By Kusal Perera –
“There is a proposal from certain sections in society to nominate Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran as the Common Presidential Candidate at the next presidential polls. We would like to know what the UNP, JVP and DP think about this proposal.” – M.A. Sumanthiran, TNA National List MP
“I believe the opposition parties would not reject this proposal because Wigneswaran is a Tamil.” – Mano Ganeshan, DPF Councillor, WPC
These remarks made at a media briefing held in Colombo on Wednesday 07th May, was in response to my Sinhala article that appeared in the “Ravaya” newspaper of 04th May and posted in CT Sinhala site, titled, “Wignes as Common Candidate – Challenge To The Opposition”. Extracts from the article on the proposal were immediately carried as news reports in web media too. Since then, during the last few days, I have been thrust into many political scrums. Interestingly, none so far from the Sinhala lobby accused me, but some from the “Leftist” fringe and some “liberalists” did, for (01) creating confusion in the Opposition, in support of President Rajapaksa (02) creating a new platform for “separatism” the Tamil Diaspora would use and (03), helping further division in society by proposing a candidate, the South will not accept.
All the above accusations eventually mean they don’t want to go beyond the Sinhala populist talk of “defeating Rajapaksa” at presidential elections. Yet even for that, “Left”, “Right” or “Centre”, the Sinhala South is in no mood to accept any candidate for presidency, how ever qualified he or she is for the job, IF that person is not “Sinhala Buddhist”. Even to abolish the executive presidency, the heavily prioritised demand of the Opposition as at now, they don’t want a Tamil or a Muslim elect, to do it. They argue from all sides, from all shades of political hues to bring forward not only a Sinhalese, but a Buddhist as well. Proposal to have Wigneswaran as the Common candidate thus goes to prove, their fundamental NEED is not to abolish the Executive Presidency but only to defeat President Rajapaksa.
Let me now argue against all accusations levelled at me for proposing Wigneswaran to be the “National Common Candidate” as termed and defined by me.
(01) The effort in the South by oppositional forces, is to scout for one whom they expect could defeat President Rajapaksa at the next presidential polls. The guideline says, Sinhala Buddhist votes should not be roughed up, by putting out slogans or demands that Sinhala South will not want to serve themselves with. Thus the tag to the scouting of a Sinhala Buddhist presidential candidate who’d be proposed as candidate to demolish the executive presidency, is the bait for those who talk about democracy and “Rights” to join in. Mind you, that democracy and “Rights” are left as vague as possible and don’t include any, the North-East is robbed of.
This therefore is a Sinhala Buddhist project, advertising the post of presidential candidate for the Sinhala South only, labelled as “Common Candidate” in an attempt to fool the South. This candidate, if by any rare chance, wins the elections, would replace Rajapaksa as President, but, would not change the pattern and culture of rule. The regime proper will not be changed to mean anything worthy and effective .
There is also no guarantee, the executive presidency the next elect would sit on, will be abolished. Southern experience on this promise is so bad, there is no chance for any gambling on such promises. The written promise for abolishing of the Executive Presidency is almost 20 years old, first given by Chandrika B. Kumaratunge. She sat through as Executive Presidency for 11 long years. President Rajapaksa promised to abolish the Executive Presidency in 2005 November as the presidential candidate of the UPFA. First edition of his “Mahinda Chinthanaya” then said, “With the consensus of all, I expect to present a Constitution that will propose to abolish the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country…..” [Strengthening the People’s Will / page 97 – emphasis added]
That was almost 09 years ago. In between, all opposition parties in the South, including its creator the UNP, have agreed to abolish the executive presidency.
Abolishing of the executive presidency per se would would not answer any democratic issues in the North and the South. Parliamentary rule under two different Constitutions, Soulbury and the First Republican, only made way for Sinhala hegemony in society, disfranchising of Indian origin plantation labour, Sinhalising and politicising the State and removing it’s secular nature. Therefore it is necessary to tie up abolishing of the executive presidency quite clearly and unambiguously with that of a “Rights Charter” and “Power Sharing” with the peripheries. This latter is what the Opposition in the South is afraid of. They don’t work to win the South to their political position but think anything against what exists, would rob them of Sinhala votes, proving they are “No Leaders”.
