By Aahithyan Ratnam –
The TNA’s Mavai Senathirajah has announced that they will not boycott the election. It shows the moderate credentials of the party. On the other hand the rabid “Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, the leader of Tamil National Peoples [sic.] Front (TNPF) on Thursday (18) addressing the media called on the Tamil people to boycott Sri Lanka’s presidential election next month, stating that the policies in relation to the Tamil question of the common opposition coalition did not differ from that [sic.] of the ruling regime.” (EyeSriLanka, Dec. 19, 2014)
In any election there is never a perfect candidate. We always vote for whoever is better than the others. By asking the Tamil people to boycott the elections, the TNPF is effectively asking us to treat candidates with flaws as equally rejectable when one might be slightly flawed and the other badly flawed. No one is perfect. But President Rajapaksa and Mr. Sirisena are certainly not equally bad. We must vote for the person who is better; for whoever is less flawed. By calling for a boycott the TNPF is favoring Mahinda Rajapaksa who is abominably worse for Tamils.
The TNA as a mature party with experience sees this. I feel confident that once Mr. R. Sampanthan, the TNA leader, returns from his medical treatment abroad, the party will endorse the common opposition candidate.
President Rajapaksa has a long list of negatives behind him – genocide, communalism (against Tamils, Muslims and Christian evangelicals), corruption, authoritarianism, family bandyism, favoritism, judicial meddling and so on, ad nauseam. There is really no one in his UPFA to balance these tendencies inimical to democratic governance.
Maithripala Sirisena has given us pause after raising our hopes. He has promised to protect war criminals. His promise of a local inquiry into war crimes is meaningless given the history of domestic judicial inquiries. His JHU connexion makes his commitment to minorities very suspect. Indeed he has not said one word on addressing Tamil grievances.
Leaving aside the Tamil perspective, on broader national matters will he be good for Sri Lanka, even if he is not better for Tamils, Muslims and other minorities? While any President who does not stand by minorities is never good for the nation, Mr. Sirisena also seems to be waffling on the abolition of the Executive Presidency, if Prof. Kumar David is to be believed. Nor do Mr. Sirisena’s son’s dealings give us confidence that he will stamp out corruption and thuggery.
Here Saint Paul’s First Letter to St. Timothy which sets standards for leaders is relevant (chapter 3):
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”
Although both President Rajapakse and Mr. Sirisena fail to meet these standards with respect to their children, the former fails miserably on most counts. The violence at Mullivaikal was under President Rajapaksa’s command. He has a reputation for assaulting people when he is upset. He is often drunk says a reliable friend of mine who has had to support him physically on many occasions to the bathroom when the President was in a drunken stupor. His and his family’s love for money is now legendary. Even the helicopter allegations connected to that greed are mind boggling – as the son claimed that the only helicopter he had from his father was a toy when he was a little boy, the father at a rally in Chilaw defended in intemperate and vulgar words his buying helicopters for his children (Colombo Telegraph, 18 Dec. 2014).
There is another difference between the President and Mr. Sirisena. Many thugs, including former UNP thugs active in 1983 like Lokuge, are firmly in the President’s camp as seen from their almost exclusive role in election violence in recent weeks. There is no one in his camp to moderate his evil tendencies. Even the once respectable leftists have shown themselves to be morally bankrupt, allowing themselves to be castrated in exchange for the comforts they receive.
On the other hand, although there are the JHU and some thugs with Mr. Sirisena, one may expect a major moderating influence from Chandrika who made the only serious effort to meet Tamil aspirations through the 2000 constitutional reform package which was defeated by
- a) The TNA, then a creature of the LTTE, obeying its masters and rejecting a real solution to Tamil problems which today, given our now circumstances, seems a pipedream. And
- b) Ranil playing what political scientist A.R.M. Imtiyaz describes as electoral symbolic politics and sending some MPs on trips to Singapore when he suspected that they might support the 2000 constitutional reforms. He thwarted what he himself tried to offer when in power a few years later so that credit would not go to Chandrika.
But people change. Today Chandrika and Ranil are working together. The TNA, now free of the LTTE, is a new organization with the sensible Sampanthan at its helm. Ranil too, after making anti-Tamil speeches while under JR after the 1983 riots, has shown himself to understand Tamil aspirations during the ceasefire period (although many Tamils feel he had swung too much the other way by being seemingly blind to the LTTE’s obvious machinations.)
Because of the moderating influence of Chandrika, Ranil and Managala Samaraeeera, the evisceration of Tamil, Muslim and evangelical Christian positions in society we have seen under President Rajapaksa is unlikely under Sirisena. If it happens under Sirisena, such evisceration matching what we have seen under Rajapaksa in scale is impossible because of the important positions that Chandrika, Ranil and Samaraweera would hold in his administration.
Left to themselves therefore, minorities would vote for Sirisena. Given that fact, a boycott would simply make it easier for Rajapaksa to get his third term. With Sirisena there is hope and likelihood for improvement even if there is no certainty. With Rajapaksa we will certainly have more of the same and we are sick of it. We now have the opportunity to effect change.
TNPF is simply wrong in calling for a boycott of the elections. To boycott the elections on Jan. 8 is to root for President Rajapaksa. Let us vote for change.