21 June, 2024

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Has Sampanthan Become A Liability For Tamils In Sri Lanka?

By Vasanthi Nesarajan

Political Column in Sunday Times, Sri Lanka back on 15 August 2021, reflected on what awaits the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) post Mr Sampanthan era. 

They speculated that TNA is likely to disintegrate as Mr Sampanthan hadn’t considered succession planning and that the infighting between the leaders and other sitting MPs of constituent parties of the TNA is likely to result in such disintegration.

Just over two years later since they wrote, it appears their predictions have been realised as fundamentally there is no more a TNA in existence as the remaining constituent parties, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), People Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) have started acting independently and separately, with regards to most matters. However, Mr Sampanthan still remains as leader of the TNA.

That speculation in 2021, when Mr Sampanthan was 88 years of age and he is now 90, and fast approaching his 91st birthday, on 5 February 2024. Mr Sampanthan has been the oldest serving member of parliament ever, for some time now.

Age and ill health has taken a toll in his ability to represent his own constituency in the parliament. Under Right to Information (RTI) gathered data shows that only 39 days out of the 288 days during the current parliament, Mr Sampanthan has attended parliament. And he hadn’t spoken on any matters of concern during these 39 days of attendance according to the Hansard records.

Mr Sampanthan, his age, his lack of attendance and the amount of tax payers’ money spent on someone who hasn’t represented the people of whom he should represent was one of the talking points on a talk show titled ‘Looking for corruption in all the wrong places” in one of the private TV channels in Sri Lanka, recently.  Among the various panellists, Mr M.A. Sumanthiran, spokesperson for ITAK and Tamil parliamentarian was asked whether this particular spending of money, of over four million rupees on an aging Member of Parliament who has attended a mere 13% of the sitting sessions is another kind of corruption. 

Mr Sumanthiran, cleverly avoiding answering the question of corruption said that it has been a great concern for his party and him personally for some time now that Mr Sampanthan has been unable to attend parliament due to his ill health and age. He said last year, as concerned members, some of the senior members of the ITAK including himself met with Mr Sampanthan and shared their concerns and even requested for him to retire from parliament. Unfortunately, Mr Sampanthan has refused to do so and explained that when the people of Trincomalee elected him at the 2020 elections, they knew of his health conditions and still elected him as the number one candidate in terms of votes gained. Therefore, he has no intentions of resigning or retiring from service.

This controversial decision of Mr Sampanthan to stay in parliament without really representing his constituent’s issues and concerns is likely to diminish his stature among the people not just Tamils but the wider Sri Lankans. 

It is also a well-known fact that Mr Sampanthan and his family still occupy the house that was granted to him when he was the Opposition Leader during the 2015-2019 parliament. By overstaying in government quarters, Mr Sampanthan is in many ways abusing the system of privileges and patronage granted to senior members of parliament, like the opposition leader. The bills and maintenance of the house will cost over hundreds of thousands of rupees of tax payers’ money every year. Civil servants familiar with the matter also say that the two cars that he was entitled to during his tenure as Opposition Leader is still run for his and his family’s use.

Mr Sampanthan in 2020 initially told his party central committee and members of his constituency district offices that he will not stand at the 2020 general elections. As members persuaded him to stand, he agreed under two conditions, one, he will only serve one year and will resign for someone younger from his party to takeover and two, some named person from Trincomalee to be placed as the primary candidate in the list of nominations depending on the vote share. Neither condition has been satisfied to date. TNA gained only a single nominated MP position which was given to a member from Ampara and not Trincomalee. Mr Sampanthan himself has gone back on his word on resigning from the seat to let someone younger to complete the term. 

Mr Sampanthan’s irresponsibleness and poor judgement was laid bare, when he, for his personal reasons asked the Indian Government to postpone a calendar date that was given for the TNA parliamentarians to meet with the Indian Prime Minister in Delhi back in December 2021. Nearly two years have passed and that meeting hasn’t materialised as yet. If the meeting had taken place, who knows what might have transpired for the Tamil people.

It is during Mr Sampanthan’s tenure as Leader, both Ceylon Tamil Congress (CTC) and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) as parties and Mr C.V. Wigneswaran as an individual exited the TNA.

Abandoning of Mr Sampanthan as leader of the TNA by its remaining constituent parties was played out in public when in the secret ballot of appointing the current president through a parliamentary vote, although as TNA, they collectively made it known that they will be supporting Mr Dullas Alahapperuma, it emerged that some of the constituent party Members of Parliament voted for the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He himself acknowledged at the initial meeting with the TNA as President on August 3, 2022 by saying, “I know some of you voted for me”.

