28 September, 2020

Blog

Electing Obama & Selecting Sampanthan

By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Mr. R. Sampanthan was selected as the Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament by the Speaker, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya. The position of the Leader of the Opposition is traditionally held by the leader of the largest party in the opposition in a Westminster system of Parliamentary government.

There is no doubt that leading the opposition by a minority Tamil leader in a country which has a Sinhala-Buddhist majority is a victory of Pluralism. However, is it really a victory of pluralism similar to electing Mr. Barak Obama as the President of the United States by the American democracy?

Mr. Obama was elected by the majority of American voters. It was an absolute victory of American democracy and pluralism. Therefore, the American society had a legitimate reason to celebrate their victory without any hesitation. However, when selecting Mr. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA that has 16 seats in Parliament, to lead the opposition in Sri Lanka a consent was not obtained from the largest Party in the opposition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). In fact, 57 UPFA opposition MPs nominated a different candidate for the position of the Leader of the Opposition and it was not considered when selecting Mr. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition by the Speaker. The reason was that the nomination was not delivered to the Speaker by the leader of the UPFA, President Maithripala Sirisena who promised democracy to the nation, in a deliberate move to allow Mr. Sampanthan to be selected as the Leader of the Opposition.

R. SampanthanSelecting Mr. Sampanthan, therefore, as the Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka is neither a victory of democracy nor a victory of pluralism. Hence, the Sri Lankan society has no legitimate reason to celebrate Mr. Sampanthan’s appointment as the way that the American democracy celebrated electing Mr. Obama as the President of the United States of America.

The Sampanthan factor

A glance at Tweets on Mr. Sampanthan’s appointment will show that the forces and people who are behind Maithri-Ranil ‘Yahapalana’ government have already started celebrating the Sampanthan factor and projecting the move to appoint him as the Leader of the Opposition as a victory of the Sri Lankan democracy and pluralism. In contrast, forces and people who are against Maithri-Ranil ‘Yahapalana’ government have already started criticising the move to appoint Mr. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition. The question that I attempt to answer is how do these opposing views on the Sampanthan factor would affect the country’s future?

In answering the question, I would consider only a few important tasks that were laid before MaithriRanilYahapalana’ government. They are the process of reconciliation, domestic inquiry and intended constitutional reforms.

The Process of Reconciliation

The way that was adopted to select Mr. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition has already sent a negative signal to 47.3 million voters who voted for former President Rajapaksa led UPFA in the recently concluded Parliamentary election. The former President Rajapaksa openly criticised the appointment of Mr. Sampanthan and said that an MP from the UPFA should have been appointed as the Leader of the Opposition. The UPFA won 95 seats and 57 UPFA MPs expressly opposed the move to appoint Mr. Sampanthan by sending a letter to the UPFA leader President Sirisena asking him to nominate a different MP from the UPFA to the position of the Leader of the Opposition. However, Mr. Sampanthan was selected against the will of the 47.3 million voters, the largest portion of the opposition voter base.

The move is strong enough in antagonising the UPFA voters and building up their feelings of resentment towards the Maithri-Ranil ‘Yahapalana’ government. Furthermore, it was widely reported prior to the move of appointing Mr. Sampanthan that the Indian government is pushing the Sri Lankan government to appoint Mr. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition. Even Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in a statement pushed the idea of appointing Mr. Sampanthan.

How would the UPFA voters read this development? In terms of their ideology, the majority of the UPFA voters are Nationalists. Therefore, it can be reasonably assumed that the UPFA voters would perceive Mr. Sampanthan factor as a threat to Nationalism. This would further polarised the society on ideological lines and will create counterproductive effects in terms of reconciling an ethnically divided post-war society. The move would further deepen the mistrust as it was an undemocratic and a forceful move against the majority will.

Furthermore, the behaviour of the Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe in the parliament when a pro-Rajapaksa MP Mr. Wimal Weerawansa expressed his displeasure over the appointment of Mr. Sampanthan may also be perceived by the UPFA voters as a threat against their will. This would also be counterproductive in terms of winning UPFA voters’ support for the proposed reconciliation process as this can hardened their hearts and minds against the Maithri-Ranil ‘Yahapalana’ government.

The Domestic Inquiry

The idea of initiating an inquiry (either international or domestic) into alleged war-crimes was not well received and perceived by the majority of the pro Nationalist Sri Lankan population. Brining the war-crime accountability issue forward ignited the flare of patriotic anger over international actors and Tamil diaspora as the majority ‘patriots’ hail the military victory over LTTE and see contributors to the victory as ‘heroes’. In fact, the pro Nationalist population’s response for the idea of an inquiry was to start a counter-campaign accusing international actors and Tamil diaspora for conspiring against Sri Lanka and its war heroes.

The appointment of Mr. Sampanthan has created another complex environment in post-war Sri Lanka and contributed to further boiling up the level of patriotic quarters’ anger over international actors and Tamil Diaspora as well. The Sinhalese would perceive international actors and the Tamil diaspora also as conspirators who were behind this “international conspiracy”. Therefore, the manner that Mr. Sampanthan was appointed has contributed in further complexing the issue of the proposed domestic inquiry. Some comments on Twitter has already ‘labelled’ the intention behind the move as to facilitate the domestic inquiry by suppressing the opposition voice. In fact, the intention would have been different, yet perception also matters in politics.

Intended Constitutional Reforms

Opinions have already been expressed by pro-Nationalist politicians and opinion makers that the intended Constitutional reform would bring a kind of Federal model to Sri Lanka. We should not forget that the main promise of the TNA to its voters in the recent Parliamentary election was a Federal government. Therefore, the appointment of Mr. Sampanthan would be interpreted and portrayed against the said backdrop as a move to supress the opposition voice against a Federal system.

The argument is a convincing argument and has the ability even to antagonise Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) members (who are mainly Nationalist) against its leader President Sirisena in a context where he is aiming win SLFPers. It was reported that the President Sirisena did not deliver the letter to the Speaker that was signed by the 57 UPFA opposition MPs nominating a different MP to the post of the Leader of the Opposition and the President Sirisena’s (in)action paved the way to appoint Mr. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, the move would reduce President Sirisena’s capacity in persuading SLFPers to support Constitutional reforms as a referendum maybe required to approve the new Constitution.

Counterproductive Sampanthan

As it was stated, the move to appoint TNA leader Mr. R. Sampanthan as the Leader of the Opposition can generate counterproductive effects than it was originally assumed by quarters that promoted and supported the move. If it is the case, it was a wrong move. However, this is not to say that it has positive effects also. Yet, more important tasks laid before Maithri-Ranil government would suffer as a result of Mr. Sampanthan’s appointment.

*Dinesh D. Dodamgoda, a Fulbright scholar and a lawyer, has a M.Sc. degree from the British Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (Cranfield University) on Defence Management and Global Security. He was also an MP from 1995-2000.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 10
    3

    From what I understand the total population of SL is in the order of 25 Million. There cannot be 47.3 Million voting in favour of UFPA. Suggest that the author verifies the location of his decimal point.

    • 5
      3

      Agree, it should be corrected as 4.7 million. I accept the error.

      • 6
        5

        Mr Dodamgoda,

        You made references on many occasion to pro-Nationalists. How do you define a pro-nationalist in Sri Lanka? Is he a Sri Lankan nationalist or a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist?

        Is it a claver move by the President to appoint Sampanthan as the Operation Leader in order to ensure a smooth passage for the new constitution? If that is so, what can the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalists do? After all the current government is a National Government!

        In a nutshell, I could not work out as to what you have tried to convey in your article. Are you hiding behind the nationalistic fringe in opposing the appointment of Sampanthan as the Opposition Leader?

        • 8
          6

          Burning Issue

          “Are you hiding behind the nationalistic fringe in opposing the appointment of Sampanthan as the Opposition Leader?”

          Don’t you know since smart ass patriotism was invented they come in all shapes and sizes.

          We need a Hercules of people who would deal with Nemean Lion and multi headed Hydra. According to Greek myth as soon as one head is chopped off two or more grew in its place.

    • 11
      5

      saras

      The current estimated population on 4 September 2015 is 21,031,128. According to last census in 2012 the population was 20,359,439.

      UPFA MPs should decide whether they want to remain as part of national government or sit in the opposition.

      Dinesh D. Dodamgoda’s entire article suggests that the UPFA should have the cake and eat it.

      UPFA cannot have both ways.

      If one reverse the role, say JVP has 16 seats and TNA has 6 seats, would Dinesh spend such a lot of time arguing the case against Anura Kumara Dissanayake being appointed the opposition leader?

      Something fishy.

      If one take Dinesh’s case against the current arrangement and extent it further one might come to the conclusion that Ranil should not only retain his current position as prime minister but also be appointed as opposition leader, both at the same time.

      I hope Dinesh is not a student of Dayan’s smart ass patriotism.

