Colombo Telegraph

Jaffna – Beginning To Awake As Provincial Elections Seem Nearing

Jaffna Lulled

After the Local Government Elections and the deals and counter deals made for the Chairmanship of LG Bodies, Jaffna had been quiet. Lulled into boredom, as it were. 

Any visceral activity threatening the sense of quietude was in the courts where the Tamil Congress has been faring badly. Its unsuccessful Jaffna mayoral candidate V. Manivannan is out on Rs. 50,000 bail after threatening to launch attacks on a Member of the Election Commission. 

V. Manivannan’s Woes

Worse has befallen Manivannan. The Court of Appeal’s case number CA 218/2018 asks for the removal of Manivannan from being a JMC representative. That suit alleges Manivannan’s ineligibility to be a member of the Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC) based on residence. To challenge the election of anybody in Jaffna, cases need to be filed in the High Court in Jaffna within a period of a month or two. After that, it has to be done at the Court of Appeals. Seeking to give everything a communal slant, the Tamil Congress alleged that the case was filed in Colombo to get Sinhalese judges to preside. Some lawyers felt that the charge constituted Contempt of Court.

Court papers show that Manivannan was not registered as a voter inside the Jaffna Municipal Council area, and to all appearances had no eligibility to be so registered – the either-or clause to be eligible to be a candidate  His party had published photographs of his voting elsewhere (in Kokkuvil West). His nomination papers had the fudged Jaffna address of Sir Pon Ramanathan Veethy for him with no house number. In court, he claimed an address in Vannarponnai within the JMC but was not registered as a resident there on the householders’ list. The chief householder at the Vannarponnai address was or had been a Tamil Congress candidate. For his identity card issued by the JMC after it met in March 2018, he had given his Kokkuvil address where he had his vote. On top of this there are allegations of a forged deed being produced in court to prove residence – the date of the deed to a property purchased after the elections altered to a day before the elections.

Based on this evidence the court issued an interim stay order preventing the former Tamil Congress star from functioning as a JMC Member. “What if he had become Mayor and the Mayor is debarred from functioning as a member? It was irresponsible to have put him forward as a candidate,” exclaimed a Senior Citizen and G.G. Ponnambalam admirer.

A similar case (CA217/2018), has led to a stay order preventing the EPDP’s Velummylum Kuhenthiran from functioning as JMC Member. His address has been filed in nomination papers as 223 Stanley Road, Jaffna which is the address of Sridhar Theatre which has  been forcibly occupied by the EPDP and which occupation is being challenged in a separate case. Kuhenthiran is a Sri Lanka-Canada dual citizen,

Plaintiffs in both election cases were represented by Sumanthiran. It shows why he is attracting so much flak. 

Stubborn Ineptitude

Said a wag, “Tamil Congress’ TMPF leader, Chief Minister Wigneswaran, despite his Supreme Court experience, did not know how to sack properly a minister who was implicated in corruption. The firing was improper because the Chief Minister could not remove him but had to recommend his removal to the Governor. Now the legality of the sacked minister’s replacement is being brought into question because if the firing was improper, his replacement broke the 4-minister limit on a Provincial Council. It seems a pattern of incompetency. We have a bunch of TNPF lawyers who are unable to do a simple nomination right.”

The NPC Opposition Leader Thavarajah adds, “The Governor has graciously offered a solution – for the CM to recommend the removal now even at this late stage  and make the number of permissible ministers right. But the CM does not want to admit error. He will not make that recommendation.”

Out of the Doldrums with Elections on the Horizon

When queried, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole of the Election Commission told this reporter that all parties in parliament have agreed to finalize the provincial delimitation report in two months and, taking them at the word, the Commission at its meeting on 03 Sept. had asked staff to get ready for elections in January, assuming that the commitment would be kept.

With Chief Minister Wigneswaran probably readying to launch a mass movement, Jaffna’s political firmament is shifting. His mass movement embraces mainly the Ponnambalam Tamil Congress and the EPRLF (Suresh Wing). Where PLOTE will go is uncertain. 

TNA’s M.A. Sumanthiran, as reported in Colombo Telegraph, spoke in the Sinhalese language on the subject of Constitutional Reform in Galle. Reform is a matter of urgency since the TNA’s future depends on whether they can show returns on their cooperation with the government.

In that speech, Sumanthiran insisted that the Sinhalese majority must accept a new constitution:  “In a country with a permanent majority it is important to share powers of governance in such a way that all peoples have equal citizenship rights. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority must itself acknowledge the injustice of simple majoritarian rule and clamour for reform and justice for other peoples.” 

This meeting in Galle was the seventh of a series of meetings to pitch for a new constitution. Alluding to the compromises required for peace, he said, “All the problems of the Tamil People would not be solved by a new Constitution, but a new Constitution is a fundamental necessity.”

