19 September, 2019

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NCM & The Tamil Vote 

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

I have labeled Sri Lanka as a “failed case of reconciliation” in some of my previous writings. In the immediate aftermath of the end of the war, the Tamil and Sinhala communities were drifting away from one another and stood polarized. The Sri Lankan government’s policy of consolidating national security through militaristic schemes mainly contributed to this polarity. Although the drift was halted to a certain degree under the new unity government, reconciliation did not take place and the communities did not come together. 

This theory was reproved when the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was defeated in parliament on April 4, 2018. Many Sinhala nationalists seemed surprised by the outcome of the vote on the NCM. The surprised reaction of these individuals and groups was, in itself, surprising to a certain extent, because keen observers of Sri Lankan politics would have not expected the motion to succeed. Two factors are significant in this regard. One, Ranil Wickremesinghe had and currently has an iron grip on the United National Party (UNP) parliamentary group. Hence, sans a major split within the party, hardly any UNP parliamentarian would have voted for the NCM, or against, the prime minister. Two, since the inception, it was clear that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which while representing the minority Tamil people, also serves as the main opposition party, would vote against the motion. In reality however, the TNA is an ally of the government. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the TNA voted enbloc against the move and virtually saved the prime minister, and his government, from defeat.         

Conspiracy Theory

Disappointed by the defeat, many Sinhala nationalists started to promote the theory that the government was saved by the LTTE and Tamil diaspora groups. This is a racist theory and reflects the fact that we, as a nation, have not moved away from conflict paradigms. These groups and individuals are also in the process of promoting the notion that the government will submit to the demands of the TNA and sell out the country to the LTTE rumps. A theory of Ranil-Sambandan Pact, which sounds very much like the once popular slogan of Ali-Koti Givisuma, has been floating around in the Sinhala nationalist circles. This is where I have some serious problems. I believe that those who promote the notion that the government will sell out the country to the LTTE in return for the TNA votes must be kidding themselves, or are promoting this theory as a strategy to win future elections. I do not agree that the Tamils will benefit considerably before the national elections in 2020.  In other words, the status quo will continue. 

Tamil Support  

My critique of this Sinhala nationalist theory has been founded on recent history. The unity government came to power on slogans of democracy, good governance and reconciliation. In 2015, these slogans were extremely attractive to the Tamil community, as many Tamils disliked the Rajapaksa government. During this period, Tamils, especially in the North, complained that they were living in an open prison; perceived and real suppression was that bad. Therefore, they voted heavily for Maithripala Sirisena in the presidential election. For example, in Jaffna Sirisena obtained 74.42 percent votes as opposed to Rajapaksa’s 21.85 percent. Vanni voted 78.47 percent for Sirisena and Rajapaksa managed only 19.07 percent. Tamils (and TNA) played a major role in the formation of the unity government in August 2015. 

In return, the government went to the UNHRC and co-sponsored the resolution on Sri Lanka, which the previous government fought tooth and nail. This was a drastic change and many Sri Lankan commentators enthusiastically argued that the country is going to be transformed. It did not happen. The new unity government did not concede anything to the Tamils to the utter disappointment of the Tamil people.

Concessions 

While, co-sponsoring the UNHRC (2015) resolution, the government promised four specific actions: (1) reforming the constitution to devolve political authority to the periphery, (2) establishing a truth-seeking mechanism specifically to promote reconciliation, (3) a domestic investigation into the alleged war crimes committed during the last phase of the war, and (4) creating institutional mechanisms, including an office of missing persons and an office for reparation. 

No meaningful action was introduced to establish the promised truth-seeking mechanism and to investigate the alleged war crimes, largely due to the fact that they will anger Sinhala nationalist voters. They will not happen in the future either. After a prolonged delay, the Office for the Missing Persons (OMP) was constituted very recently, close to the UNHRC sittings in March this year. One has to wait and see how the OMP goes about fulfilling its mandate. I understand that a piece of legislation has been submitted to establish the Office for Reparation. Reparation should have been an uncontentious issue and could have been effective. Yet, so far, there has been no reparation. 

However, the government initiated a process for constitutional reform, which included the transforming of the national legislature into a constitutional assembly, setting up of a steering committee to lead the process, and creation of subcommittees to study various aspects of constitutional reform. The subcommittees submitted their reports sometime back. There has been no growth since then. Today, the process is undoubtedly stagnated and seems almost nonexistent. 

In a recent interview to an Indian media, Sambandan argued that the Tamils have made two gains by supporting the unity government: (1) return of private land taken by the military in the North-East to constitute military bases and High Security Zones, and (2) release of Tamil political prisoners. However, it is important to note that these two issues have not been resolved completely. Tamil people are still struggling and mounting protests, almost on a regular basis, to recover land from the military control and many LTTE suspects are still languishing in detention. Notably, Sambandan did not have anything political to show as achievements. The point is that the government had not made any serious concessions in the last three years.

