opportunity to fix some of those historical blunders right for generations to come. They still have nearly two years, which, if used effectively, can be productive and can place the country on the right trajectory.
Q: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had noted in his report to the UN Human Rights Council at the ongoing session that Sri Lanka has failed to meet the expectations on the human rights issue. As an organisation that backed the unity government, do you have faith that this government will make things right?
A: We as an organisation and Tamils generally by voting overwhelmingly to the TNA at the general election have taken a practical and moderate path. Tamil leadership has been honourable and dealt with matters in good faith. If the Sinhala leaders of the south don’t want to serve justice and resolve some of the long outstanding fundamental issues of the country, history will judge them.
Q: What can and will the GTF do from now on to ensure Sri Lanka does not return to its ‘dark days’?
A: We will maintain the international pressure. Sri Lanka cannot take all the goodwill and benefit from the international governments and institutions and yet not deliver on promises and commitments it has made. For example GSP+ from the EU was conditional. The way Rajapaksa regime was treated at international forums and by major governments including India, will return if this government doesn’t change course.
Q: You have been very active on the issue involving Sri Lanka’s defence attache’ to the High Commission in London. Does this issue threaten to harm the dialogue the government was having with Tamil diaspora groups like the GTF?
A: A person who is representing a country and government doesn’t behave like the way the ex-defence attache behaved. It was unfortunate that after prompt action by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to rectify the situation, the President himself was ill advised to reverse the decision. The President may have learnt through the following days that international affairs are not dealt with the way village disputes may be dealt with. Britain has to force the Sri Lankan government to recall the gentleman back to where he belongs. I wonder what the President’s message may be to the constituents that he was trying to please after the man was nearly kicked out of the UK.
Q: If nothing changes from now on, do you think organisations like the GTF will work with groups like the TGTE for a more ‘extremist solution’ to the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka?
A: Like Mr. Sampanthan said at the Parliament recently, “I would like to put this on record because I want everybody in this country to know that it was a malicious, vicious, fallacious, false propaganda on the part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and if you proceed with this agenda, I want to tell you, Eelam will bloom, not on account of us, but on account of your ‘Lotus Bud’. Your ‘Lotus Bud’ will bloom into an Eelam. That is what will happen. Therefore, please resist your temptation to achieve cheap political gain by carrying on such false propaganda.”
GTF will continue to maintain its moderate path, until we find lasting solutions to issues faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka.