17 September, 2021

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Ensuring Tamil Participation In Election Is Important

By Jehan Perera – 

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The manifesto of the Joint Opposition Candidate reflects the concerns of the different political parties that have formed the opposition alliance. Some of them have signed agreements with him, others have not. So the manifesto reflects those agreements. The main ethnic minority parties representing the Sri Lanka Tamils and Muslims have yet to publicly declare their stance at the election. Consequently, their input into the opposition mandate is not manifest. One crucial area of governance that has been left out is the issue of inter-ethnic relations and devolution of power. However, speaking on the political platform the UNP leader and Prime Minister-designate Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the 13th Amendment will be implemented. In this context, it is not surprising if the Presidential election campaign has yet to grip the imagination of the Tamil voter in the North and East.

There is already a call to boycott the election. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, the leader of Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF) has called for a boycott on the grounds that there is no point in the Tamil people going behind any of the two mainstream candidates of the Sinhalese South in the upcoming Sri Lankan presidential election. The former Tamil parliamentarian, who addressed the media on behalf of the TNPF and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, urged the Tamil people to refrain from backing any of the two candidates. He also accused the TNA, which is the largest Tamil political party, of creating a systematic and intended confusion among the Tamils by its secretive approach. He said it seems to be waiting till the last minute to urge the Tamils to back the Joint Opposition Candidate. He has condemned the government for the way it conducted the war and the opposition for not being prepared to concede sufficient power sharing between the ethnic communities.

sri_lanka_tamil_womanThere is a need on the part of the opposition candidate to visit the North and East and carry out his campaign there. This may not be possible at the present time, because the opposition alliance has yet to formulate its position on the ethnic minorities. Any indication by the opposition that they will accommodate the concerns of the ethnic minority parties is liable to be used against them by the government. The apprehension of the opposition is that if they address issues that are central to the Tamil polity, they would risk losing a sizeable chunk of their Sinhalese vote base. On the other hand, if they do not address those issues that are of importance to the ethnic minorities, the opposition runs the risk of discouraging them from voting at all. The challenge for the opposition is to address the issues that are of importance to the ethnic minorities, without alienating the ethnic majority voters.

Appalling Story

From the perspective of the parties that are contesting the presidential election, issues such as the devolution of power, merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces and demilitarization of the North and East, which are important to the Tamil people, could be threatening to other sections of the population, and whose political support is essential to the survival of any government. On the other hand, there are other issues that would have a resonance with the Tamil people, but will not be threatening to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. These include developmental issues, livelihood issues, the resettlement of those internally displaced and whose land has been expropriated on various grounds, and those concerning persons in government custody and who have gone missing.

Indeed, the political platforms of the contesting political parties could address these issues. An example would be with regard to detained and missing persons, finding them and compensating them, without arousing the insecurities of any section of the population. Last week a newspaper carried a story that was both tragic and appalling, and which anyone who is a citizen would wish to never happen to anyone ever again. According to the story, “A resident from Chunnakam in Jaffna returned home on Friday after more than 25 years in a detention camp, residents said. S. Vairavanathan was arrested at Armour Street in Colombo soon after a bomb blast in 1990. He was 28 then. Since then, he had been detained at a detention camp in Hambantota for 25 years without any charges being filed against him. Both his parents died not knowing where their son was after they had searched for him for a long period without success. Recently, the Hambantota Magistrate Court sent a letter to his family to take charge of him. But the Sunday Times learns that some of his relatives were reluctant to welcome Mr. Vairawanathan as they had allegedly sold properties belonging to the Vairavanathans using forged documents. However, other relatives turned up at the Hambantota courts on Thursday to take Mr. Vairawanathan home.”

It is more likely than not that the fate of this victim will generate empathy in the general population, as they would see that such a fate can befall them also. It indicates that there are places of detention in which people can disappear. They may not necessarily be dead. But there will be no track of them. Such incarceration in secret places, where even his parents who searched high and low for their son, and died not knowing where he was, needs to be outlawed. It is significant that the victim’s period of incarceration spanned the period of four governments of Sri Lanka. The plight of the victim in this case would touch the heart of most Sri Lankans who would not wish this fate to befall anyone. They would wish the state to compensate such a victim, as would be in the case in many other countries in cases of wrongful incarceration. They would also understand why the relatives of the disappeared in the North do not give up looking for their loved ones, and continue to believe that they are hidden somewhere in some secret place.

Preventing Recurrence

The government has appointed a commission of inquiry into missing persons. It has also appointed six international advisers of high caliber to advice the commission, the most recent being from Japan. However, there is also the concern about the status of investigations. An international human rights watchdog on Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has noted that the appointment of international legal experts to oversee this process, was greeted by many human rights observers with surprise. On what specific basis had they been hired by the Sri Lankan government, and how, given the seeming conflict of interest between providing legal counsel to the Sri Lankan government and advising a domestic accountability mechanism, was their role to be defined? Several of these questions were recently posed to the group of advisors – now recently expanded to include the Indian development activist Professor Avdhash Kaushal, the Pakistani lawyer Ahmer B Soofi, and former international judge Motoo Noguchi.

The Sri Lanka Campaign states that “Only two of the experts replied, and while the Sri Lanka Campaign agreed to keep the correspondence private, we can reveal that Professor Kaushal’s response was brief and evasive, and Professor De Silva’s response was in line with his public utterances – that he sees his role as analogous to that of a barrister representing a client. This was a view echoed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, who, in response to our questions at a public event in October, invoked his professional obligation under the ‘cab rank rule’ to offer legal counsel to clients irrespective of his personal views about them. This is a defence that does not stand up to scrutiny.”

Recently the Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report that assessed the work of this commission. It noted that although the Commission has received to 20,000 complaints to date, there is still no indication of any investigations presently underway. According to the CPA report, “Investigations at a bare minimum need to inquire into the status of GoSL detention centres, wartime hospital records, IDP camp registrations and rehabilitation centre registrations. However the expectation of the families is to probe much deeper. Families expect the Commission to investigate individual cases and inquire further into last seen whereabouts in order to ascertain what became of the victims, and provide them with answers on their whereabouts if still alive. The Commission therefore must set out its plans for investigations as a matter of priority. It is worrying that almost a year after the first round of hearings, the Commission has still not identified an independent investigations team or started genuine inquiries into complaints.”

Winning Confidence

A pledge to ensure such investigation can be a powerful call to the Tamil people to participate in the Presidential election. So will acknowledgements that there exists other issues of great importance to the day to day life of the people, including the return of land that has been expropriated from the people that amounts to some 67,000 acres in the North. There is a need to build 63,000 new houses destroyed by the war out of a total of 138,651. There has not been any large infusion of funding for such projects this year. There is a need to address the issue of protracted displaced persons, including the refugees in India. Over 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees are still in India and returns have been very slow since the end of the war. While the government has declared there are no more internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka, informal community estimates place the number of those unable to return to their previous homes and still living with host families close to 80,000.

Elections are the lifeblood of democracy. The Presidential election is of particular importance in view of the great powers that the presidency wields over the polity. It is important that all sections of the population participate in the elections. This will give the elections greater legitimacy. With a close contest expected the ethnic minority vote can be decisive. A boycott of the presidential elections will also lead alienation of the Tamils from the presidency, which will not be helpful to national reconciliation.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Besides the ethnic problem as such, there are so many humanitarian problems to the people of the North and promising to address them speedily need not hurt anyone. The war was over five years ago and there isn’t the slightest indication of any war effort being resumed by the people of the North anywhere in the country. But yet the people are subject to an intimidating and overwhelming presence of the military which could be steadily reduced even in steps. Then there is the question of the ongoing land grab which is totally unnecessary in peace time. Hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people are still being held in detention without ANY charges framed against them five years after the end of the war! The newly elected NPC is not given the powers of the other PCs in the country even though the creation of the PCs was meant to at least partially address the ethnic problem.

    So many other issues, which are totally humanitarian and non controversial can be listed. Why should the common opposition candidate be so scared to even touch on these issues?

    Boycotting the election will amount to a vote for Mahinda as did happen in 2005. Gajan Ponnambalam’s stand if accepted by the Tamils will only be beneficial to Mahinda.

    At this stage the most that could be expected from the Tamils is a negative vote to defeat Mahinda. If that could be turned into a positive vote for Sirisena it will be meaningful. Otherwise the enthusiasm for the Tamils to participate in the election will get damped!

    Sengodan. M

  • 3
    0

    I am disappointed that MR has largely avoided directly addressing the Tamils in the North. You are plainly avoiding the Tamils like plague! This is sad. MS – where is the Tamil translation of your manifesto? Are Tamils not relevant? Is JHU dictating terms?

    I am a Tamil and the I would like to see MR & Co with his family go home. If not 13+ or 13, I would like to see better governance and independent judiciary. MS be smart and extend your wooing to Tamils in the North, same way you are wooing the south. You dearly need the Tamil vote…

    • 1
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      Sorry, it should read as “I am disappointed that MS has largely avoided directly addressing the Tamils in the North.” Not MR:)

    • 0
      1

      Well, MS avoided campaign in north because if MS goes there, MR will admit to people that MS is in conspiracy with Tamil to bring LTTE state back, This will result the loss of Buddhist Votes for Maithripala.

      But i’m 100% sure if Maithripala wins the election, He will certainly bring solution for tamils that they suffered barely under MR Govt.

      Also Maithri promised that he will bring the justice for the victims of war crime, This will surely be a great benefit for the Tamils.

      Now MR visited north to beg for the votes as he is losing popularity, But you tamils shouldn’t believe him, Because he ruined your society and equality. Now its your decision to put strengthen option for the presidential election.

      Good Luck!

  • 1
    0

    It is extremely important that all minorities, go to the polling booths and vote for anyone but Rajapaksa.
    If the Rajapaksa must be defeated, it is up to all, even the Sinhalese who oppose him, to make sure they turn up in large numbers and vote for anyone but MR.

    That is the only way they can be removed from so much power in our country.

  • 2
    0

    Since the minority issue has been raised by the writer, I say to the Tamil speaking people, all citizens of SL need to have equal rights and be able to live peacefully in dignity. The only way your voice would be heard is by participating in this all important election that will determine the path the Government takes in the next decade in addressing the many burning issues of the Tamils.

    MR, by his actions in the last 5 years, has clearly demonstrated he has no desire to usher in true Peace to SL by addressing such burning issues. He is just pandering to the Sinhala Buddhist EXTREMISTS and taking all minorities (ethnic and religious) for a ride. So it is in your interest to give a new Face (MS) a chance. It can never be worse than what MR has meted out to your community in the last 5 years.

    I urge, not only the Tamil speaking people but ALL Minorities and the right thinking silent moderate Buddhist Majority, to vote this scoundrel/dictator/cancer out and help usher in a more fair and just Democratic society where the rule of the Law will prevail.

  • 1
    1

    Dear Jehan,
    I have Known you for 20 years now. Glad to see you are still trekking for peace. This is one of your best analysis.
    None of the candidates are touching the National question that led to the war.
    Many have stated the reasons why both are avoiding it. Many Tamils have written about the benefits to the Tamils of MR winning And benefits of MS loosing. Many other Tamils have written the benefits to the Tamils if the reverse took place.

    A few Tamils want Tamils not to vote mainly because they want MR and family to win and others because they don’t want to vote for either candidate because both candidates are afraid to include in their manifesto statements that would address the Tamil issues you have outlined.

    You have clearly stated the reason why MS and his handlers are shying away from taking a position.

    You wrote,”Any indication by the opposition that they will accommodate the concerns of the ethnic minority parties is liable to be used against them by the government. The apprehension of the opposition is that if they address issues that are central to the Tamil polity, they would risk losing a sizeable chunk of their Sinhalese vote base.”

    If MR and Family offer to implement 13A in full in 2015, or a solution under a UNITED Sri Lanka instead of under a UNITARY state they run the risk of loosing a very large number of Sinhalese votes and thus the election.

    You stated, “On the other hand, if they do not address those issues that are of importance to the ethnic minorities, the opposition runs the risk of discouraging them from voting at all. The challenge for the opposition is to address the issues that are of importance to the ethnic minorities, without alienating the ethnic majority voters.”

    But what is the solution other than 13A in Full under a United SL that Tamils will accept and vote for and that which the Sinhala ethnic majority voters will also accept. There is none. Hence the impasse that may lead to Tamil not making their vote count.

    I would like you to have recommended that both MR family and MS & Co. sit down together and workout a common solution, including those items you have mentioned, that they both think the Sinhala majority of voters and Tamil majority of voters will accept. They both can consult TNA together on this issue only. They can then include that in their Manifestos. This would make both Tamils and the Sinhala voters going to the poll in large numbers and voting for their candidate on mainly all the other issues and not the Tamil issue.

    Regrettably both candidates and their handlers had decided not to mention the Tamil issues. The question is, did they decide independently or both had agreed on not including in their speeches or in their manifestos anything related to the Tamil issues. If this is the case Tamils have no option but to consider that the Presidential Election has nothing to offer irrespective of who wins. Which in effect is a boycott and justly so.

    The two candidates know very well that the Sinhala majority or most of the Buddhist clergy will not agree to any form of devolution of powers to the Tamils in Tamil areas. I like to state two conversation I had two UNP leaders 14 years apart.

    On Feb 4th 1985 at about 10 pm at the end of the Indepependence celeberation in Mount Lavinia Park near the railway station, I met with Lalith Athulathmudali on possible solutions to the Tamil issue. I suggested that with more than 2/3rd majority in Parliament a federal solution can be included in the constitution. He said that the SLFP will not allow it. I reminded him SLFP had only 8 MPs and TULF had 17 MPs. He replied that UNP proposing a Federal Solution will be “Political Suicide.”

    On May 13, 1997 at about 7:00pm I met Ranil W. in the presence of Tyronne Fernando and Mangala Samarasinghe (now SLFP Minister), at Cambridege Terrace office. It was the day of the ill fated Jeya Sikuru operation started. At the end of the conversation I asked him whether when UNP comes to power it will offer a Federal Solution. He said that UNP will not do anything that will prevent it from coming back to power or do anything that will make them loose power.

    The conclusion is that more than 2/3 Sinhala voting masses do not want to solve the National Problem that concerns the Tamils in the North and East. It was true before Pirapakaran, During Pirapakaran and After Pirapakaran. From what I can assess neither the Tamil Diaspora nor the Tamil voters are willing to throw in the towel and get assimilated.

    • 2
      2

      Mr Ethirveerasingham,

      Exactly for the same reasons given in your comment – SEPARATION is the best solution.

      • 1
        0

        The Tamil people have to decide whether they want separation or within in a different structure. They cannot get it automatically. There should be a referendum held under the auspicious of the UN which should be ratified. The Tamil leaders with the support of the Indian Tamils demand vigorously to hold a referendum for the Tamils in the North and East. It is happening in other parts of the world. The Tamil diaspora, without division, support the referendum and get the support of the European politicians.

      • 3
        0

        `SEPARATION is the best solution.`
        reason can dream but dreams cannot reason.

        • 0
          0

          Javi,

          Please wake up! Don’t write about things that simply can NEVER happen?

          Sengodan. M

          • 0
            0

            Sun_day mail,
            You read with your mind not your eyes.
            I sleep like the chinese with one eye open laughing at the stupidity of morons are you grazing on it Mooo mooo??

    • 2
      0

      “It was true before Pirapakaran, During Pirapakaran and After Pirapakaran.”
      “The conclusion is that more than 2/3 Sinhala voting masses do not want to solve the National Problem that concerns the Tamils in the North and East.”

      We have evidence to conclude that two third of Sinhala politicians and political and religious leaders do not want to solve the National Problem. However, it was never tested with the Sinhalese masses by Sinhalese Politicians. They never put forward their proposals for a political solution themselves or whatever they agreed during the period of peace talks or all party discussions. In other words, they don’t want to tell the real benefit of devolution for the nation. If there is a will they can educate and convince to accept a proper devolution but they will never do it.