    • 4
      3

      Remember 4.7 million racist against 6.1 million non-racist. With time passing 6.1 million will grow and 4.7 will degrade. Already this process has started. January 8th it was 5.8 million racist. Aug 17th it was 4.7 million.

  • 10
    0

    As always Srilankan majority divert their thoughts and energy on matters of little consequence. When there is a large majority government who is all too powerful, the parliament requires a stern opposition leader and we have to wait and see whether Sambandan who is octogenarian would fill that berth? Thank god, we have an opposition whip who is very effective judging from the contribution that AKD made on the debate dealing with the jumbo cabinet.
    Mr Mayadunne’s resignation speech too is very useful in drawing the attention of the public to the state of the nation.

    My concern is at a time when the public should focus all their attention to stop this wasteful appointment of a mega cabinet of 48 and total number of ministers amounting to approximately 100, for a small country spending so much of public money for no gainful reason, this discussion on who became the leader of the opposition is a classic red herring!

  • 3
    0

    Time for a People’s Manifesto : groups of people present a common manifesto to the parties and see how they respond. The Friday Forum may be able to help.

  • 10
    1

    Actually the SLFP should have quit the UPFA no sooner it decided on the national government. It is not clear as to why it did not do so. The SLFP constitutes the main party in the coalition called UPFA. So, when the Central Committee of the SLFP decided on the national government those who opposed that decision should have either quit voluntarily or been expelled from the party. How could anyone justify the same party sitting in the government and the opposition at the same time? Once the SLFP quit the UPFA none of the remnant parties had even 10 members in the parliament. So, what is wrong in selecting the leader of the single party that had the highest number of members in the opposition as its leader?

    Sengodan. M

  • 6
    8

    When a Tamil was the opposition leader Tamils the big anti Tamil pogrom happened and the opposition Leader ran and hid in India leaving the Tamils at the mercy of the singala goons. but he was sent back without the post. I think there was an impeachment also against him. Where will MR Sampanthan Run now. my3 is no better than jr. And one soldier kills seven Tamils then No Tamils in Sri Lanka. I am doing the calculation for them and to the genocide UN.

  • 5
    2

    The SLFP should have quit the UPFA but MS is the leader of the the UPFA as well and he took the dictatorial decision for the SLFP to stay in the UPFA so that you tie the party down in a manner that there is nothing they could do. This is disgusting! What happens to the wish of the majority in the country.

    • 4
      1

      Certain SLFP members have stated they will sit in the opposition. The only question is will they have to form another party to do this. Wait for 23rd Sept.

  • 3
    0

    Having followed the fortunes of the United States since Obama was elected, it is my (and I am sure the majority of Americans now) that your comparison of Obama and Sampanthan stops at that point !~!

  • 5
    2

    I don’t agree with this writer.

  • 4
    6

    .
    TNA represents North & East. How can they represent entire island as opposition leader?

    :-)

    • 9
      3

      Just like the UNP and SLFP members who served as the Opposition Leaders in the past who did not represent the North! :)

  • 4
    2

    Why this is even a topic? Sampanthan is the leader of the largest opposition party?

    Let’s look at a scenario where UNP won 106, JVP obtained 95 and UPFA 16 seats.

    Now assume UNP and JVP went for a national government where 45 MP’s from JVP went to the government and took ministries while 50 sat on the opposition. Now will UPFA sit quietly and allow JVP to take the opposition leader position as well?

  • 3
    1

    Hi Native Vedda,
    Thanks for clarifying the population census figures.
    I fully endorse your view that Dinesh wouldn’t have spent a minute of his Fulbright Scholar’s time with MSc Degree in writing this article if there was a reverse election result between JVP and TNA.
    As suggested, he should also seriously consider supporting a dual role for RW – PM cum Opposition Leader!
    By the way who amongst the winners from the UPFA ticket currently sit in the oppositions benches? Where can one find it?
    Cheers

  • 3
    1

    Mr Dinesh Dodamgoda

    There are many logical assertions in your Article.

    However the major flaw is that you have incorrectly identified Racist Politicians as Nationalist Politicians. They recognize only Sinhala Buddhists as citizens of this country. The plain fact that racist politicians are the doom of this country has not even crossed your mind.

    Sad.