Tamil Vote 

What does the TNA do? It continues to prop up and carefully avoids criticizing the government. The party believes that forcing the government would pave the way for Rajapaksa’s return. It seems that the TNA has been terrified by the possibility of Rajapaksa’s return. Reportedly, the TNA’s local government election campaign constituted this argument as a major component. It was this fear that prevented the TNA from insisting on a MoU, which some of us promoted, with the yahapalana coalition during the presidential election. Compared to 2015 and 16, the government is in a much more difficult situation now because of the increasing pressure from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Rajapaksa loyalists. Results of the recently concluded local authority election indicate that SLPP is firmly place to win the general election in 2020. Conceding to the Tamils politically will further erode the UNP led coalition’s chances of winning the next election. I am certain that the government will not concede anything to the Tamils in the upcoming two years. 

Also, it is important to note the fact that some of the TNA leaders have been coopted into the UNP. Hence, the TNA will continue to support the government without resisting. This is due to the fact that the TNA, and thus the Tamil support, will be automatic and will continue even in the absence of any serious concessions. Why would one concede when the TNA support is already assured? Fear of Rajapaksa’s return among the Tamils will work well for the government. Opponents of the unity government may rest assured that the country will not be sold out by Ranil Wickremesinghe.   

Nevertheless, I agree with the conspiracy theorists that the TNA should step down from the position of the main opposition party if it cannot fulfil the legitimate role expected from an opposition party. Right now, the TNA is not fulfilling that role.   

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland. 

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Good to note SIK position that TNA does not have legitimacy to be the main opposition party, therefore to occupy the opposition leader role.

  • 2
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    If TNA is really interesting in truly representing SL Tamils and their rights, they need to change the paradigm of their politics and begin seriously engaging with Rajapakse and the constituency he leads. As SIK correctly diagnosed, NOTHING towards improving Tamil lives will occur in TNA+UNP political paradigm because majority of the majority are not a stakeholder in that political paradigm.

    • 3
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      “TNA should begin seriously engaging with Rajapakse and the constituency he leads”. This is going to happen in the future. US/West/India want TNA to support the present government at any cost, and their agents Sumanthiran, Sambanthan and Senathiraja are misleading Tamils with rosy picture. Present government is not going to do anything tangible to Tamils, coming out with lame excuses. Tamils feel that it is easy to do tackle an enemy behaving like an enemy rather than an enemy pretending to be a friend. At the next election, majority of Tamils are not going to vote for any candidate, and Rajapakse’s nominee whoever it be will become the next President. China invited Gota and Sirisena’s agents for a meeting, and would have asked MS to step aside. General election of course is a foregone conclusion for MR’s party coming to power. MR unlike in last tenure, cannot hoodwink US/West/India anymore, and will have no choice other than to engage with TNA in an honest and meaningful manner. He knows if not he will preside over the ignominy of Sri Lanka.

  • 2
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    The cynic in me says that TNA is not at all interested in serving Tamils. They are only interested in sustaining their narrow political agenda in maintaining political space for them to continue to make a living out of politics. It requires continuation of Tamil “grievances” and someone else to blame for it. Rajapakse and his constituency is the “other” that TNA can show and blame.

    In doing so they seem to be happy for Tamils to continue to suffer and more dangerously allow them to be used by India, USA and the West as a fifth column in furthering geo political ambitions, destabilising Sri Lanka state in the process. A clear political prostitution……………..

    The recent LG poll result provides an early warning indication that the political prostitution that has been employed by TNA has certain limits and might blow in their face at some not too distant point in time.

  • 9
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    Dr. Keethaponcalan

    What do you think Tamils should do?

    Is continuing to insist on war crimes charges against the SLA and the Rajapakses, helping the Tamils living in Sri Lanka now? Will it help them in the future? If so how and why?

    True reconciliation requires both parties to come clean and admit mistakes and make amends. Are the LTTEers and Tamils who supported militancy ready to do that?

    Do you think the UN, India, Tamil Nadu, US, EU are strong enough to force SL to prosecute the SLA and the Rajapakses? What role can or will China, Japan and Russia play?

    What role is Wiggie trying to play in this conflagration of interests – both domestic, material and international?

    Who benefits and who loses in a battle to punish one side or the other in the conflict?

    Where are the non-nationalists from both sides? What makes them mute? What impact can they have?

    I’d appreciate any answers.

    Thank you

    • 0
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      Dear Sinhala Buddhist,

      Regarding the war crimes issue, it is not about “helping” the Tamils, it is about giving a closure in the form of justice to the families whose innocent members were killed. It is about setting an example that nobody in this country can commit such heinous crimes and get away.