The disarray within the TNA has been in public display even more since.

TELO, PLOTE (who are from the “current” TNA) plus EPRLF (who were part of TNA until 2015 elections) and Tamil National Party (TNP) by forming a party with a title of Democratic TNA with a logo and all formally distanced them from the official TNA. This action left the ITAK to stand alone.

The dTNA as a registered party went further and submitted formal nominations for the not yet held local government elections. They issued press statements and faced interviews as dTNA.

At one of those interviews, Mr Selvam Adaikalanathan, Leader of TELO, said that there is no more a grouping called the TNA. Mr Sampanthan cannot call himself as Leader of the TNA and should refer to him as the Leader of ITAK, if he wants.

Mr Sumanthiran who used to be the official spokesperson for the TNA, now refers to him as Spokesperson for the ITAK and NOT TNA.

Recently, a Tamil diaspora leader said, “Leaving the rights and wrongs to aside, Mr Prabakaran as leader of the LTTE, commanded the Tamil struggle for equality as a visionary and his legacy could be that he placed the Tamils struggle for equality in the international agenda.” Comparing Mr Sampanthan’s leadership he said, “The latter had no charisma or vision and was never able to muster the support of majority of his people. In the past 14 years since end of armed hostilities, Mr Sampanthan’s leadership has been at best reactionary and never held the tempo against our adversaries. His legacy will be that, once a relatively successful political coalition which at its best, held over 20 seats in parliament was reduced to 10 over the time and finally saw its demise due to lack of leadership.”

It hasn’t been an easy task for Mr Sampanthan to keep the TNA together. Out of the three remaining constituent parties, two of them are led by former militants who are believed to be, still on the payroll of local and foreign intelligence agencies. The leader of the ITAK has long passed his retirement age and that party itself needs restructuring by including youth and women into leadership.

Mr Sampanthan also draws sharp criticism from many in the wider local communities and internationally. As a Leader of the Opposition, he did not resolve and/or influence any major national issues that impacted all communities. People accused him of playing second fiddle to the then ruling alliance, during the Yahapalana government.

To have been one of the driving forces behind the scenes to build a national coalition of opposition parties and a common candidate whom removed the then powerful president Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015, Mr Sampanthan couldn’t extract a solution for the Tamils demands out of the Yahapalana regime. With hindsight perhaps Mr Sampanthan realises that he should have bargained more assertively and even threatened to bringing down the government prematurely by voting against the budget for example, to achieve his parties goals. Instead, his passive approach got the Tamil people nothing at the end. Four years later, the lack of strategy and tactic was blatantly obvious. Tamil people punished the TNA severely at the 2020 elections.

Some say, Mr Sampanthan is a very poor judge of character. It was his choice to nominate former Supreme Court Judge C.V. Wigneswaran for the Chief Minister post in the Northern Provincial Council against strong opposition within the TNA. This ended up as a disastrous choice not just for the Provincial Council, but also for TNA’s reputation and popularity within the community and outside too.

His inability to take decisive action to maintain discipline within the party was blatant when he refused to sack Mr Wigneswaran even after he issued statements publicly supporting an opposing party in the general elections of 2015. This has weakened the TNA in the eyes of the voters. 

Whilst being able to influence the international community to a greater extent to be sympathetic to the Tamil concerns in Sri Lanka, especially post May 2009, by and large he has been unable to rally the Tamil grassroots behind the TNA. Since 2004, when the TNA won 22 seats in the Parliament, with ups and downs but the trajectory has been downwards leading up to only securing 10 seats in the current Parliament.

Under Sampanthan’s leadership, the TNA failed to focus on schemes that would have helped the economic development and sustainability of the Tamil community, especially when the Indian Government was forthcoming with financial assistance. This also paved the way for the loss in the vote share to the national parties in the North and East.

Some observers say, the time has come for the current leadership, the old guard, to gracefully relinquish from active service and encourage younger generations including women to take over the mantle sooner rather than later.

Just as the Aragalaya was calling for wider system change, perhaps the Tamils of north and east too may have to have their own version of Aragalaya to force change in the Tamil polity.

