11 December, 2017

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Presidential Election And The TNA

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

The ongoing presidential election campaign in Sri Lanka seems to have downgraded the Tamil community, or to be precise, their main political party the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to the status of an outcast.

Both major political formations, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the National Democratic Front (NDA) headed by common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, are not interested in a formal alliance with the Tamil party, despite the fact that Tamil votes are a crucial factor in the electoral equation.

President Rajapaksa knows very well that a majority of the Tamils will not vote for him and the TNA cannot formally endorse him. He openly maintains the position that the government will not seek an alliance with the TNA. However, he does not want to completely give up on the Tamil votes. The president understands that a small number of votes could be salvaged. In this election any number of votes, however small they are, could be of value. Therefore, the strategy is to focus on the Sinhala votes, while trying to maximize support within the Tamil community. Rajapaksa is investing heavily on the Sinhala-Buddhist votes using nationalism as the main mantra, while enticing the Tamil votes through roads, buildings and return of their gold jewelry. This plan might work for him.

Opposition Alliance

The realities of the opposition alliance are different. Sirisena cannot win without substantial Tamil votes. It would have been easy to mobilize Tamil votes through an understanding with the TNA, which has the overwhelming endorsement of the Tamil people. Hence, the opposition alliance and Maithripala Sirisena should have been very serious about the Tamil votes and they should have had a strategy in place. Despite the opportunity to earn Tamil votes, even the opposition coalition was not interested in a formal and open alliance with the TNA. The TNA could be frustrated and feel isolated and marginalized. It won’t be surprising if there is a nexus between the present casual attitude of the TNA towards the election and this frustration.

TNA Mahinda and MaithripalaNevertheless, the question why the NDA did not demonstrate any enthusiasm for an agreement with the TNA is important. There are three specific reasons.

First, strategists of the NDA and its supporters are taking the Tamil votes for granted and believe that no matter what, the Tamils will vote for Sirisena. They are relying too much on the hostility between the Tamil voter and the government. It is argued that if the Tamils could vote for Sarath Fonseka in 2010, they could easily vote for Sirisena and they have no dilemmas. Sinhala analysts probably did not understand the dilemma the Tamil community faced in 2010. The decision to vote for Fonseka was not easy. Now, for the common opposition alliance, the Tamil votes were perceived to be cast in favor of Sirisena even before the nominations were filed. Therefore, they did not think that the TNA was necessary and preferred not to openly engage the party. They failed to take into account the fact that 2015 is not 2010. Times have changed. One has to wait and see if the Tamils will vote en masse for Sirisena without a formal endorsement from the TNA. I doubt it.

Second, Sirisena campaign strategists fear that a formal alliance with the TNA will be used against them as a political weapon by the government. It is deemed that such an alliance, as in the past, will be used to question the opposition candidate’s patriotism because the government has successfully built a worldview in which any collaboration with the Tamil nationalist party amounts to treachery. The essence of this predicament is that any partnership with the TNA will be seen by the all-powerful Sinhala-Buddhist voter as anti-national. The treachery slogan worked effectively when the government used ali-koti givisuma (agreement between the United National Party and the LTTE) against Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2005. This fear therefore, is not unfounded.

Third, supporters of Maithripala Sirisena believe that Sarath Fonseka lost in 2010 because of his alliance with the TNA. The TNA formally endorsed Sarath Fonseka, the opposition presidential candidate in the 2010 election and campaigned for him following an understanding between the two parties. Fonseka obviously lost. The alliance with the TNA is seen as a major reason why Fonseka lost. This is one of the primary reasons why the Sirisena camp has not been keen to openly engage the TNA. The notion that an alliance with the TNA is a losing formula should be reexamined carefully because in 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was enormously popular among the Sinhala and Muslim voters solely due to the crushing military victory over the LTTE. Nobody could have defeated him in 2010. Blaming it on the TNA seems a little too simplistic.

Lack of Recognition?

Interestingly, the pressure is on the TNA to understand the importance of the election and the need to reinvigorate democracy and campaign for the opposition alliance without an official invitation, let alone an agreement. This perhaps is a little too idealistic given the nature of Sri Lankan polity and politics. Frontline TNA leaders so far have remained silent on the matter except for a few occasional statements. One such statement said that the party will announce its decision in a month’s time, but by then the election will most likely be over. Chief Minister Wigneswaran and Suresh Premachandran have stated that they have no confidence in either major candidate, which signaled the TNA decision to a certain extent. On December 14, 2014 the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) reported that the TNA, “has decided to tell its supporters to exercise their franchise, but stayed clear from saying which candidate the party supports.” If true, this could amount to an informal and partial boycott.