      I understand that some UNP voters are worried that war crimes issue drives voters away from them towards Mahinda. UNP victory is not the responsibility or the worry of the families affected by war crimes.

  • 4
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    In a democracy a strong opposition in parliament is vital to ensure checks and balances. TNA cannot fulfill that role. The unity government in whatever form it takes will play safe politics from now until the next elections. Minority parties will align themselves with a Party that will promise (not necessarily deliver) to resolve their grievances. Their choice is between the devil and the deep blue sea as was evident from the recent no confidence motion.

    • 2
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      The Author is a anti-TNA, government propagandist. His notion is not about of the functioning ability of a democracy without an opposition. In fact that is what Ranil said he wanted to achieve when he brought last the PR-FPTP system. Author did not mention anywhere Ranil having had the messed up the Local Council election. Ranil wants to abolish the difference between the ruling and the opposition. He was the only reason Chandrika time solution didn’t materialize. He is the main one protecting Old Royal regime within the government. In that circumstances, de-seating TNA from opposition and bringing the Old Royal as opposition will not bring any good. (Old King is not willing to accept the OPL and he seems to be the only Sinhala man in opposition against NCM of Sampanthar- Really funny action by a man who brought 18A). Tamils’ concern of TNA sitting on opposition is not the object of destroying TNA, like the author has been advocating for all these time. In fact Tamils’ concern is TNA has destroyed it by sitting in the Opposition and supporting government. TNA fears any of its action becoming dangerous to government. That was not how Federal Party Functioned in the opposition. It had objectives so when governments deviated from them, it voted against the governments. TNA is supporting year after year massive defense expense increase, even the EP’s relatives buying a condemned war ship at exorbitant price. This is only to prop up government’s war machine against Tamils. Government is doing massive Sinhala Colonization in the war area where Tamils were displaced. Government doesn’t give a say to Tamils in those lands. Army is covering it up from Tamils returning there until Sinhala Colonization go smooth. Author doesn’t go against government. He only goes against TNA to see TNA dismantled. TNA’s self-destructive action is substantial damage to Tamils to keep their fight on for their freedom. Tamils wants TNA become to their patron by changing its policy. Author wants Tamils to change their policy of fighting for their rights and thus wants to see them abandoning TNA.

  • 1
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    S I Keethaponcalan (SI K) in the article “NCM & The Tamil Vote” exhibits ignorance of the present SL situation or worse pretends. His writing is aimed at the audience who want to hear exactly the sort of SI K-interpretations.
    SI K says ~”……………the TNA voted enbloc against the move and virtually saved the prime minister, and his government………………”.
    Even if TNA abstained enbloc, the NCM would have gone the way it did.
    At the recent LC election, SLPP campaigned on “Any concessions to minorities will result in separation”.
    Surely SI K must be able to figure out why TNA hesitates to support SLPP.
    SI K concludes “……..I agree…….that the TNA should step down from the position of the main opposition party if it cannot fulfil the legitimate role expected from an opposition party”.
    The JO never consulted TNA on the NCM. How come JO never brought NCM on the Leader of Opposition?
    To cut a long story short SI K: Should TNA unconditionally support SLPP? Is this the way to resolve the seventy year old infamous Lankan conflict?

  • 1
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    TNA is/was anti-establishment political party as similar as IRA in North Ireland terrorist outfit.
    The political movement of TNA is not that relied on means of Democratic type of governances within frame of Unitary nature of State in Lanka?

    It is quite obvious that TNA’s armed wing is/was LTTE ….terror outfit..
    While, TNA political perspectives are LTTE were identical by seek Tamil nation state in North-east of part of Island ? The movement of TNA – Tamil Eelam by aim of attacked very foundation Lankan’s sovereignty and its democracy political system by several decades since independence. .

    The case of political hegemonies UK and USA is backing for Tamil Ealem by aim of partition of an Island for to be installed rough Tamil puppet regime north -east of Lankan soil.
    By born of TNA is anti-Sinhalese and anti- Buddhist politics….Eealm! The party of new Tamil regime has nexus Tamil chauvinism by origin of extreme Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu in worldwide.

    What ever the cost pay by Tamil speaking in world-wide which is not for benefits of people of island. Indeed its aim of saving at growing Tamil regime to be set-up in North of Sri lanka? by blessing of RW of UNP leaders!