It was, observers agreed, a good speech rallying people to support a new inclusive constitution. However, The Virakesari (31 Aug.) reported Sumanthiran as saying federalism may not be necessary to have a constitution advancing the equality of all citizens. 

The Tamil press emphasized Sumanthiran’s move away from federalism. The Sinhalese press stressed Sumanthiran’s charge of communal domination by the Sinhalese. It was journalistic sensationalism. Overall, however, may observers this writer spoke to saw Sumanthiran’s position as balanced and sensible.

Sumanthiran the Traitor?

Seemingly readying for elections, Suresh Premachandran’s brother Dr. Sarveswaran, presently Minister of Education in the Provincial Government, fired the first salvo in the Northern Provincial Council,  finding fault with Sumanthiran for compromising on what he called “samashti,” that is federalism. Sarveswaran revived and threw the LTTE-era thurohi (traitor) label at Sumanthiran and  accused the ITAK/TNA of letting down the Tamils by compromising with the government. 

Queried by the press yesterday, 3 September, Sumanthiran responded aggressively: “You are focusing on a small bit of my 40 minute speech which has been taken out of context by a person in the NPC who is called a Minister. Never in my life did I stand at a junction and remove people’s heads or betray Tamil youth by nodding. When people so endangered came running to Colombo I sheltered them.” It was a not-so-oblique reference understood by anyone who lived through the harrowing experience of war and seeing EPLF cadre wearing sacks over their heads and nodding as the army paraded suspected LTTE cades before collaborators. It was an allusion to a time when the EPRLF (Suresh Wing) earned the title “Mandayan Kulu”, that is, the group that puts a bullet into people’s heads.

It was a window to the hysterical politics that will emerge as elections near. 

Son of the Soil — Gurukularajah

The ITAK too is in preparation. Recall Thambyrajah Gurukularajah who was removed  by Chief Minister Wigneswaran as Minister of Education prior to Sarveswaran being made Minister. Gurukularajah’s offence was being slow to act when a complaint of a teacher going about on his motorbike with a female student was put to him. Unfortunately Gurukularajah’s impeccable reputation was tarnished when he was removed at the same time as when the financial corruption scandal came to light and another minister was also removed. 

Gurukularajah’s family physcially moved from Jaffna in the 1960s and settled in Paranthan where his father, The Rev. Thambyrajah, established Navajeevanam, a home for homeless boys. After graduating through Madras Christian College, Gurukularajah became a teacher in Kilinochchi and  rose to be Director of Education there. He helped people during the Mullivaikal Msssacres and did yeoman service  to the suffering people. 

He works closely with the UK Charity called KiliPeople, providing several services to the people of Kilinochchi, such as resettlement, job creation, educational training etc.

Gurukularajah was recently awarded in London the coveted title “Son of the Soil,” by Kilipeople. Said a friend of the family, “This surely will warm the heart of his centenarian mother who moved out of Paranthan only during the war and presently lives in Colombo. Gurukularajah is restored fully. He is ready for elections, and for many more years of service in his father’s foot-steps,” said a staunch supporter.

Hot Button Issues

As the provincial elections near, the emergence of land settlement and development as key issues is clear. It was recently that the President promised to remove soldiers from all occupied schools. The army told the president they had three schools occupied in Mullaitivu but there are many more. However, even if they are de-occupied, a key question is whether there are children to be educated there at a time when many schools face a lack of students because of depopulation following the war. Resettlement becomes very important therefore for Tamil revival.

The government’s plans to develop the North left out all MPs but that has  been rectified. Sumanthiran chaired the recent meeting of MPs in Jaffna with government officials.

At the meeting two days ago, Additional GA Muralitharan informed the MPs as follows: “Almost everyone displaced after 2006 has been resettled. What challenges us is addressing the needs of those displaced before 1990. Their lands are in the process of being released. This amounts to 4000 acres. For the present, we have been allocated Rs. 250 million, a mere 5% of the previously received figure of Rs. 6,500 million. 

“Because of the neglect since prior to 1990, the needs are many and diverse: everything from removing the jungle overgrowth to providing housing, lavatories, streets, schools – everything. In 2015 we identified the need for 33,000 houses but we got only 6000. 

“Fifteen hundred refugees have returned from India to their homes. There are another 15,000 in India who need to be accommodated. We still need 27,000 houses more. They will not come until they see the needs of those who have already returned being addressed. Beyond building houses, there is the need to repair many houses.

“In Jaffna District 4,500 acres of land remain occupied by the army. Out of the 2,900 ex-combatants, only 90 are gainfully employed. The need is great. But with just 5% of the previous allocation, very little can be done.”

The previously quoted observer said, “The people must elect those who will actively engage in development rather than hysterical politics. Or we Tamils have no future. The Sinhalese must strengthen the hand of those making compromises for peace, and ensure that they have results to show the Tamil people and strengthen the process of peace-making.” (Story filed by Vishaakha Navaratnam from Jaffna)

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