Tamil National Alliance – composing EPRLF, TELO, Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchchi, (ITAK) and PLOTE Led by leaders Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF) Selvah Adaikalanathan (TELO) R. Sampanthan (ITAK) and T. Siddharthan (PLOTE) was formed in 2001 to present a unified approach and stand to face the problems of Tamils ever since they began in 1958. Out of this, the dominant partner is the ITAK or Federal Party as it was called during the 50s and 60s. OF the total of TNA’s parliamentary members elected in the 2015 elections, ITAK has 11, EPRLF had 2, TELO has 2, and PLOTE has 1.
Though all these parties earlier advocated Eelam – or a separate state for Tamils in the North and East, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution in 1978, prohibited anyone propagating or agitating for separation, thus bringing an end to this 1976 demand which clearly violates the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the UN charter.
During the period, when LTTE under its supremo Pirabhakaran, took sole ownership of Tamil politics from 1980s and determined the directions of these parties, the Tamil leaders had to follow and endorse the armed struggle which was forced on LTTE due to the Sinhala Governments obduracy and continued cheatings of Tamil leaders regarding an acceptable political settlement which LTTE believed, would never be honored by any Sinhala majority government.
The armed struggle finally ended with a defeat for LTTE in 2009, unable to face the war against the Sri Lanka government which got the backing of twenty-two countries world wide, paying no heed to the problems of Tamils.
With Mahinda sweeping to victory in the 2010 elections, who was hailed as a war hero above others, TNA opted to persuade the government for a political settlement as promised by Mahinda with a 13+ solution. As usual, Mahinda neither considered nor paid attention to this matter, as he was busy building a family empire with control over the staes economy, finances and institutions. The defeat of Mahinda in 2015 elections brought Maithiri as president from January 8, 2015, and the general elections in July 2015 brought Ranil as Prime Minister. Both of them won the elections comfortably due to the open backing of TNA which the Tamil voters also endorsed and voted. It was the hope and trust of Tamils that the coalition government of good governance would deliver a permanent political settlement meting the aspirations of Tamils and TNA which called for a federal set up of government with a Northern and Eastern province council merder at the elections.
Disappointingly, the 100-day programme of the Government failed to mention any proposal as to the political settlement. Though the coalition government brought legislative measures restoring the independence of commissions including restrictions on powers of the president, the government failed to address the ethnic problem and so far has not disclosed any details or proposals as to the settlement of Tamil’s problems.
The Government has now set out to draft a new constitution and for this purpose has appointed various committees to submit their recommendations which will be presented to the Constituent Assembly, and Parliament for approval and if necessary for a referendum.
In this respect, TNA is cast with the duty to seize this opportunity and use it to the best to come out with proposals as per their own election manifesto and press for their inclusion in the new constitution. The election manifesto of TNA specifically mentioned “a self-rule based on shared sovereignty with the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces under a federal set up within a united Sri Lanka.” TNA has thus rejected a unitary form of government and this was the mandate given by the people to the TNA in the elections. TNA is thus morally, and logically bound by this people’s mandate and election pledge. Any deviation from this undertaking will be considered as a breach of its promise as well as a betrayal of the trust reposed on them by the Tamils who are yearning for deliverance.
When observing the past actions and statements emanating from the TNA leaders, there appears to be neither unity nor unanimous stand as to the steps to be taken to realise these pledges, in the face of the Government’s stalling and non-disclosure of any proposals as to the ethnic question nor any open commitment to consider them.
TNA has itself so far failed to submit their own proposals to the public but has sent conflicting and confusing statements and messages particularly from its leader Sampanthan and spokesman Sumanthiran.
TNA should without any delay review its policy of co-operation, conciliation, hoping for an acceptable solution from the Government. The two-year-old government of good governance is: jet to prove its commitment through sincerity, determination and political will and this appears to be lacking and fading when viewing the past statements of President, Prime minister, and responsible Ministers. Besides, opposition from chauvinists, Buddhist clergy, political opportunists within and outside the Government is growing in strength and size. A coalition front spear headed by the rejected Mahinda who has vowed to capture power by toppling this government and worn out prof. G.L. Peiris and their vociferous members is also engaged in a vicious propaganda against any devolution of powers to the Provinces which was once advocated by them.
The present Government has ignored or impliedly rejected the demands of the Tamils and their leaders. The promises made in relation to the immediate grievances of Tamils were also meant for instant consumption without fulfilment. Some of the promises were the release of prisoners, release of lands, action on the fate of disappeared and missing, repeal of Tamils targeted PTA.