    • 1
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      You hate Tamils so much and constantly post anti Tamil comments. Change your Tamil origin surname Yatawara, Yate or Yati from Tamil word Adi or Yadi meaning foot or at the bottom . Wara- the border the edge or limit from Tamil Varai the border , the edge or limit. Wanker

  • 2
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    Dear Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan,
    .
    You are a rational man, and you have written a sound article. On the other hand, it is not particularly inspiring or cheering!
    .
    Well, there’s no point feeding ourselves unjustified optimism.
    .
    “sinhalese buddhist” has raised a pertinent question. Thanks; all that you have written is consistent, and amounts to just one question.
    .
    The answer to that is that theoretically we must insist that alleged crimes are investigated, at the very least. The reality is that nothing will happen.
    .
    Tamils will have to reconcile themselves that such is the reality, but I think that we can at least stop being in denial , even if pulling up short of apology.
    .
    Can we seriously expect Tamil demands be whittled down to less than that?
    .
    What do I demand from the Tamils in return? Nothing, obviously. How else can we progress, except by appreciating Dr SIK’s sanity as expressed here?

    • 5
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      I have been – generally – critical of the manner in which S. I. Keethaponcalan employs his conflict resolution strategies to the political predicament of Tamils in Sri Lanka. I have no reason to change my stand.
      *
      TNA has no political stature within the context of Sri Lankan politics. No Sinhalese leader will want to woe TNA, for whatever that is political. TNA exits purely because Tamils need a voice that sounds reasonable to the ‘external’ actors. That role will always be there!
      *
      The resurgence of Rajapaksa is not a given. It is not TNA that is his impediment. There is a section among Sinhalese who are rational. They abhor the machinations of Rajapaksas.
      *
      Even those rational Sinhalese do not see eye to eye with the stance of TNA.
      *
      The political predicament of Tamils in North East is intertwined with the rational outlook of that segment of the Sinhalese.
      *
      Tamils know that UN is not going to deliver their liberation. UN is a toothless Body. It exists at the whims and fancies of a handful of nations that are self-seeking. It does not achieve them their objectives, to stand for Tamils.
      *
      TNA – read Tamils – have to adapt a new strategy that would amount to a thorough overhaul of their current approach. Only the ‘rational’ Sinhalese can liberate the Tamils. Tamils have to cultivate their friendship & goodwill. Tamils have to help them multiply.

      • 1
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        woo (not woe), – regret the oversight.

  • 0
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  • 0
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  • 1
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    I would say that reconciliation will never come unless Tamil Politicians and some individuals stop challenging the very fabrication of Sri Lanka and stop asking non-existing/unrealistic demands as solutions to problems usually common to all Sri Lankans.
    Besides, they need to stop demanding war crime charges for Sri Lankan Armed forces for annihilating LTTE and saved everybody from the clutches of terrorism.
    As long as Tamil politicians talk and make demands about the above, do not ever think of reconciliation and it is better tamil masses thinking to live as Sri Lankans rather than decieved by politicians as they were since 1933.

    • 2
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      Tissa
      Tamils are Lankans consider themselves as such with or without the Sri.
      Sinhalese ,Tamils and Muslims all have a shared comment interest, but not at each other’s expense in the island they share
      They both have a need to identify an idea that meets their common interest to bring a mutualy advantages solution for their problems.
      They are all now engaged in a game of snakes and ladders on a table under a coconut tree to decide who wins and loses.
      But before that, if it so happens that a coconut falls on the table and spills the kavuns,wattalappams and wades with the plain tea and upsets the whole lot, then all would be worse off than before. That is why they have to decide on a mutually winning‘idea’ is which is important, because they both sprout from the same soil after all and it will be an impossibility for one to prevail over the other ever.

      • 0
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        Bottom line is Sinhalese wont agree to minority rule over majority as you wish

  • 1
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    Comment by Master Siva Shanker…..

    Ranil Wicks is born rationalist but anti-Sinhalese and anti-Buddhist in their family background and by his ancestors heredity?
    Which is UNP under RW that policies has shifted into anti-Sovereignty and undemocrcay which is that suited to TNA policy agenda by politics of Tamil separatism.
    Tamils are the only race that who seek “separate state” in world by having 75 millions Tamil in Tamil Nadu ….Republic of India.
    Therefor initial stage of Tamils of that Tamil -Nadu which they want other land of Sri Lankan…. as .their grater homeland for revival of Dravidian nationalism in world-wide for the Tamil speaking race through out by new empire of Globalization !@$
    It does matter Tamil’ s in Lanka living on that basis of Legal or illegal migrant they all are came from Indian Tamil Nadu ?
    By aim of Tamils claim and demand for Homeland in Island of they want additional-land in Sri lanka? The very sound reason is that Sinhalese- Buddhist are minority in world?

    By USA and UK want military base in Tamil Homeland in north-east of Island to be control life-line Indian Ocean?
    The master planned by USA and UK want eradication of Sinhalese -Buddhist majority from Sri Lankan soil?
    This is meaning of so-called ‘reconciliation’ advocated by TNA, CBK and UNP-RW?

  • 0
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