There are two elements in this stance. One, it is a certain setback for Sirisena because the party cannot endorse President Rajapaksa. In other words, the message was to the opposition alliance; not the government. Two, what signal does it send to the Tamil voter? Not very encouraging for the opposition alliance because it creates doubts in the minds of the Tamil voter. The possible apathy among Tamil voters created by the nature of the Maithripala candidacy has already been pointed out by this author. This decision could add to the apathy. As aforementioned, one has to wait and see if the Tamils will vote for Sirisena without the endorsement of their principal political party.

Meanwhile, the recent statement could be a bargaining strategy of the TNA as well. If that is the case the opposition alliance still may have some space to engage the party. In the opinion of this author, the MOU between Sirisena and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was handled diplomatically. Contentious issues were left out and attention was paid primarily to good governance-related issues. The same formula could be adopted vis-à-vis the TNA. Both parties could come to an understanding on democracy and good governance-related issues leaving ethnic issues for future negotiations. The onus is on the opposition alliance to convince the TNA that a working democracy could benefit the minority communities as well.

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

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Latest comments

  • 5
    3

    Democracy is practiced to bring social justice, equality and integrity to ALL the people of SL not to a few only.

    Tamils as people were marked out and denied all these basics of democracy. Denial of those basics caused discrimination, oppression, Tamil armed resistance and Tamil Genocide.

    Democracy achieves its basics by decentralisation of power from the central governments, so that the decisions for the implementation of these basics could be done at the local people level, to achieve a governance of, by and for the people.

    Greed for power and central control by the Sinhala politicos has caused the present GOSL to move towards dictatorship.

    Decentralisation was achieved in many countries by Federalism. Tamil political fathers asked for Federalism to have this structure, practice true democracy and live a happy life with the Sinhalese.

    Any political party asking for Tamil vote to protect democracy in SL should speak of implementing Federalism to the people of North and East.

    That will be an act of love for the country, its democracy and passionate care for ALL the people of SL.

    • 1
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      S. I. Keethaponcalan –

      RE: Presidential Election And The TNA

      TNA Can be Muttal, Madu, Modayas, just like VP.

      But is there a need for the Tamil People to be Muttals, Madus, Modays as well?

      They know it is between Dictatorship Vs, Democracy…

  • 7
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    For those Tamils who cannot be convinced the need for voting for good governance in the country, please consider ‘protest vote’:

    The LTTE plundered many opportunities to find a political solution, hence, military action became inevitable against the LTTE. But this military operation should never have overstepped the law of the land and Geneva Convention. In naked violation of any law, over 40,000 innocent Tamil civilians were butchered, surrendered cadres were executed, hundreds Tamil women were sexually abused and hospitals were deliberately shelled and destroyed in the Vanni war by the Mahinda regime. Mahinda regime killed the highest number innocent Tamils than any other regime since the independence. Not a single person has been punished for these heinous crimes to date. The same alleged war criminal is now seeking the votes from the very people he massacred only 5 yrs ago. The only option for the Tamil should be a ‘protest vote.’ Every eligible Tamil, on this occasion, vote for the Mahinda’s enemy Maithri. This is what those thousands of civilians who were butchered by Mahinda expect from every Tamil voter.

    • 2
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      Nice try. Will my3 hand over Mahinda to Hague? Mahinda was not alone in the killing and let’s not forget when Mahinda landed on 18th of May in Katunayake it was my3 who kissed him on the cheeks. Was that an endorsement for the very killings you just mentioned? Sinhalese May have a short memory but tamils don’t.
      You are partially right though. Tamils should excessive their vote as protest vote and vote any candidate but not Mahinda or my3.

    • 1
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      Both Rajapaksa and Fonseka were out of the country when Prabhakaran was killed at nadikadal. Maithrrepala Sirisena as prime minister was acting for rajapaksa as the Deputy Defence Minister. So Sirisena and Gothabaya, rather than rajapaksa or Fonseka have to be hauled before the war-crimes court, alledged killing of White Flag bearing surrenderers etc.

      • 3
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        Bodin

        Do you know how Prabaharan died? If he had died in fighting, it’s not a war crime, but if he had been executed after he surrendered – it is a war crime. Even when My3 was acting as PM, it was Mahinda had the commanding role. 2015 is going to be too interesting!!

  • 0
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    [Edited out] , that is the Article, to find out that the very learned [Edited out] doctor had nothing intelligent or original to say.

    He could not bring himself to say vote for the Alliance. He is a Tiger sympathizer. He wants vengeance from Sri Lanka and he knows that Sri Lanka will be well and truly destroyed if left in the hands of Rajapaksa.

    The [Edited out] finally gets down to saying “The onus is on the opposition alliance to convince the TNA that a working democracy could benefit the minority communities as well”. Does he not know that Sampanthan and the Alliance know where they stand in relation to each other, that there is something called secret meeting, that unlike the Tigers and their sympathizers, Sambandan is dedicated to the wellbeing of Tamils, and that he will co-operate with the Sinhalese to achieve these goals. Does the idiot think Sambandan does not know that burying the present government is absolutely necessary to stop the Sinhala colonization of the North, and that he at the right time ask his supporters to vote for the Alliance?