  • 4
    0

    Mr.Dinesh Dodamgoda

    I find that in your article you have worded some statements which are contradictory arguments and not comparable between Obama and Sambanthan.
    Obama’s victory, not because he is a black but because of a process of electoral system and the Democratic Party nominee was victorious as the people of the United States wanted a change and there was no one suitable in the Republican party. There was no pluralism in his election. Mr.Sambanthan’s election as the Leader of the Opposition was a democratic convention, but not in the Rule book as such. There may be various reasons attached to his election as Leader of the Opposition. Sirisena and Ranil wanted it that way although 57 UPFA MPs signed a document and nominated a different candidate. There is no victory for pluralism there either.
    The Tamil people’s priority and immediate requirements are that
    1. Constitutional reform through a federal form of government.
    2. International Inquiry into the alleged war crimes and genocide.
    3. Withdrawal of the Army from the North and to release all private
    lands to its owners for them to resettle. Confiscating private
    lands from its owners is a crime in itself under the UN Charter,
    Still criminal act is being committed by the armed forces in the
    North.
    4. Release of all political prisoners.
    5. To release all information about those persons who surrendered to
    armed forces.
    The TNA’s manifesto to the Tamil people indicates all the above requirements and the TNA MPS have during the elections promised to have all these matters settled within an year. How Sambanthan as Leader of the Opposition is going to get all these demands solved is a question.

  • 2
    0

    Get the new voters list and carefully mark the Tamils. They will hide in hindi and pali names. Others mark your doors or gates as what is said in the old testament before the exodus. Petrol is cheap now. Tamils make kattamarams ready to drift in the sea. Beware Indian and US, australian donated deep sea patrol are there. And big white sharks are waiting for you. That will be your fate.

  • 3
    1

    A Cabinet of Croocks and Loosers……………….
    So much for Yahapalanaya.

    JVP’s Anura Kumar.D has really swallowed……..

  • 1
    0

    The people have defeated the Sinhala nationalists, Mr Dodamgoda. Nothing is going to be gained by weeping and wailing now. There are more true patriots wanting pluralism and unity among races than the pseudo-sinhala patriots as the election has shown. The majority of the SLFP elected by the so called nationalists are now with Sirisena/Rajapaksa unity government. At best you probably can claim less than a million adherents to your nationalistic cause – may be about 10 MPs.

    Your intention seems to be to use the Opposition Leader issue to whip up the racists to improve your fortunes. People have no stomach for that kind of politics any more, Mr Dodamgoda.

  • 4
    0

    I went through the article of Mr. Dodamgoda and the comments he has received. I think that the plethora of comments he has received prove his main assertion, ‘the society has been deeply polarised on socio-ethnic lines in the post-war Sri Lanka’.
    It is very clear that critiques want to see Mr. Sampanthan’s appointment either as a victory or defeat. None of them has failed to evaluate arguments that Mr. Dodamgoda raised on the basis of facts (or points) he produced in supporting his arguments. Was Mr. Sampanthan appointed democratically? If he was not appointed democratically, can it really be a victory of Pluralism? Won’t the way adopted to appoint Mr. Sampanthan further deepen the mistrust and polarisation on ethnic lines? Doesn’t it affect the proposed reconciliation process, domestic inquiry, and constitutional reforms in a negative way?
    None of the critiques has answered or evaluated the article on those lines.
    The challenge that the peace builders have in reconciling the post-war Sri Lankan society is huge. God Bless them.

  • 0
    1

    An ancient Naga well and symbols dating around 200BC has been discovered in the eastern province in the Batticaloa district. The writing is the ancient Tamil Brahmi used during this era. This proves that the mother tongue of the ancient Naga who lives and ruled the island was Tamil and Naga and the Tamils were one and the same people. These sorts of symbols have been found in many parts of the Vanni Jaffna Trincomallee and other parts of the east with these ancient prehistoric Tamil Brahmi incriptions. Some have also been found in the so called Sinhalese south in palaces like Sigiriya Empbilipitiya. Kalpitti in the once Tamil Chilapam, district. Some of these Naga symbols and artifacts have Buddhist conotations but all the inscriptions are in this ancient Tamil Brahmi. This proves that there was an ancient Tamil speaking Naga( Tamil) Buddhist community in the island and they erected many Buddhist places of worship. Especially in the Tamil North and East. Tamil was the language of the Nagas. All these kings who converted to Buddhism were Nagas. Devanambiyatissa( Real name would have been Thevanai Nambiya Theesan Which means the great man or king who loved god) His father was King MuttaSivan ( this is a pure Tamil name meaning the great or venerated Siva) Duttugemunu was also another naga( Not a Sinhalese as falsely portrayed. There were no Sinhalese people or language at that time) His father’s actual name was Kakkai Vanna Theesan ( which means in Tamil the great man or king the colour of the crow, basically the black king. No so called Aryan can ever be black) All this proves that prior to a so called Sinhalese history the island was Saivite Naga and Tamil and many of the early Buddhist were still Tamil speaking. The Tamil population of the north and east are largely the descendants of these ancient Hindu and Buddhist Naga. The east is the historic homeland of the Tamils and not the homeland of the illegal Sinhalese settlers or the immigrant Muslim refugees from Tamil Nadu and Kerala who came here seeking asylum a few centuries ago, fleeing Sinhalese and European persecution. No amount of gerrymandering and settling illegal Sinhalese settlers , adding surrounding Sinhalese areas from the Uva, killing and ethnically cleansing Tamils is going to change this fact.

