By Rajah S. Rajasingham –
A private dinner for a small group of people will be hosted on Saturday Aug. 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM by TNA supporters in Toronto for TNA Members of Parliament Mr. R. Sampanthan and Mr. M. A. Sumanthiran. The venue is the Toronto Don Valley Hotel. The cost of attendance? A minimum contribution of $500 per head. The goal? $100,000 towards the provincial council election campaign fund of the TNA. To be successful, this so called “small group” must therefore include about 200 people.
An announcement by the TNA’s Canada branch says the two MPs will arrive on Aug. 9 and meet lawyers, doctors and representatives of local bodies at a dinner, another one, on Aug. 11 and leave for the US the next day, Monday.
The TNA’s election needs and fund-raising goals are legitimate. Government vehicles with false number plates have always been used by the EPDP and UPFA candidates in the South too, as complaints already lodged by observer agencies indicate. For the TNA to hire a private van for a day’s campaigning could cost several thousand rupees.
EPDP MP Murugesu Chandrakumar from noon to 3:00 p.m. on Aug. 8, a Wednesday afternoon when officers are required have open hours to meet the public, had government officers to join him at an election campaign event at Uthayanagar, Kilinochchi where free lunch was served. Temporary Assistant Planning Office Amarasingham Ketheeswaran and Assistant Primary Education Officer S. Ganesalingam delivered major speeches on government time. Candidates were introduced.
For the first time in Sri Lanka, even temporary, menial government positions are distributed by Douglas Devananda at public meetings and the recipients bow down to him when receiving the letter of appointment. The appearance of an imminent win at his campaign meetings because of the crowds so gathered, can have an avalanche effect in his favor and needs countering.
With government resources so freely used, the TNA feels that only Canadian Tamils have the resources to meet their needs and match the government. But I really worry about the wisdom of this change of course in election strategy. The Federal Party was always the party of the people. Campaigns were on foot where supportive elders from each street would take the campaigning person and introduce him – I do not say “or her” only because all candidates those days were men – to the household and ask for their votes. Although old-fashioned, the personal touch always encouraged turnout and delivered the vote.
Importantly, the party came to us.
Now, with high powered campaigns being foreseen, we have to pay $500 to meet our own MPs. And at the meeting on Sunday our MPs will meet only doctors, lawyers and other high powered people. This reminds me of the Tamil doctor and wife who paid $150,000 to sleep over at the White House and have breakfast with the US President. And of course, there is the natural corollary of these contributions – when a Tamil American seeking defense contracts contributed several tens of thousands of dollars to his Senator, the latter, after winning, made a stirring speech on why supporting Americans’ companies enhanced American security without relying on Chinese products, and pushed through an attachment to a bill sending millions to the Tamil American’s company. Besides the ethics of it, do we need MPs who would make disingenuous speeches like this Senator? Indeed, integrity was always the hallmark of the FP MP as Mr. Sampanthan would know from our better days. The Canadian Tamils in seeking their place in the New World appear to be emulating the $1000 plate dinners of American politics.
There are two lessons in the American model for the TNA. First, we pay to meet our leaders under this model which was never our way. And second, those who give often expect something in return. Is this change of campaign paradigms wise for the TNA? I think it will only invite more wheeler-dealer, high-living candidates to the party and keep out thinking candidates connected to the people.
True, overseas Tamils are important to the party. But the real constituency of the party lives and suffers in the North-East. Douglas Devananda, they say, works every day from 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM meeting people at Sridhar Theatre, ordering excellent food from Cosy Restaurant down Sirampiradi Lane running by the side of Sridhar Theatre. When Devananda, for example, packs the Jaffna University Council with his nominees, the TNA does not even propose names of upstanding Tamils to the government, say observers in Jaffna who point to the fact that the UNP gets its nominees into southern universities.
Messrs. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran should be countering Douglas Devananda in Jaffna with just weeks to go before D-Day on Sept. 21, 2013.