22 September, 2020

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We Must Not Allow The January 8th Democratic Gains To Be Rolled Back

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

General election to Sri Lanka’s 15th parliament is less than 3 weeks away. It will be held on 17 August 2015, ten months ahead of schedule to elect 225 members. There is hectic campaign by the two main contenders namely the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) too entice the voters. Each alliance is claiming victory at the polls, but we will know how the voters will cast their vote. Surprisingly the voters have an uncanny knack and sophistication in picking the winning party.

Both the UNFGG and UPFA are facing the electorate as a divided house. UNFGG is facing the poll minus its allies the JVP, TNA and the Democratic Party (DP) led by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. It is not clear why the DP is contesting separately when its leader owes the national government led by the UNP for quashing his previous convictions and rehabilitating him militarily as well as politically. If not for President Maithripala Sirisena‘s magnanimity in reinstating his voting right and right to stand for elections Sarath Fonseka would have remained in political doldrums for many years.

By a twist of fate the UPFA election campaign is led by the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to the discomfort of president Sirisena. Though president Sirisena was forced to give nomination to Rajapaksa against his wish, he has called up on the people to defeat him at the forthcoming polls. He went further to claim he want appoint him as prime minister even if the UPFA wins the elections.

Mahinda July 21 2015At the presidential elections Mahinda Rajapaksa lost by a margin of only 449,072 votes. And Rajapaksa still feels bitter that his defeat was caused by the vote bank of Thamils in the North, East provinces and in Tamil dominated Nuwara Eliya electoral district.  He has been harping on his defeat since 9th January, the day after the elections. Rajapaksa has reason to feel bitter since he won majority of the votes in the remaining 16 districts in the south.  He polled 5,299,151 (5,299,151 (50.64%) as against 4.996,446 (48.38%) for president Sirisena.

The forthcoming election offers a chance to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa together with his cronies who voted for the 18th Amendment which made him a virtual dictator. Despite wide spread corruption, nepotism, fraud and waste he seems to enjoy popular support in the south. This is really baffling to the voters of North and East.

However, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his UPFA are facing an uphill task in their campaign in the absence of state resources which were used by him to the maximum in every election held since 2005.  A state controlled and docile state media not only carried out propaganda in his favour, but also it denigrated his opponents in derogatory terms.

In using the communal card this time around, Rajapaksa has completely alienated Thamil voters as never before. At the last presidential elections Rajapaksa polled a respectable number of votes in the North and East though he lost overall in all the 5 districts. The following is the detail outcome of the vote:

North East Votes 2015 Presidential Elections Sri LankaIn this election the EPDP is contesting separately which means the UPFA votes will be split between the two. In the parliamentary elections held in 2010 the EPDP won 3 seats polling 47,622 (32.07%) votes. But, that election was held less than a year after the end of the war in May 18, 2009. Today, the political landscape has changed completely since the presidential elections held on January 8, 2015. Unlike in the past both the EPDP and UPFA have lost their influence after January 8th. While the UPFA faces certain defeat, the EPDP has to struggle hard to retain even one seat. Traditionally, the bulk of the votes came from the islands which were under the control of EPDP since 1990. So for the first time EPDP is facing the election as an opposition party.

The TNA remains popular with the electorate all though they have not delivered on all their promises. Prominent among them is the release of   about 275 political prisoners languishing for up to 20 years in prison without charges or trial.  The Hundred Days programme by the National government did not fully address some of the fundamental issues faced by the Thamil people like complete demilitarization and release of thousands of acres of both residential and farmlands. Yet, the TNA managed to wrest some concessions from the government, especially the release of some of the lands grabbed by the army for military as well as for non-military purposes.

Out of a total of 6,382 acres of land grabbed by the army in Valikamam North, about 1,033 acres has been released to the original owners.  These lands were occupied by the army following military offensive launched in 1990. Yet the IDPs face the daunting task of rebuilding their shattered lives and destroyed homes without adequate financial help from the government.

In 1983, Valikamam North Division had a population of 83,618 individuals, or 25,351 families, who were all Thamils. About 60% of the population were farmers, and another 30% were fishermen, while the remainder were employed in white-collar jobs, in industries etc.

The eviction of these people was carried out in different phases. The forcible eviction started in 1990, following the withdrawal of the IPKF, and continued until 1993. During this period, the remainder of the population was forcibly evicted and by the end of 1993 the eviction was complete.