The Government has also flatly dismissed the demand of hybrid court judicial mechanism which is the core of the UNHRC resolution of October 2015. The other proposasl in the resolution remain pure, clean and intact on paper and to be consigned to later archives.
The Government has also totally rejected a federal form of Government including the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces. The words, “a secular and united Sri Lankan state,” also appears to be detested and discarded by the Government. Buddhism, being given the foremost position with duty to protect and foster it will also remain casting a mandatory duty on State to initiate whatever steps necessary to carry out this duty. This clause allows the government in power to build Viharas and erect Buddha statues as fostering and ending in Buddhisisation, and, if necessary appropriation of civilian and state lands particularly in the North and East coupled with settlements of Sinhala Buddhists.
The Government has also rejected its own Task Force’s recommendation like the hybrid court and has not given any positive signals in relation to the other recommendations. The same fate will befall on the six sub-committee’s recommendations including the final recommendations of the Steering Committee which have recommended positive and proper remedies and possible solutions to the country’s plaguing problems, mostly the Tamils problems.
In the face of this negative and hopeless political stand of the south politicians, hoping for a change in Government’s negative approach and conciliatory thinking is like “forcing a horse to drink water in a pond.”
The TNA is thus well advised to review its current approach and weigh its full trust on this faltering and deceptive government which is a divided house like the TNA, with almost nothing to show to the Tamils, TNA’s continued reliance on the Government is unacceptable as the present government is also adopting the past tactics and practice of all the previous Governments. The simple and stark truth is that the issues of Tamils will continue to be dragged on due to political compulsions and necessity of the ruling Government or any Government, exploiting the oppositions of monks to their advantage.
TNA is already facing criticism for its support to the government from Tamils all over including diaspora Tamils. TNA’s leader Sampanthan’s statement that “a solution will surely be made before 2017,” does not stand on any credible evidence, and it looks ‘as good as dead’ like the previous statement of solution before the end of 2016, as promised by Sampanthan.
While Sampanthan and Sumanthiran continue requesting th e Tamils to wait with hopes for an acceptable settlement provisions in the new constitution, TNA’s other partners EPRLF Suresh Premachandran and PLOTE’s Siddharthan are calling on TNA to quit from its participation in the Steering Committee sessions viewing the Government’s rejection of a federal set up of Government, and North-East merger. In this respect, the Chief Minister of Northern province council C.V. Wigneswaran is spearheading his own campaign insisting on the “sticking to the promises made in the TNA’s election manifesto.” The Chief Minister has made successful tours abroad, confirming his stand and support among the diaspora Tamils. His plain and forthright speeches dealing with issues facing Tamils were well received lifting his image as an honest politician and a Leader of Tamils.
However, the Chief Minister is well advised not to rest on the laurels of power position and popularity he achieved which one naturally aspires to achieve but should take steps to move forward expand the political struggles and agitation to a more effective steps. Exposing, informing and educating the public must be followed with actions along with words. Without action one can only provide temporary relief like pain killer medicines. For its part, TNA must shed its present docile and complacent approach and should force a unified stand uniting all like minded parties and groups. The Tamils who voted for the present Government are now feeling let down and the Tamils who voted for TNA must not be allowed to feel let down: There is every possibility for the Government to exploit TNA’s unconditional support is a good ground to ask for more time in the forthcoming UNHRC sessions in May 2017, to avoid positive measures. The Government having failed to implement the UNHRC proposals along with its own promises is facing a difficult session which could be critical and damaging its credibility. It will be an inexcusable mistake if TNA cooperates with the Government as an accomplice to bail out Sri Lanka by endorsing its ‘time buying’ plan and hoodwinking.
Besides TNA’s role as the Opposition Party with Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition is not above criticism. In fact, the role of an Opposition Leader is now being undermined, being not up to expectations due to Sampanthan’s placid and compliant approach when dealing with the Government’s programme of action and conduct within and outside Parliament. Even constructive criticisms of the Government are yet to be heard, particularly regarding the corruption cases, involving past and present government officials, security personnel, etc., let alone the several promises remaining broken and unfulfilled. Arrests of released youths, torture white van abductions are also continuing while the Prevention of Terrorism Act targeting Tamils is also remaining in force, despite the undertaking to repeal it. TNA is thus cautioned not to commit any blunder in this crucial period, and also advised to launch non-violent mass agitations which the former Commissioner of Human Rights Navaneetham Pillai advocated for the oppressed people.
Thus, TNA carries the duty to initiate mass protests and agitations, and it is not befitting for the TNA Members to join an already public initiated demonstration by the public as co-supporters to way “ we also ran in the race”