    • 1
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      Geetha
      I like your approach. first diagnose and then prescribe. Recommendation always come last. A well balanced article.

    • 0
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      Iyyyoooo keetha,
      What are you writing being a scholar in an American university, according to your following matter Tamils are fool……
      “Rajapaksa is investing heavily on the Sinhala-Buddhist votes using nationalism as the main mantra, while enticing the Tamil votes through roads, buildings and return of their gold jewelry. This plan might work for him.”

      Don’t blame others, Sinhalese, telling “Sinhala analysts probably did not understand the dilemma the Tamil community faced in 2010.” You are the one don’t know the right thing. There are a lot you should learn and read before you write.

      Your style of racism reflects your last couple of articles, better be genuine and write something general if you cannot avoid racism and partiality in your writings.

  • 1
    2

    As long as the National question (Tamil issue of North East is resolved, there will be no democracy, no rule of law, no justice system. It is not going to change even in this election or in even future elections. In democratic terms, the national question will never be resolved because 75% of the voters are Sinhalese and when it comes to Tamil issue they are happy to give up everything including justice in order to keep the Tamil issue unresolved. The anti Tamil behaviour of Sinhalese are a dominant gene that was maintained or strengthened since 1931. There may be few individuals exceptions but 99% of them have the same gene. By voting Mahinda or Maithiri can’t change the gene.
    It has become a habit to put the blame on Tamils for the win or loose of an election where Sinhalese are the decision makers. TNA should have put a candidate in the Presidential election. That is the mistake they made. If Sinhalese are not bothered about the failure of law and order, the failure of justice system, failure of democracy, corruption etc. why should Tamils bother about these issues. For Tamils these issues are historical and not a single Sinhala is worried about this. For Sinhalese they are happy to give up these as long as Tamils are oppressed. We have lost all our belongings and rights in the war between two Sinhalese for power. We don’t want to be in the middle, you Sinhalese decide what you want!

  • 1
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    The photo above shows Mr.Sumanthiran and Chief Minister Wigneshwaran showing soft Power towards Rajapaksa. Disgusting. The Tamils have no option but were brought to this position by the Tamil leaders of the past and present. Now they have no power at all. Prabahran, showed hard power with so much loss of lives, wealth and properties but failed miserably the chance of gaining something for the Tamil people. The words “Tamil people” is the slogan used by all to achieve their ends. There is no point for the Tamils to vote for either of the candidates as a protest but the first enemy has to be destroyed and hence the Tamils have to vote to the common man and in doing so they are also loosing their position. Already their self respect is lost.

    • 1
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      The first enemy of the Tamils are the Elite Tamil class which, like sellam, have their mindset hardened in concrete. They Tamils (about 10%) pitted themselves against a majority 7-8 times bigger, over aperiod of 3 decades. if it went longer, all the tamils would have died by attrition. Luckily Prabhakaran was defeated and some 300,000 tamils were saved. But the old Thimpu Tamils are still carrying on, following the same path. They are unable to join with either the UNP or the SLFP, and can only go to India like Podiyans, or be at the beck and call of the Diaspora.

  • 1
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    The last para of the article makes the whole article ridiculous! What is the need of a MoU for what is obviously acceptable to all sane people? Furthermore what is this great desire for signing MOUs? Do not the Tamils have sufficient experience of past MOUs and pacts all of which went up in smoke?

    I recommend to the writer to read the article of Dr. Brian Seneviratne appearing in this same CT. His arguments are clear and logical.

    Sengodan. M

  • 1
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    Prabakaran asked the Tamils to boycott the 2005 PE. What price did the Tamils pay for that folly? Does the writer want the Tamils to repeat that folly?

    Sengodan. M

  • 1
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    A temporary solution of compromise suggested by the author, an expert on conflict resolution at the tail end of his article, is understandable – especially when we have little or no options – to me it’s just another possible option to trying to solve a Rubik’s cube but going no where. That’s how i see our dilemma at this moment. If we don’t define what good governance or a working democracy means and ways it would impact Tamils in a positive and progressive way ( I take it he means both good governance and a working democracy at the center – presidential and parliamentary level), it’s a cart-blanch offered in a platter to the opposition, we could be surrendering TNA’s mandate for a federal system of governance – which I don’t know if the author knows the JHU has made sure through its MOU Tamil would not get – what we could get is a minimalist version of 13A without land, police or fiscal powers. Is that what the TNA wants? is that what the people want, the Diaspora with equal stake want?

    • 1
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      I like your questions Usha. Constructive. I think the Tamils should think about survival first and then take it from there, given that the opposition extends proper respect and recognition to the tamil people. They should do it openly.

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