Chandre Dharmawardana, in an article entitled “Tamil speaking voters decisively reject vengeance-peddling Genocide-Claiming parties in Sri Lanka’s elections,” –which will presumably appear in digital or print form somewhere
Sri Lanka, a nation troubled by decades of civil strife and a separatist war has just concluded a parliamentary election bringing back the war-winning government. Western observers have keenly focused on the North, with its Tamil population (5% of the Nations population) previously controlled by the separatist Tigers. Their “MaVeera” (suicide fighters presented as heroes) are celebrated covertly and even overtly by hard-liner Tamil politicians in the North, and in Western diasporas.
An electoral battle emerged between moderate Tamils and hard-liners who follow the confrontational politics of remnant Tiger groups who operate mostly from Western countries like Canada. The hard liners are lead by Mr. C. Wigneswaran, the ex Chief Minster of the Northern Province. He championed the claim that Sri Lank has committed Genocide against the Tamils, and demands at least “internal self-determination” for the Tamils. He decries Tamils who “marry outside their race”, and calls for a re-writing Sri Lanka’s ancient history to emphasize Tamil history.
The moderates are led by Mr. Sumanthiran who rejected the Genocide charge, pointing out that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Hon. Zeid Hussein had rejected the Genocide charge in 2015 (Tamil Net, 19-10-20). Sumanthiran is the only Tamil leader to openly reject the violent politics of the Tigers. Consequently Sumanthiran has needed tight police protection (provided by the central government) from pro-Tiger adversaries who declared him a “traitor” to be eliminated.
Mr. Sumanthiran’s party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) earned 10 seats, reduced from what they had when they had no competition. More significantly, Mr. Wigneswaran barely manged to elect himself, polling a mere 0.44% of the national vote. Mr. Gajendra Ponnambalam’s hard-liner outfit collected about 0.56% of the national vote, doing better than Mr. Wigneswaran. However, the striking news is the strong election in the Tamil heartland of an ex-Soldier Sinhalese, Ratna Priya Bandu, who fought the Tigers. Similarly, two Tamil parties that opposed the Tigers have elected three MPs, while the predominantly Sinhala parties elected two MPs in the Tamil heartland. The weakened TNA is likely to split further or adapt, and one can only hope that its more moderate members will seek to work pragmatically with other parties that are less ethnocentric and non-separatist in their objectives.
Electoral outcomes in the Eastern Province have once again shown that the East has no desire to merge with the North and become a part of the “Eelam” that Mr. Wigneswaran, and even the TNA have continued to demand, echoing the old TULF demands of 1976. It should be remembered that the East did not fall under the TULF even in the 1977, a point repeatedly made by Fr. Tissa Balasuriya during those times.
Compared to the changes in the North, the outcome in the rest of the country has been historic. A strong government independent of minority ethnic and religious groups, usual in Western democracies has emerged here for the first time. While this has the danger of running rough-shod over minority rights, it also opens up a historic opportunity for the new President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and ex- soldier and technocrat with a reputation as a “doer”. Given the hard political problems as well as the post-Covid economic problems that face Sri Lanka, the strong vote reflects the public feeling that a strong government with management excellence is what is needed. The previous government had the strong backing of the West. But its proven track record of utter incompetence, mega corruption, fatal security lapses allowing Islamic fundamentalists to blast hundreds of people on an Easter Sunday, and its inability to work together resulted in the previous government to splinter their parties, and loose even their parliamentary seats.
Even the hard Leftist Wing, led by the National Liberation Front or “JVP” suffered by its continual propping up of the previous Neo-liberal regime, and polled less than 4% electing just two candidates. The post-modernist sophistry used by the JVP to justify its support of Neo-liberalism parallels the gyrations of various “Marxists” who could support General Sarath Fonseka, a Pinochet like figure, for the presidency of the country a decade ago.
In contrast to what is happening in Sri Lanka, the Canadian Legislators follow militant Tamil groups who control votes. Canada has shamelessly issued stamps commemorating Tamil activists like Navaratnam who vowed ethnic irreconcilability. Ontario is pushing to legitimizing an alleged genocide of Tamils already rejected by moderate Tamils, and by the UN-HC for Human Rights. The bill 104 will have the effect of legitimizing systemic discrimination, esp. within the school system, against Sri Lankan Canadians who are not ethnic Tamils.
Just as President Nixon could do what was unthinkable then and open up the USA to China, today Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has the mandate to use the opportunity exposed by the weakened Northern Hardliners and work for ethnic reconciliation in the troubled Island.
However, the new administration has many fires to deal with. The President will probably prioritize economic endeavors that will not antagonize extremist groups form either side, and push for “jobs, jobs and jobs” within a framework of supporting local enterprises. The army will be increasingly transformed to act as a civilian workhorse, ignoring the protests of those who believe that the army should be in the Barracks if it is not fighting a war. The president can claim that the post-Covid world justifies a war-footing even in the economic front, and the public is likely to listen to him.
There is some likelihood that experienced hands who worked in Mr. Rajapaksa’s All Party Constitutional Council under Tissa Vitharana, boycotted by the then TNA and the Tamil Disapora which did not want a “watered-down solution”, may get a new lease of life. The Prime Minister Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to return to his old forte of political dealsmanship to keep the pot from boiling over, and balance the pressures from the West, China and India. The old corrupt set of politicians who have been elected back will no doubt once again attempt to look for ways to line their pockets. While President Trump has rejected the UN Human Rights council as a “cesspit”, a new US administration may take up a stronger position against Sri Lanka at the next UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada. …..
DBS Jeyaraj: “TNA suffers electoral setback in North and East polls,” http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/TNA-suffers-electoral-setback-in-North-and-East-polls/172-193440