Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

August 8 Polls

Lessons for the minority communities

by T. Sabaratnam, The Bottom Line, August 20, 2009

The only way to avoid such an impasse with its tragic consequences of a renewed cycle of conflict, this time non-military but worse, civic, is to reduce the alienation of the Tamil people of the North. This can be done by giving the people some degree of local autonomy and representation, while Colombo’s Tamil partners such as the EPDP still remain a viable political option. Now the time is running out and as the election results show, Tamil disaffection is growing rapidly.

The Uva Provincial Council election has shown that Tamil disaffection is not confined to the North alone. The upcountry Tamils and Muslims too are dissatisfied.

Last week, I indicated the messages the voters of the Jaffna Municipal Council and Vavuniya Urban Council sent to the people of this country, and to the international community. I said they had rejected the UNP and the TULF headed by V. Anandasangaree.

R. Sampanthan, May 2009, Colombo

At the time of writing the column last week, I did not have the preference votes of the UPFA candidates. On the basis of the preference votes released subsequently, I can now add that the Tamil voters have rejected not only the UNP and the TULF, but the UPFA as well. It did not win any seat in the Jaffna Municipal Council, and of the two seats it won in Vavuniya one was by a Muslim and the other by a Sinhalese. The Tamils nominated by the UPFA fared poorly.
Last week I said that by joining the UPFA the EPDP lost their votes and credibility. EPDP leader Minister Douglas Devananda had now indirectly admitted that position. He was asked by a Tamil daily whether his party would have obtained a better result if it had contested alone. His answer was: “I do not deny that there is such an opinion”.

In fact, the EPDP polled less number of votes than in the 1998 election, after 11 years of continued service Devananda did for the Jaffna people. That explains the sense of disappointment he expressed soon after the elections result was announced.  He expected to win 19 seats.

Political analysts who wrote to the Tamil press had shown sympathy to Devananda. They acknowledged the immense service he had done to the Tamil people. But they said the Tamil voters of Jaffna and Vavuniya have indicated their concern about their political future by voting for the TNA. They are aware of Devananda’s limitations. They feel that he had not achieved anything to benefit the Tamils politically.

Human rights

Tamil political analysts point out the fact that human rights lawyer Mudiappu Ramedius, TNA’s mayoral candidate, polled the highest number of preference votes with 4223 as indicative of the preference the voters gave to their political rights. They were not influenced by the relaxations of fishing restrictions, the ceremonial opening of the bus service to Colombo through A9, and the promise to release 3000 Internally Displaced Persons languishing in the Vavuniya camps.

My colleague and fellow columnist M.S.M. Ayub in his column in an English daily has pinpointed the message the Tamil people gave. And Dayan Jayatilleke had expanded on that. I quote the relevant portion in full:

The results of the recently concluded Municipal Election in Jaffna and Urban Council Election in Vavuniya, clearly show that now is the time for a political solution. If there continues to be a political vacuum, the Tamil progressive moderates such as the EPDP and PLOTE will be weakened and overtaken by the TNA, by the time of the Parliamentary election next year. If the TNA sweeps the Parliamentary election while continuing to uphold its stance of rejecting the 13th Amendment as insufficient and calling for “internal self-determination”, the island will present a picture of clear ethnic division, polarisation and deadlock. Colombo will not have a truly constructive Tamil negotiating partner that the Sinhala public and the Armed forces can trust. It will be difficult to have Northern Provincial Council election and devolve power to an NPC dominated by a TNA which rejects the 13th Amendment as too little.

Ethnic zero sum game

Conversely, it will be difficult to postpone such an election indefinitely, problematic to dissolve the Council after an election is held, and unwise to abolish the NPC by scrapping the 13th Amendment with no alternative acceptable to the Tamils. An ethnic zero-sum game will be the result. Negotiations will be sporadic and unsuccessful. There may be a political process but that will be open-ended, while the existential situation of the Tamil people deteriorates on the ground. This means that the Sri Lankan crisis needlessly becomes intractable once again.

The only way to avoid such an impasse with its tragic consequences of a renewed cycle of conflict, this time non-military but worse, civic, is to reduce the alienation of the Tamil people of the North. This can be done by giving the people some degree of local autonomy and representation, while Colombo’s Tamil partners such as the EPDP still remain a viable political option. Now the time is running out and as the election results show, Tamil disaffection is growing rapidly.