The argument therefore is, “first, before anything else, lets get rid of this Rajapaksa rule. Thereafter anything can be done.” It is not that simple though said, so simply. There were some who brought out a similar argument with much fizzle after the war was declared over. They said, President Rajapaksa is the best bet to resolve the “Tamil political issue” (as they coined it) because he commands the highest respect in the Sinhala South. Only such a “patriotic” Sinhala leader can solve this issue for Tamils, they argued. Sadly for them, they either did not understand or did not want to understand, such Sinhala respect, such Sinhala support for Rajapaksa or for any one else, will only remain till Sinhala passion for supremacy is nurtured and carried through. Any attempt at solving the “Tamil political issue” without winning the people for a pluralist and democratic political programme, would simply fall through, dragging that “traitor” down, Rajapaksa or not.
Therefore, I am not proposing Wigneswaran as a “third candidate”. I am proposing Wigneswaran as the only candidate against Rajapaksa defined as “National Common Candidate”. He therefore has to be endorsed by the Opposition as their candidate as well. That perhaps was what Sumanthiran wanted to know. Will the UNP, JVP, DP endorse such candidacy ?
(02) Logic of Wigneswaran as a Common Candidate creating a new platform for “separatism” the Tamil Diaspora would use, is hilarious. First, let us accept this single truth. Tamils did not talk of separatism, until 1974. For 26 years, Tamil nationalism was for a shared life, compromised under a single Head of State. Even after the famous Vadukoddai Resolution for a separate Tamil State, the TULF opted to contest District Development Councils (DDC) under a Unitary Constitution. They were simply thrashed and humiliated by the UNP government and its goons during the Jaffna elections. Separatism is only a product of how Tamil people and their political aspirations were treated in a Sinhala hegemonic State. This needs a paradigm shift for political tolerance and cultural acceptance.
Wigneswaran is therefore proposed as a consensual candidate of both Tamil North and Sinhala South, including Muslims and other minorities. Wigneswaran is proposed as the national common candidate to (i) abolish the executive presidency (ii) if/when elected, to dissolve parliament immediately and hold elections under the supervision of an all party interim committee and (iii) within 03 months to draft and adopt a new Constitution, based on the final recommendations of the APRC.
Can a candidate running on such a short term programme, fuel “separatist” sentiments ? This country, for that matter, is already divided under the Rajapaksa regime, with a different military rule in the North, Vanni and the East, with an economy that is heavily influenced by security interventions, than that in the rest of the country. The State has also been dented to accommodate such difference and biased rule.
As for me, accepting a minority candidate, Wigneswaran just now, is the only guarantee in getting back to a “United Sri Lanka”. For a life in an undivided country. For it is the minority political desire and their political will to have this State democratised for their own security and dignity, that provides for peace and stability for all.
Yet don’t be surprised, if extreme elements in the Tamil Diaspora label Wigneswaran and the TNA as “traitors to Eelam” if this proposal gains currency.
(03) The argument that any demand not in line with the Sinhala South will further divide this country is utter muck. The Sinhala South needs to change its political thinking. It needs to grow as a tolerant society and respect other cultural identities as equals to live in a modern, civilised world. With decay in morals, social values and rational thinking, there is now a serious necessity to start intellectual debates and discussions to get back to saner social life. This can be the beginning for an “Obamian” change. A campaign to justify and create a social consensus to accept a minority, not merely as a minority, but on a principled programme for plurality and democracy. A campaign that would either expose the UNP and the JVP as Sinhala racist or get them also on board, to endorse Wigneswaran as the National Common Candidate.
Such consensus is what, that could challenge the Rajapaksa regime for any electoral victory, where the Sinhala vote is enlarged by the minority Tamil, Muslim and Christian votes. What is being attempted within the Sinhala South will not be any challenge to President Rajapaksa and he sure will take on any Sinhala candidate with ease, what ever adjective is given to him or her by the Opposition. That needs to be further stressed. I don’t simply look at a change in name and face in the next President. I need an alternate programme for plurality and democracy. Thereafter a candidate to take up that work. Today, its only such candidate who could effectively change the electoral map. Hence my choice of Wigneswaran as the national common candidate.