In a similar fashion following an army offensive in Sampur in 2006 thousands of people fled empty handed all the way to Batticaloa.  When the war came to an end, the army took over thousands of acres of private land in and around Sampur. Expectation the army will allow the IDPs to go back to their homes and farms did not materialise. Instead, a total of 816 acres of land was vested in the Board of Investment (BOI) by a gazette notification issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The BOI in turn handed over the land to a company styled Sri Lanka Gateway Industries on a 99 year lease. A strategic development project to create a special zone for heavy industries at a cost of US$ 4 billion or more than Rs. 500 billion by Gateway Industries was given the green light by the Government. A further 500 acres were earmarked to build a coal-fired Thermal Plant as a joint venture between India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board.

Following the change of regime after January 8th, the 816 acres leased to Gateway Industries has been cancelled and IDPs numbering over 7,000 have been allowed to return. The Sri Lanka navy has also agreed to relocate the camp covering 237 acres. This land belonged to about 600 families before the out-break of hostilities.

The confiscation of  lands from poor peasant families in Sampur by the government and handing over 816 acres of land to a development company showed the utter disdain  the Rajapaksa government had  for the plight of  poor ordinary citizens.  It is the tears and curse of these poor people that finally ended Rajapaksa’s tyrannical rule spanning 9 years!

President Maithripala Sirisena defended his government’s move to return private land acquired by the security forces during the civil war to its legitimate owners as part of reconciliation efforts with minority communities, including Tamils. He regretted the fact that some political opponents used the internet and media to spread false information that the government is handing over the land to LTTE supporters.

The January 8th revolution has brought fresh hope as opposed to despair to the Thamil people who were suffocating under the dictatorial rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime. His government treated the Thamil people shabbily and subjected them to humiliation and shame.

1) Police powers vested in the armed forces under the Public Security Ordinance have been allowed to lapse. This has stopped harassment of ordinary people by the army and police.

2) The military governors in the North and Eastern provinces have been replaced with civilian administrators.

3) The ill-advised ban imposed on singing the National Anthem in Thamil has been removed.

4) There are no more white vans, grease demons, throwing waste oil, stoning houses, attack on media personnel, fear of arbitrary arrest etc. in the North.

5)  If the August 17 election ushers a national government, then more powers will be given to the provincial councils. If the national government has a 2/3 majority then a new constitution will be enacted by establishing a Constituent Assembly.

6) To the much exploited Hill Country Thamils the government has launched a scheme to build houses and schools.

The above may seem trivial for some, but Thamils feel relieved and see a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time since independence.

The Thamil people joined hands with the people of the south in electing Maithripala Sirisena as president. That was a historical turning point that changed the political culture of the country. Rajapaksa who deftly played the Sinhala – Buddhist card was defeated. As told by president Sirisena we should not allow Mahinda Rajapaksa and his UPFA to roll back the revolution to pre January 8th dark era.

For the first time after independence, an ordinary, humble and unassuming person has become the president. President Sirisena kept his promise to reduce the dictatorial powers of the president by the enactment of the 19th Amendment. It was a magnanimous gesture on his part. Although his predecessors promised to abolish the office of president when elected they failed to keep their promises. Mahinda Rajapaksa did the opposite by enacting the 18th Amendment. Unlike Rajapaksa who wanted to crown himself as a king, the mild-mannered president Sirisena is not overtly power hungry and has declared he will not seek a second term.

The 19th Amendment keeps the executive presidency virtually intact with just a restoration of the independent commissions that functioned under the 17th amendment. President Sirisena still enjoys executive power and he is still the Head of Cabinet with power over all appointments, ministers as well as Secretaries of ministries.

The Thamils were also beneficiaries of a few achievements of the present government like the restoration of judicial independence, the rule of law, media freedom, battle against corruption, salary increases to government servants and pensioners, slashing of fuel prices and enforcement of human rights. Yet the fundamental problems, for which Thamils have fought long battles, including a liberation war, remain unresolved and unaddressed. The country needs ethnic peace to move forward.  The hope is a national government will be formed after the elections to address the long festering ethnic issue.

All right thinking people in the south should vote for UNFGG to help usher in a righteous government free of corruption, nepotism, waste, fraud, extortion, embezzlement and generally the inefficient use of state resources. The government must uphold the rule of law both in word and deed, equality, justice, self-respect and dignity of all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. As exhorted by President Maithripala Sirisena we must move forward and not allow the January 8th democratic gains to be rolled back by any means.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Mr.Thangavelu,

    Thanks for the fair and objective analysis. You have listed the achievements and highlighted the hopes kindled, post 08/01/2015. We are indeed moving in the right direction, after being badly stalled since the laudable post-war reconstruction efforts of the MR government.