The Uva Provincial Council election has shown that Tamil disaffection is not confined to the North alone. The upcountry Tamils and Muslims too are dissatisfied. The Tamils and the Muslims are questioning the advisability of contesting elections along with the national parties. Uva has taught them that they would lose their representation if they continue to do so.

Tamil representation has been reduced to three in the new Uva PC. They had five in the last council. Muslims have none in the new council. In the Moneragala District all the 11 members were Sinhalese. In the Badulla district 18 of the 21 members were Sinhalese. Only 3 were Tamils.

Of the three Tamils, Senthil Thondaman was elected from the UPFA list, K. Velayuthan from the UNP list and Aravindha Kumar Upcountry People’s Front. Senthil Thondaman who polled 20,448 preference votes came 12th in the UPFA list which won 13 seats from the Badulla District. Velayuthan who polled 14,870 preference votes came fourth in the UNP list. Aravinda Kumar who polled only 7863 preference votes was elected as the sole member of the UCPF.

Aravinda Kumar got elected because the UCPF that contested alone. UCPF which polled 9227 votes was entitled for one seat and Aravinda Kumar who topped the list was elected. If the UCPF had contested with the UPFA, the 9227 votes it got would have gone to that party and Aravinda Kumar would not have been elected.

CWC leaders are now discussing this problem. If the CWC had contested alone it would have got at least two seats. Now it is going behind the UPFA leaders begging for a bonus seat.

The plight of the Muslims is worse. In the 2004 provincial council election two Muslims were elected. This time none.

Is this a lesson for the minority communities? Can they join with the national parties and retain their representation and identity?

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Polls & Tamil Leadership, August 12, 2009

Saturday’s elections should be viewed in the context of these developments. It showed two positive indications. First it demonstrated the willingness of the Tamil people to return to the democratic political process.

This columnist is not interested in the controversy about the total registered voters in the Jaffna Municipality and the Vavuniya Town Council areas. This column is also not interested in the percentage polled.  The facts that 22,280 persons voted in Jaffna and 12,850 persons voted in Vavuniya, is sufficient to discern the indications. The fact that so many persons voted, show the willingness of the Tamil people to return to the democratic path. It should also be noted that no boycott campaign was conducted.

And the poll according to the Election Commission was peaceful and fair. There were no allegations of massive fraud. Thus, it can be safely concluded that the Tamils are prepared to return to the democratic way of life. The people have thus told the government to prepare the ground for the return of democracy.

Now to the second indicator. Tamils have shown the government the Tamil leadership with which it should negotiate about a political settlement to the Tamil problem. Let us analyse the result to find out the pointer.

Tamil people have rejected the UNP in uncertain terms. In Jaffna the UNP got only 83 votes. It is not even four votes for each candidate. In Vavuniya where Sinhalese and Muslims reside, the UNP collected only 228 votes.
The government cannot also talk to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) headed by V. Anandasangree. In Jaffna it obtained 1007 votes and Anandasangree was elected with 424 votes. Then comes the PLOTE led by Siddarthan. In Vavuniya where it concentrated its activities for over three decades, it polled 4,136 votes and won three seats. In Jaffna it was not a factor. That leaves that also out. Then the government is left with the Tamil National Alliance which contested as the Federal Party and its own party, the UPFA. Both contested in Jaffna and Vavuniya.

In Jaffna UPFA polled 10602 votes and won 13 of the 21 seats, and in Vavuniya it won 3045 votes and won two seats. It came third. TNA polled 8008 votes in Jaffna and won eight seats. In Vavuniya it polled 4279 votes and won five seats.
Now the question:  With whom do the Tamils want the government to negotiate a political settlement? Should it negotiate with its own political party or with the TNA?

The government can say that it can negotiate with the EPDP. But the EPDP contested as part of the UPFA. EPDP sources told me that it had lost votes and credibility by joining UPFA.

Tamil people have indicated that the government has no option but to talk to the TNA. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had indicated his willingness to talk to the TNA. And TNA had taken a decision to talk to the government and is in the process of drafting its proposals. Talking to the TNA will also counter LTTE’s and the moves in Tamil Nadu.