*Vasanthi Nesarajan, former medical professional, born and bred in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    3

    Has Sampanthan Become A Liability For Tamils In Sri Lanka?
    ============================
    well he was never an asset to become a liability.?
    ==========
    None of the Tamil politicians whether in TNA, or UNP, or SLFP or SLPP or upcountry Tamil political parties were an asset to the Tamil people.
    ===
    there was a time when UNP and SLFP needed the support of the Tamil MPs to form a govts after the general elections. Tamils have supported UNP and SLFP to form govts even then the Tamil politicians were not an asset to the Tamils. They were given ministerial positions and trappings that comes with it and the Tamil MPs let down the Tamil people while enjoying the ministerial trappings and made a lot of money. Their children, grand children and great great children ..do not have to worry about money for generations.
    ====

    so Tamil MP’S DONT ” Become A Liability For Tamils In Sri Lanka?”
    ====
    Politicians of all colour, caste and race are a liability to Sri Lankans.
    ===

    • 2
      3

      Everyone gets old at one stage or another. Some gracefully and others, especially politicians arrogantly. Sampanthar belongs to the other. As a leader of the TNA, he cheated the Tamils, with the support of Sumanthiran, by stating that the Tamil problem would be settled (not solved) during the Yahapalanaya government On Sinhala Tamil New Year Day, Thai Pongal Day, Deepavali Day, etc. etc. He was keen to safeguard the government in power whether it be, Mahindas, Ranils or even Gothabayas to ensure that he will continue to live in comfort in Colombo at state (peoples) expense. He never liked being questioned on his decisions. This resulted in MP Eelaventhan, a vociferous member being sent out of parliament by foul means. I don’t want to mention the sequence of events that led to his ouster now, but facts are stubborn. Now Sumanthiran seems to be worried that Sampanthar is going ‘Too Far’ and his position of becoming the leader of ITAK before the elections next year is in jeopardy.

    • 2
      6

      “well he was never an asset to become a liability.?”
      Should one have been an asset to qualify to become a liability?

  • 9
    5

    Has Sampanthan Become A Liability For Tamils … ?
    What a question to pose?
    .
    Who is a liability?
    – a person whose conduct is likely to cause embarrassment or a disadvantage.
    .
    If Tamils are still able to breathe thank Sampanthan for it. Tamils would have faced a far worse situation if not for Sampanthan.
    No Tamil has grown enough to fill in his shoes. Is that Sampanthan’s fault?

    • 3
      6

      “Who is a liability?
      – a person whose conduct is likely to cause embarrassment or a disadvantage.”
      *
      Is he an asset?
      Really, the TNA is a liability to the Tamils.

  • 7
    2

    The late Leader of the Federal Party S.J.V.Chelvanayagam Q.C. was suffering from Parkinsons Disease by the 1970s. He too was more or less unable to perform due to ill health. But there were no calls for his resignation……..
    Why is Hon.Sampanthan being singled out ?

    Hon.Sampanthan is not in occupation of a Government house and other benefits by force..Perhaps, he has been allowed these due to age and the fact that he is a respected Leader of the Tamils. This respect has been given by the Sinhalese.Sad that his own people are now calling for his blood………….

    Be gracious and generous to a man who was able and admirable in his younger days.

    Hon.Sampanthan may very well echo Julius Caesar ………….Et tu Brute………..

  • 7
    1

    //They were given ministerial positions and the trappings that comes with it and the Tamil MPs let down the Tamil people while enjoying the ministerial trappings and made a lot of money.// Rajash is distorting history to demean Tamil MPs. As far as the ITAK is concerned the only time a Senator was appointed as Minister was from 1965-1968. To the credit of the ITAK no MP accepted a Ministerial office since the formation of the ITAK in December 1949.

    In the 2015 Presidential elections the TNA had no alternative, but to back the common candidate Mythripala Sirisena. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sirisena were evil, so TNA had to choose the lesser evil.

    A lot of development work was carried out in the Trincomalee district. 900 new houses were built for the returnees/refugees from Tamil Nadu. About 25 tanks were renovated between 2015 -2019. But the greatest achievement was the release of about 47. 604 acres of land occupied by the army following the end of the civil war in May 2009. In Sampur, Trincomalee district a total of 818 acres of land vested in the Board of Investment and leased to Gateway Industries Ltd. for 99 years was cancelled and given back to the original owners.

    Another 237 acres of land occupied by the Navy were released to the owners. In both these instances Sampaanthan and Sumanthiran played pivotal roles.

    Under Gamraleya

  • 8
    0

    R. Sampanthan should be given credit for placing the Tamil people’s problems before the UNHRC in 2012 and almost every year thereafter. He led a team of MPs to canvass support of the US State Department in October 2011.

