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Fissures in Sri Lankan Tamil parties ahead of Presidential poll

[Hindu, Tuesday, 15 December 2009 11:36 No Comment]

With two days to go for the filing of nomination papers for the January 26 Sri Lankan Presidential election, fissures within the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) came to the fore following the deposit of money with the Election Commission Secretariat by M.K. Sivajilingam to fight the polls as an ‘Independent’ Tamil candidate.

The camps led by the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the major opposition parties’ consensus nominee, retired General Sarath Fonseka were assiduously seeking the support of the TNA. Observers here believe that the TNA is headed for a split although the actions of various factions might have no bearing on the mind of the Tamil voters on polling day.

The move by MP from Jaffna is a reflection of the confusion that has gripped the TNA after the death of the LTTE leader in the Eelam War IV in May. The Alliance is torn between the ground realities faced by Tamils living in the island-nation and sections of the Diaspora that is experimenting with grandiose ideas like ‘trans-national Eelam’.

The unbridgeable gap between the TNA and the sections of the Diaspora was evident in far away France. While the TNA leadership was grappling with immediate concerns like the welfare of the 2.9 lakh war displaced and the strategy they should follow in the presidential election, sections of the Diaspora were holding referendum on the so-called right of self-determination for Tamils. A report on the TamilNet website on December 14 noted: “31,148 eligible Eezham Tamil Diaspora voters over 18 in France participated this weekend in the referendum to say yes or no to independent and sovereign Tamil Eelam and 30,936 of them have said yes.”

Defiant action

The Jaffna MP’s defiant action is a setback for those hoping to bring about a semblance of unity among the minorities in the island nation and make use of the leverage in the Presidential election to promote the interests of Tamils and Muslims especially with regard to the solution to the ethnic conflict. The desire was articulated at the first of its kind Zurich conference of representatives of Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim parties including the TNA held from November 20 to 22.

Mr. Sivajilingam is not the first to go against the Zurich letter and spirit. Several Tamil and Muslim parties in the last few days have joined the bandwagon of either President or the retired General Fonseka.

In a joint statement, the representatives at the end of the Zurich meet had appealed for unity to develop an effective common programme to hold the government accountable for the protection of minorities, and to act as a serious and dependable negotiating partner representing the demands of minorities in the development of meaningful proposals for reform in the island nation.

A press release on the conclave had said that those who participated in the three-day deliberations committed themselves to the engagement by all segments of society towards ‘a just and durable political solution’ in the island through a dignified, respectful and peaceful process and agreed to continue the discussions.

Tamil, Muslim parties in a dilemma

There is no doubt that the Tamil and Muslim parties in Sri Lanka are in a dilemma on the options before them on the Presidential poll and several other issues confronted by people in the post-Prabakaran era. Mano Ganesan, leader of Sri Lanka’s Western People’s Front (WPF) and Colombo district parliamentarian, was the first go public on the subject in a write-up on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative (http://www.groundviews.org/).

In a lengthy response to criticism on how a party which claims to represent aspirations and concerns of Tamils could even consider the General who spearheaded the Eelam War IV, Mr. Ganesan had said his party had sent a set of questions to General Fonseka and was awaiting his response.

Mr. Ganesan had said a “deadly” silence was maintained by all Tamil leaders since General Fonseka’s name was proposed as the common opposition candidate. “But we spoke at the appropriate time and initiated a national dialogue in the media, street corners, households, offices, among the political parties etc.”

Conditional support for Gen. Fonseka

On December 3 Mr. Ganesan announced conditional support of his party to the bid of commander-turned-politician, retired General Sarath Fonseka for the office of President and disclosed that the 18-party United National Front (UNF) led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the General outlining the common agenda.

The leader of the DPF, among the 18 parties that have come together with the explicit objective of ‘overthrowing’ the Rajapaksa regime and the abolition of the executive presidency, had said the UNF would expect the former Army Chief to implement the agenda if he is elected as President and went on to add that the Front would also expect the General to dismiss the government led by Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, dissolve Parliament and conduct general elections due by April under an all party care-taker government.

Mr. Ganeshan had said politically speaking, once elected, the UNF candidate Gen. (retd.) Fonseka would be an ‘interim President’ as he, along with all members of the Front as well as the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) are committed to the abolition of the executive presidency and switch over to a model akin to India.

The idea of the Zurich gathering did not gone down well among influential sections of the Tamil Diaspora. TamilNet in a feature titled ‘Tamil, Muslim political parties find their table in Zurich’ had said, “Widely speculated as a drama backed by ‘high-powers’, leaders of most of the Tamil and Muslim political parties in the island of Sri Lanka are meeting for the first time in Zurich, Switzerland.

Divided despite grievances

The coming together of the representatives of Tamil and Muslim parties was an extraordinary development. The three communities (Sri Lanka Tamils, Indian Origin Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims) have nursed grievances against the majority community, the political establishment of the day and among themselves.

Political parties representing these groups are divided on many lines and their affiliations vis-a-vis the majority parties are varied. Some are with the government, some with the opposition and others in-between.

Of all the three distinct minority communities, Muslims believe that they are the victims of the majority as well as minority politics and for good reason. The oldest category of displaced persons is the minority Muslim community.

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