14 August, 2022



By S. I. Keethaponcalan –  

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has been considered a draconian piece of legislation by many international commentators and human rights advocates. It allowed, among other abuses, arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, torture, confiscation of property, and the use of confessions made in detention as evidence. Although the PTA was used against all communities in Sri Lanka, its main target was Tamil people. It terrorized Tamil people, especially those who lived in the North-East regions. Therefore, one may presume that the leading Tamil party of the day, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), would have done everything to oppose ratification of the PTA. That was not the case.

The PTA evolved from the Proscription of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Similar Organizations Act of 1978. The PTA was enacted in 1979. When the PTA was introduced and enacted, the TULF was the main opposition party as J. R. Jayewardene’s United National Party (UNP) secured a landslide in the general election of 1977. The coalition headed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was trounced in this election.

The TULF had two specific reasons to oppose the legislation. First, it was the main opposition party. Hence, it had the responsibility to protest a piece of legislation that had enormous potential to undermine democracy and good governance in the country because the legislation was not restricted to the Tamils or the North-East. From the inception, it was clear that the law could be used to silence critics and political opponents of the government in the South. Second, the real targets of the PTA were Tamil militants, especially the LTTE and the Tamil people who directly or indirectly supported militancy. The TULF represented the Tamil people. It had the obligation to protect them from the possible legislative onslaught. Also, the TULF, in this period was promoting and benefiting from Tamil militancy. Hence, an unfamiliar observer could easily assume that the TULF opposed the PTA in parliament when it was introduced as an “urgent bill.”


What did the TULF do? It boycotted parliament on the day of voting. There was nobody from the TULF to speak or vote against the bill. By boycotting parliament, the TULF managed to make both the government and Tamil people happy. The party did not have an extra-parliamentary campaign either. For example, the bill was not challenged in the court of law. According to some observer, the party was taken for a ride. The TULF was promised that it will be withdrawn within a year or two. So, the Tamil leadership was outsmarted by the Jayewardene government.


Under pressure from some of the Western states, the incumbent government promised to repeal and replace the PTA. Now, a replacement formula called the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) has been approved by the Cabinet and expected to be introduced in parliament sooner rather than later.  Initial reaction by experts indicate that CTA, compared to PTA, is equally, if not more, problematic

The backdrop of CTA is not that different from PTA. CTA could be used against political opponents in the South as well, but its primary target will be violent tendencies within the Tamil community. Again, a Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance plays the role of the main opposition party in parliament.     

Seeing the draft of the CAT, TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran declared “we are shocked by the extent to which the draft framework curtain civil liberties, erodes judicial control over the state security apparatus and the staggering potential for abuse and torture.” If Sumanthiran, an ally of the government, considers the legal framework is bad, it should be really harmful. Sumanthiran’s statement, one again, may impart the impression that TNA is going fight this bill tooth and nail.

History Repeating?

I have my doubts. Based on the way the TNA operated in the last two years, I do not believe that it will seriously challenge the bill. There are two major issues. The party leadership does not have the energy to fight for anything. TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sambandan is old and tired. He does not even have the energy to enthusiastically talk to journalists about issues facing his community. Some of his recent interviews are hard to watch. When he is clearly unable, it is treacherous to continue as the party leader at a crucial time in the history of Tamil politics. Interestingly, there is no pressure from the Tamil community to step aside. Therefore, the TNA will continue as a do nothing party.

It will be interesting to watch how the party fares in the next general election. Despite the constant electoral victories, there exists a great sense of frustration about the TNA among the Tamil people. The lack of viable alternatives may be the only factor that could save the TNA from electoral defeats in the future. Currently, many people are furious about the TNA and its activities. 