  • 1
    0

    It is absolutely important that the Tamil speaking voters MUST vote.
    I agree with the author that the Tamils vote; also that the Single Issue
    candidate must find ways of explaining to the people ( Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims)that he would resolve their problems without alienating them;
    ie expand what is cotained on page 61 of his manifesto; The TNA must be
    brave enough to explain to the Tamils why they must vote. This is a very
    good opportunity to get rid of the Executive Presidency. Tamils need not put the cart before the horse. Mr Mano Ganeshan has given the Tamils a
    satisfactory explanation & the TNA need to expand on it.

    • 4
      0

      I DEMAND A BETTER FUTURE
      Please don’t tear this world asunder
      Please take back-This fear we’re under

      Life is a Paradox!! yes this is true.

      From a picture book island to 66 years of
      `Sihala Buddhist Stupid Scum Rule`

      Can someone convincingly enlighten us as to why anyone should
      endorse the continuation of sihala buddhist only governance please??

      600k sihala women in medival middle east house maid/sex on demand & devalued dollar for overtime..cheap dollar purchase & imports- the disgrace of the nation- pakistan & india have banned it.

      eve of destruction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QslV5asj_yM

      ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
      `NO COMMENT`INSCRIBE“NO CONFIDENCE` ON BALLOT PAPER!
      ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

      Satakaya Hato!

      Sarema Hato!

      Mara Maiti Modi Mooth Maro.

  • 1
    0

    MS Diary for 23-4-15 speaks of a National Govt. and thus provides some
    space for bargaining – even a mutual separation for the benefit of both
    races? These are trends in current International Politics. With such a promise the need for tamils to participate in this PE is a chance not worth missing.

    It is possible for MR & cabal to prevent Tamils turning out in large numbers on Voting day in N/E, using its Forces. Even Election Monitors may be picked to suit this kind of arrangement with the connivence of their EC. A free and fair election is supect given the do or die attitude
    of the incumbent.

  • 1
    0

    Anpu,
    To me it is crystal clear based on experience since 1956 when I was at Galle Face to the present that Separation in Sri Lanka is same as violence. I have abhorred violence all my life. I cannot be part of it. We have all watched it or experienced. We have to depend on international law as Laws in Sri Lanka framed by the Majority leaves no room for a legal and just solution. Majoritarian solution is no solution.

    I also realise that Soft Power alone or Hard Power alone will bring about a political solution. Whether it is in India by Ghandhi, in South Africa by Mandela or in the US by Martin Luther King there were Hard Power in various forms that were used from within and from outside. The author Joseph Nye who described Soft and Hard Powers argues for a mix and he terms that Mix as SMART POWER.

    It is left to the Tamils and their Tamil Leaders, and the Moderate Sinhala and their leaders to determine the ingredients of the SMART POWER.

    • 1
      0

      Thank you Mr Ethirveerasingham,

      With great respect to you, how many Moderate Sinhala leaders are there?
      UNP and SLFP under various PMs and Presidents took turns to make things worse and worse…..

      Pacts signed, broken,…

      Hope the people would get rid of the current one and My3 would do the sensible thing.

  • 0
    0

    This time around, there appears to be enough dislike and negative attitudes towards the MR regime amongst the Sinhala voters that the usual Tamil-bashing cannot be used by either candidate to win votes with the Sinhalese. Why isn’t the Sirisena candidacy picking up on this and boldly woo the Tamil voters? If the Tamils do not come out in large numbers to vote on Jan 8th and Sirisena loses, he has only himself to blame.

  • 1
    0

    Not to interfere with the Internal affairs of another country. —-MR as well as IN-RU-CH ‘s policy towards Tamils. Ta also follow the same policy In SL election

  • 1
    0

    “There is already a call to boycott the election. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, the leade…” Jehan You too…. Misinterpreting. deceiving…Why does Democracy allows 18 canidates to file the nomination. Gajan said to ignore only two candidates there 16 more candidates to choose from. A voter can vote for only 1 candidate. Are the other 16 not candidates.It is a serious distortion of Truth.

  • 1
    0

    Discarding two candidates is not boycotting the election

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