    Further, since the murder and rape of the girl from Pungudutheevu, the law and order situation is improving, though much more needs to be done.

    You have failed to mention the US$ 600 + million project to provide water to the dry zone, including the Northern and Eastern provinces. Although the details are yet not known, it should bring much needed water to Jaffna and the Vanni. It will transform Jaffna and the Vanni. I hope our politicians will advocate this issue as a priority and work with the government to quickly implement the project and make it a success.

    It is lamentable that politicians from the TNA are as is their habit advocating demands that need not be raised at this point, knowing well that they are unattainable in the current political climate. This is cheap and thoughtless politics to take the Tamil public for a ride and garner votes. However, the UNPFA should also advocate greater devolution of power to the provincial councils and the abrogation of the concurrent list in the 13th amendment. The powers of the governor should be reduced and the CM made the chief executive of the PC.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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      Building castles in the air. Dr.RN , I agree with you about the TNA and its members but not about anything else. To my belief the Tamils are seem to be a dead race in Sri Lanka except for few individual hierarches. Either they join the majority or do likewise as Mr.Rakeem from the Muslim community. I am surprised to find that you are still harping on the Mahavali waters to the North. It is a dream which will not come true. never. I bet on it. May be possible if the Sinhala race becomes a majority in the North.

  • 3
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    “At the presidential elections Mahinda Rajapaksa lost by a margin of only 449,072 votes.”

    If he had acted a little differently, appointing a civilian governer, etc and cracking down on anti-communal groups he may have won the election.

    That would mean by pleasing the minorities a president with ” wide spread corruption, nepotism, fraud and waste” would have won 8 more years of power? How is that for (minority) people power?

    • 1
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      reply to vanguard
      18th amendment was added to the consitution by bribing. Sitting president after his nomination 18th amendment was passed. MAhinda rajavassa illegally contested the January election. This power hungry maniac thief thug and its other thief thug devil pigs like weerawansas should be wiped off from the earth to create a just society in SRi Lanka.

  • 0
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    [Edited out] Please write instead of posting external web links – CT

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      In a recent article Rasika Jayakody writes,

      “It is important to understand the backdrop against which the TNA’s election manifesto was launched. Clearly, there are three power-blocs in the party and its internal divisions are no longer invisible. One bloc in party is led by R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiran who are known among the party rank and file as “moderates”. Then there is another bloc led by relatively hardcore ex-MPs such as Suresh Premachandran and mavai Senathirajah. Of late, there was a third power-bloc developed around Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Vigneswaran who was, at the initial stages, an ally of Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. Over the past few months, there was a cold war between the Vigneswaran bloc and Sampanthan-Sumanthiran bloc.

      As Chief Minister Vigneswaran’s popularity grew in the North over the past few years, a sizable proportion of party activists are now backing him, considering he would be a better candidate for the party leadership. In the recent past, Vigneswaran took strong positions on problems concerning the Tamils and even locked horns with leaders such as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The TNA, as a political party, is already facing serious problems due to internecine power struggles in the party.”

      This seems to be present situation in the TNA. It is trying to deal with its own contradictions, while having decided to engage with the government at the center. This has resulted in a manifesto that is apparently a compromise to keep it together in the light of the elections.

      Dr.RN

  • 2
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    Mahinda’s victory will Allow The January 8th Democratic Gains To Be Rolled Back and consolidated further.

  • 1
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    Not rolled back. STEAM rolled……. another dreamer

  • 1
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    It is gladdening to note the turnaround to positive thinking for a concerted effort to ensure that the corrupt Rajapaksas do not come back. Bensen

  • 2
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    The democratic change occurred under MR Presidency. Would democracy be allowed to prevail under the present government ? We still hear the echoes of a previous incumbent bellowing that even if he won only 5 seats he would still remain the PM, and he was from RW’s party.