    The US and its allies have since moved and passed several resolutions on past human rights violations and accountability and transitional justice for war victims. These resolutions have become a national disgrace and a huge embarrassment for the successive Sri Lankan governments.

    Having said all these, it is now obvious Sampanthan has outlived his usefulness to the Tamil Nation. Instead of taking refuge under subterfuges, he must step down and give way to others who are capable and young.

    The more he delays his exit, the more he will become unpopular. He must read the writing on the wall and gracefully exit for his own good.

    • 5
      2

      Sampanthar released 47 acres occupied by the army- GOOD- but how many acres were colonized by the Sinhale due to his inaction over the years?

      • 3
        3

        Is it only his indifference?
        The whole lot are to blame.

  • 4
    2

    Mr. Sampanthan has to look for a matured and popular person before he plans to retire, and he should not pressured to step down. He probably knows when to do that. He had done a good job during the difficult period. Any other individual could not have kept the members together and performed as much as this experienced politician has done.

    • 5
      3

      If a party cannot hold together in the absence of an ageing leader, it is about time that the party ceased to be.

  • 2
    2

    There should be a limit to greediness and power hunger. It’s time all the old crocks over 70 should leave the Parliament. When the new election laws are passed a clause should be included that reads “all the contestants of any election should be below 66 so that when the term ends they will be 70.

    • 0
      0

      I agree, Buddhist1, but let us not forget that this happened to the Tamils because we, Sinhalese, decimated the Tamil leadership.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

  • 3
    0

    //The late Leader of the Federal Party S.J.V. Chelvanayakam Q.C. was suffering from Parkinsons’ Disease by the 1970s. He too was more or less unable to perform due to ill health. But there were no calls for his resignation……..
    Why is Hon. Sampanthan being singled out ?// Plato

    I thought Plato, a student of Socrates, would think rationally and write sensibly. Unfortunately, he is living in a different world of his own. Thanthai Chelvanayakam and the people of his constituency did not face the same problems faced by R, Sampanthan and Trincomalee people today. Then, there was no brutal army occupation, no land grab of thousands of acres of private lands to build Buddhist Viharas, no statues of Buddha erected at every corner, no Buddhist Bhikkhu like Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera.

    This Extremist Sinhala Buddhist monk threatened to kill all of the Tamils in the South last week, in yet another racist outburst that was caught on camera. “Every single Tamil person will be cut into pieces!” exclaimed the monk. “They will all be killed! All the Tamils in the south will be cut into pieces and butchered! Verily, he must have been a butcher in his previous birth!

    • 1
      4

      “But there were no calls for his resignation”
      He was their “Prophet”. It was blasphemy to criticize him in party circles. Even disagreement was frowned upon.
      *
      The party was manipulated by a cabal who used to meet in the veranda of his house in Alfred House Gardens since starting in the 1960s.
      His Parkinson’s disease was noticed even earlier than 1970. As he was a soft spoken slow moving man it was not readily noticeable. He also seemed to have hearing difficulties.

  • 3
    3

    Mr. Sampanthan is an asset to the Tamil people despite his age.
    I do not think there are many who can speak for Tamils better than he.

    • 4
      0

      If SL Tamil society doesn’t have alternatives to a leader who is in his late eighties or nineties, then something is seriously wrong with our community. During the 15 years since the war, we have had ample time to settle on a successor, and Sampanthan should have nurtured such leaders.

      That he doesn’t appear to have done so, and that there hasn’t been more active engagement within Tamil communities, or outreach to India and other powers, including China, on the many continuing challenges facing the Tamil community, speaks in some ways to his poor leadership, whether from age or not.

    • 2
      3

      You think so?
      Then, what a pathetic state are the Tamils in!

    • 2
      1

      Yes, he has performed well. However, let him start preparing his retirement now, when he is honoured by many.
      .
      He must now start making it possible for his somewhat younger colleagues to democratically elect his successor. It is good to hear that some younger people are keen on succeeding.
      .
      You Tamils still have something to teach us. The tragic history of the Sinhalese-racist UNP is there for all to see. Please select the best among you to succeed R. Sampanthan, and Trincomalee must elect a new MP, hopefully not related to the Rajavarothiam dynasty. They have served their community well; now look to the NPP for inspiration.
      .
      It would be wonderful if the TNA were to formally join the NPP, but I know that it is too much to hope for.
      .
      May you enjoy many years of retirement, Mr Sampanthan,
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandrawela (NIC 483111444V)

    • 2
      0

      Seldom do I get to agree with Jaffna Man. Here I do, eagerly.

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