By R. Balachandran –
TNA’s overwhelming victory in the Northern Provincial Council has become the talk of the town as it results clearly showcased the aspiration of the Tamil people in the North.
Even though the TNA’s victory in the election was predicted well ahead, the final result came as a scathing blow to the ruling UPFA alliance. The reason behind this is that, TNA’s plead to the people in the North to give them not just a win but a two thirds majority was granted emphatically.
Given the prevailing situation in the country, TNA’s landmark victory in the Northern Provincial Council could be attributed the party’s strategically planned and executed election campaign.
Selection of Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran as the chief ministerial candidate
Unlike for the Eastern Provincial Council elections, the TNA had to decide on a chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council elections.
This, however, proved to be an opportunity for the party’s leader, Mr. Sampanthan, to learn from past blunders. The veteran politician did not make the same mistake twice as he went on to impose himself on the party’s decision to select a Chief Ministerial candidate.
It was not an easy decision for Mr. Sampanthan as all those who opposed Mr. Wigneswaran and supported Mavai Senathirajah had valid reasons for their arguments. In spite of the internal riff raff, Mr. Sampanthan tactfully brought the TNA to a consensus at a very tough parliamentary group meeting. Looking back, there is no doubt that the outcome of that monumental meeting was emphatically manifested in Saturday’s election results.
Mr. Wigneswaran’s nomination as the party’s chief ministerial candidate was a crucial decision in TNA’s election campaign. It not only gave hope to the politically starved electorate of the North in reminiscence of Tamil politics in its hay day where politicians were educated, eloquent and highly respected but also presented the daunting challenge to the UPFA to nominate a suitable opponent.
Pulling the Cart together
Just before the announcement of Mr. Wigneswaran as the CM candidate, there was a very strong opinion among the majority of the people that the TNA was going to dismantle. In fact it wasn’t a wrong prediction by the people. But having experienced similar situations in the past Mr. Sampanthan was able to hold everybody together around the table. While respecting everybody’s views and different opinions, he asserted himself to ensure that the final decision remained people-centric.
Personally I think, in comparison, the reason behind the failure of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership of the UNP has been his inability to rally his party around the real need of the people.
Mr. Sampanthan, on the other hand, a master at this, epitomized his prowess to rally people around the party and its cause, by even accommodating Mr. Anandasangari. It is this skill that has enabled Mr. Sampanthan to give leadership to the party’s historic victory at the Northern Provincial Council elections.
Responding to opposition
One area in which TNA set the bench mark at this election was the way in which it responded to the criticism that came their way.
Especially during the last two weeks of the campaign, the TNA manifesto became the talking point of the country. Nevertheless, being a party that traditionally represented Tamil people over the years ITAK/TNA had the choice of taking a silent approach as they had confidence that the people in the North were well aware of what they had spelled out in their manifesto. But, instead the TNA took an unorthodox approach and countered every single opposition that was raised. However, the TNA went about this in a strategic manner and the eloquence and trilingual abilities of the party’s leaders such as M.A Sumanthiran made this task much easier.
In fact Mr. Sumanthiran took part in several political talk shows that were aired in Sinhala and articulated the TNA’s point of view on several matters. Apart from that, the TNA also held several media briefing during the campaign to clearly spell out the party’s stand on these matters.
If I am not mistaken, it has always been either Mr. Sampanthan or Mr. Sumanthiran who engaged the media and explained the position of TNA, where as the others were heavily involved in campaigning.
Message from the North
While the ruling UPFA coalition government reaffirmed its position of political dominance by claiming landslide victories in both the North Central and North Western Provincial Councils, there was a clear and unequivocal rejection of the ruling government by the people in the North.
The result of the Northern Provincial elections was an emphatic message from the people in the North that development is not all they seek.
It is high time that President Rajapaksa’s government realize that solving the country’s ethnic problem remains utmost priority.
Therefore the time has come for the government to take serious note of this resounding message. Knowing the constituent parties of the coalition government (its more or less like a fruit salad) this task is not going to be an easy one. But if our focus is to achieve meaningful reconciliation, then, this step becomes a significant one.
The way forward
Finally if we are to achieve sustainable reconciliation in this country, I strongly believe for starters, the abolition of victory day celebrations is an absolute prerequisite.
Firstly the government’s view of itself is contradicted when it comes to this matter. Because on one side government claimed that the final phase of the war was entirely a humanitarian operation while on the other hand, in great insensitivity, goes on celebrating the military triumph with pompous pageantry.
Secondly the amount of money that has been spent on this event every year could be used to alleviate the living standards of the war affected people including disabled soldiers, and their families.
When I suggest we abolish the victory day, the immediate question that springs to mind is how do we replace it and with what do we replace it with? My answer to that question would be a “National Day of Remembrance”.
This approach will give every community the space they need to remember their loved ones who were lost during the war. At present the focus of the Victory Day is tightly fixated on the sacrifices made by the armed forces alone. We should not, however, forget the thousands of civilians who lost loved ones during the three decade long war.
Opportunities, as one nation, to remember the people we lost in the war could in fact, help create a ‘Sri-Lankan’ mindset in every citizen of this country.
Sri Lanka is at an important stage of her history. Our actions now, will determine her future. We cannot move ahead in ignorance. Failure to put right past mistakes would deter any future effort for reconciliation.
We need to start somewhere. One such place could be the abolition of the Victory Day. We simply cannot have one part of Sri Lanka drunken with ecstatic triumphalism whiles the other in pitiful mourning.
The time has come for us to move forward as one country. The people of the North are simply demanding the right to equal citizenship including the right to mourn their dead.
This was echoed in the overwhelming mandate given to the TNA in the Northern Provincial Council election last week.
Let’s not ignore the verdict of the people in the North.