Two, some of the top leaders of the TNA operate as if they are part of the government; not the opposition. Therefore, they are very vocal in defending political schemes and ideologies of the government. One effective example is the issue of constitutional reform. Everyone knows that the process is painstakingly slow.  TNA does not complain. Top leaders of the TNA on the other hand, insist that great progress has been made. A recent video indicated that top TNA leaders threatening protesters in Koppapilavu who are struggling to get their land back. On many of the other issues, the TNA remains silent and inactive. Like in 1979, the TNA could be outsmarted by promises, especially on the issue of constitutional reform. A case in point is the voting on the last budget. Without any incentives, the TNA voted in favor of the budget. Among other factors, the TNA was probably convinced by promises.

Against this backdrop, one cannot expect the TNA to effectively challenge the CAT. In fact, I will not be surprised if the TNA decides to boycott the sitting on the day of voting on the CTA. 

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

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  • 3

    The TNA is in a state of quandary. It is unable to chew what it has bit nor is it able to swallow what is stuck in it’s throat .
    It has made no efforts to cultivate the opponents of the former president in the south nor is it able to rock the boat of the My3 Ranil combo patch work regime.
    If one compares the TNA with the JVP the latter appears to be making efforts for it’s presence to be felt in the NE however minimal it may be when compared with what the TNA has done in the South although it holds itself out as the main opposition in parliament with TNA leader on the saddle.
    It is of course also not possible to think of a better alternative leader than Sambanthan Aiyah at this point of time to lead the country as it’s main opposition leader by virtue of his experience and ability as a seasoned parliamentarian.
    He is in an enviable position to directly address the majority community in the South and to take them into confidence in giving support to initiate a process of reconciliation and allay mutual suspicions and imagined grievances. When is he going to function as the real leader of the Opposition?
    The best way to do that is for him to take the opportunity to condemn and expose the contents of the new Counter Terrorism Laws is a harsher and improved former version of the PTA that was introduced by JRJ who used it to not hold elections in 1982 and explain to them that it is a double edged sword which can be used against them too and that it is such laws that safeguard the interests of people like MaRa and his gang in the previous regime they sent home in January 20015.

  • 2

    Any government needs laws to govern and people in charge of government, especially in the third world, abuse power br breaking and bending the law in its spirit. It is the same with PTA or CTA or whatever one calls it.

    Ranil is “a distant nephew” of the “old fox” JR, who introduced PTA and his “sonna” the CTA. Ranil is credited for the division of the LTTE in breaking away of Karuna faction of the eastern province when he was the premier under Chandrika. When he decided to make Sampanthan Aiyah the leader of the opposition is he repeating his performance? It appears so, from the attitudes that Tamils themsleves talk of Sampanthan Aiyah. In one swoop Ranil, the old fox’s nephew, he gets the Tamils to throw Sampanthan Aiyah and the sober leader ship into the dustbin.

    Divide and Rule! Name of the Game!

  • 0

    PTA is for Terrorists trying to escape.

    CTA is for people trying to be terrorists.

    • 1

      Basically its trying to protect BBS terrorists. It should be abolished, so Gnanasara and his gay disciples can be put in jail with fellow drag queens

  • 4

    Dr. Keethaponcalan,

    As Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department at a University, wouldn’t your role be to recommend ways and means to resolve conflicts? Yet, you fault TNA without offering even a semblance of path for them to follow.

    May be there exists a great sense of frustration about the TNA among the Tamil people. But, they know nothing about the difficulty TNA faces with the political forces of the majority community, do they?

    JVP has the support of a section of the majority community. There isn’t a single individual from the majority community who’d endorse the views of TNA. In these circumstances, comparing what JVP does with how TNA does is politically unsound.

    TNA is the opposition party only on paper. That was a manipulation MS/RW combo staged, in order to keep the JO at bay. I need not tell you that. It should be no surprise that TNA operates under constraints. It is as if though the country has no opposition. As simple as that. It has nothing to do with the age of Sampanthan.

    You say, like in 1979, TNA could get outsmarted by promises. I am sure that RS knows the wicket on which he stands. If there is a better way to play the game let him know.

    • 0

      You emphasise that the Writer as a Tamil has nothing to offer, as most Tamil
      Educated persons always quarrel each other!