  • 1
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    The outcome of most General Elections in recent decades have been by cheating the people. Sri Lanka is not alone here in so far as the Sub Continent is concerned. The Sri Lankan voter seems to have a tremendous capacity for being taken for a serial sucker, to use American slang. Rice from the Moon, eta ata (8 grains) Mahinda Chintana – all instruments designed and calculated to cheat the voter – are now legion. We might pat ourselves on the back we are a literate electorate purely because over 90% of voters can read and write. But the truth is even those who have passed out in what is called our Universities are generally found to be, educationally, below average – with due recognition to a brilliant few from both sexes. Let us remember in the last Parliament – err… our Legislature – a large number of the MPs did not have even the lowly GCE (AL) qualifications. At least one MP had to be referred for phsychiatric certification. It may not be an exaggeration to state many of the MPs in Parliament cannot read fully and understand even a simple Bill. Even some of our recent Ministers given in charge of the laws/constitution were poor in their English Language.

    Who wins will be decided by Sinhala speaking Party is able to poison the easily-fooled prejudices of the average Sinhala man in the rural areas. The Sinhala voter in the urban areas is a little more savvy. Now that most rural Sinhalese know the LTTE is no more those conspiring brains will discover something else to fool the Sinhala mind. Blaming the LTTE is no more a good marketing tactic. Already, steps are on to raise the Federal question as one of the main issues. The Sinhala voter may or may not know the TNA, speaking for the Tamil people, are now publicly committed to an undivided country. TNA now ask for internal rule in the Tamil-speaking areas. Leading Lankan politicians, including the Rajapakses, are already talking to the Tamil diaspora to work out ways of reducing differences so that the Diaspora issue may not be that toxic. But the extremists on the Sinhala side will, predictably, give Tamil-related issues an anti-patriotic flavour and make these the main election issues. Already, the delusionary “return of the Tiger” fear is being planted in Sinhala minds. Little does the Sinhala voter realise the country is in a politico-economic cliff edge. The many self-inflicted wounds in the Lankan body politic can result in a haemorrhage that can be fatal. By all accounts August 17, 2015 will be historic to a country that has several times been consigned to the ICU – politically and economically. That, to quote the Bard, is the Question. Or will the Buddhist Sinhala extreme – lead by Rajapakse and his cohorts, set the country in flames again?

    What the Sinhalese do not realise is the more they deliberately ignore
    to provide justice to the Tamil Nation the closer they bring the country to the Status Quo of the pre-1505 i.e. the Island divided into two parts – one Sinhala-speaking and the other Tamil-speaking. This is not dividing the country – but historical reality. It was the Sinhala priesthood that divided the country in 1956. It is up to them to take the initiative to bring in meaningful reconciliation. The changed stance of men like the influential Ven. Maduluwewe Sobita Thero suggests the powerful Sinhala Buddhist hierarchy has, at last, come to realise the ground reality.

    Kettikaran

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    Any political party has in its ranks people with different shades of opinion. The TNA is no exception which is a coalition of 4 parties. Out of the 4 parties 3 (TELO, EPLRF and PLOT) consist of ex militants who abandoned arms to join the democratic mainstream. PLOT was bearing arms during the war. . So there is bound to be differences. Anyway, there is no hardcore bloc led by Suresh Premachandran and Mavai Senathirajah. This is because they lead different parties, Suresh leading the EPLRF and Mavai who is now the president of the ITAK(Federal Party).
    As a matter of fact there are no factions within the ITAK and Sampanthan is the glue that holds the party together. As for Wigneswaran he has no bloc within the ITAK. He was persuaded by Sampanthan to contest the NPC election. He has no following within the party. But he has a following among a section of the Thamil Diaspora who earlier backed the LTTE. They seem to think Wigneswaran will be good recruit to their ranks. As a judge of various courts, he is cocooned to a different mindset. Basically, he is apolitical and not used to the hurly burly of politics. But since of late, after he moved the resolution on genocide in early January, he has become a darling of former supporters of LTTE. This faction unable to make any headway wants to ride on the coattails of Wigneswaran for survival. Wigneswaran is also a frustrated Chief Minister who earlier battled with a military governor and now with a civilian governor. Military or civilian the executive powers of the council is not vested with the elected Chief Minister, but with an unelected governor. This was also the experience of earlier Chief Ministers like Varadharaja Perumal and Pillayan. Varadharaja Perumal lamented the fact he had no chair to sit. Pillayan claimed he cannot even appoint a peon! Wigneswaran finds himself in the same boat. But instead of making confrontational statements that are not helpful to our people, he should make the best of the resources available. He locking horns with the Prime Minister Ranil shows his lack of political maturity and tactfulness. TNA text of the manifesto is nothing new. It reiterates issues covered by previous manifestos issued during NPC elections. The TNA will continue to engage itself with the government and the international community to arrive at a satisfactory and durable solution to the ethnic issue acceptable to all three communities.

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