  • 0
    0

    Mr.Dinesh,
    You say that 4.8 million voters have been duped by the Hon. President MS. Do you mean to say that this 4.8 million voters know what an opposition in the Parliament is about. Most of the innocent people of the 4.8 million who voted for UPFA, would be having zero knowledge of politics. They just voted because someone in their family or friends voted for the UPFA. They will celebrate if the person to whom they voted won not knowing what the sequences will be. That is the end of the story for them. However, by their votes, some incorrigible people have been elected and it is they who are sowing the seeds of what may. If these nominated MP’s of the UPFA just keep their foul mouths shut and help the Govt. to govern the country as it should have been,everything will be OK. Why are they worried about who is given the post of the “Leader of the opposition” Is it that, when some of these unscrouples MP’s who knows that it will not be long before they will have to face the CID, so that having an “Opposition Leader” of their choice, will raise a voice against it.

  • 1
    1

    Mr. Dinesh Dodamgoda,
    Why didn’t you write one under the topic ” Electing Srisena and Rejecting Rajapakse on the 8th January” ?

    Or alternatively under the topic ” electing Obama and electing srisena – the parallels ” ?

    Have you heard or read what Anura Kumara Dissanayake ‘s comments about the legitmacy of electing Sampanthan as opposition leader and his claim it is well within the democratic norm ?

    Anura may not be scholar but has high intellect.

  • 0
    0

    Now that the leader of the opposition has been elected – I wonder why people are trying to justify the appointment or even criticize same! After the worst government we had prior to January 8th, it will be best for those who are interested in the well being of ALL Sri Lankans is to wait and see what the contribution will be made by the leader of the opposition. Do not talk about democracy etc as where were you all during the last government? None of you dare to say anything due to fear of your lives!. So hold your criticisms until you see what the good governance is.

  • 2
    0

    The issue is not whether the country is prepared to accept the appointment of a Tamil politician to the post of all crucial leader of opposition. One could safely say that , leaving aside ethnic biases, a Tamil , or for that matter election of a Non-Sinhalese should never be an issue. We had great patriotic leaders, perhaps truly patriotic, especially from Tamil community. Debating on the ethnic dimension is a wholesale diversion from the should be main focus of the whole episode. Its the manner in which the whole process unfolded that needs debate. The basic principal of electing to such posts is embedded in democratic ideals. The common and well accepted practice has always been that the one who holds the majority support of the members of the parliament should be elected to the post of opposition. Then, There were two aspiring to be elected, one with 16 members supporting and another with 56 members supporting. Simple arithmetic would decide who should be elected. Then, the twist to the episode with UPFA president playing a card under the table once again. Both President and the ruling party worked it out to ensure the present outcome. President’s art of governance- for-the-day leaves a very bad precedence. Especially, that he was elected on the sole principle of good governance. Even if the UNP wanted to play partially, the President should have acted impartially. The way they play politics together in the supreme body of the country is a sure therapy to see a complete loss of trust in the parliament in the medium and long-term. Party-men look up-to their party leader to play straight and lead, people at large expects the first citizen to be exemplary and deciding their destiny. This level of manipulation to trick the result you wish to have only results in complete breakdown of public trust. More over, this pushes extremist to be more active and destructive. Its a bait given to the Tamil community also with no substance. A reasonable , acceptable and sustainable outcome to the ethnic issues will get thrown out of the window. What they did was like that a bone is thrown to create a dog fight which will ultimately leave both with broken limbs and bloody faces. This act is supposedly to appease India. This argument looks increasingly plausible and its a matter of time we will drive extremism down the hearts and minds of the ordinary. No social , political solution could emerge or sustain unless people are willing to accept. This is history repeating itself.

    • 2
      1

      jith

      “We had great patriotic leaders, perhaps truly patriotic, especially from Tamil community.”

      Do you mean Thiruvengadam Vellupillai Prabaharan who stupidly kicked the Hindian IPKF back to whence they came.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.