      • 2

        What’s your point!

        What have you offered regarding the observation I made. Nothing.

        NB: You read and understand views expressed as coming from a Tamil (or a … etc.). That’s being myopic.

    • 1

      Oppose CTA?…do something?…dont be a do nothing party? You babies need to be told everything. Nathan, you think Tamils dont know TNA’s difficulties. They are fools? so why dont you tell us what those difficulties are.

      • 0

        Here’s what I wrote. ‘Tamil people … know nothing about the difficulty TNA faces with the political forces of the majority community’.

        Here’s what you ask. ‘why don’t you tell us what those difficulties are’.

        Is it an admission that YOU DON’T KNOW what those difficulties are.

        If you KNOW what the difficulties are, your question doesn’t arise. If you DON’T KNOW, you stand proof that what I wrote was correct.

        (Please don’t waste my time.)

  • 1

    The writer should say what the TNA should do, after saying what they have done/not done so far.
    The Tamils are under threat in the north and east, and any mass protests will be met with brutal suppression, and they know it.

    Does the writer know that the five policemen who shot two undergraduates dead, have not yet been indicted in a court of law?

  • 2

    All Tamil MPs should collectively resign and recontest in a by election, to test their honesty, integrity and commitment. They need to be exposed or replaced. They are fooling us.

    Aiding and abetting ” a never ever possible nambilkal nambikai genuine home grown solution ” is a serious and foolish offence,

    We listened, we trusted, we voted for change, now we are paying for our stupidity.

    70 years of history of deceptions, 8 years since May 18 Mullivaikkal. Talking with the eyes close will take us no where, watch where we are walking !

  • 3

    You know what happende to Raviraj and Maheswaran MPs. who were able to speake in Singhala and were trying to explain the Singhala people about the Tamils problems. I believe Mr Sampanthan is fluent in Singala and hopeful he survives.

  • 3

    “Second, the real targets of the PTA were Tamil militants, especially the LTTE and the Tamil people who directly or indirectly supported militancy.”
    It is not really targeting the supporters of militancy but innocent Tamils to extract money. It is a way of rewarding the security forces. and persuade the secu members to serve them selves as like buffet meals with free entry.

  • 0

    PTA is evolving as CTA by mainly EU’s effort. EU wanted attended to the MMDA too.

    We wrote here that when MMDA is corrected the Muslim women will lose more of their rights than they lost by MMDA. Same case With PTA. Earlier Appe Aanduwa brought another dangerous version and it was opposed. So it let it down until the Tamils and IC start to doze. Aanduwa has been extremely successful for 70 years to keep rolling its caravan forward, while all the available street dogs barking at it. It was trying to pack part of PTA into hate speech bill too, the same it has been packing abandoned Emergency regulation into other acts. Hooting or shouting at Parliament will do nothing with Appe Aanduwa. Appe Aanduwa, if Tamils oppose anything, it will double it saying “Ottakuthan Pattukku Irattai Thalpal”. (If the poet Ottakuthar sings to open the door, double the bars and close it). That is the maxim Aanduwa use to deal with Tamils.

    There is no gold in the noise of Mr.Ponkalan talk, but it is only an empty vessel. There is not solution or suggestion. Anything will be done here has to bring the attention of the EU and international Community that Lankawe is doing another murder while everybody has fallen asleep.

    Mr.Ponkalan, TNA and Diaspora should work on this together. Mr.Ponkalan should collect American diaspora and organize a protest in Washington DC to get President Trump’s attention. .

  • 0

    The PTA and the CTA. The TNA is fundamentally Sampanthan & Sumanthiran. The others in the TNA KNOW IT ONLY BY ITS INITIALS! Nice to be blissfully ignorant!

    As for Sampanthan,he is plodding along with a promise of a new constitution!
    As for Sumanthiran,he has been appointed a PC,EVEN WITHOUT HE APPLYING FOR IT!
    I would be surprised if they will be in the next Parliament.Perhaps,they know it themselves!

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