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Sri Lankan parliamentary election and what is in it for the future of Tamils?

[Press Release, Sunday, 2 May 2010 07:15 No Comment]

By Satheesan Kumaaran

The much-awaited parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka, which was announced soon after President Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidential election in January 2010, has just come to an end with a thumping victory to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s alliance. The general election, held on April 8, 2010, was to elect 196 members in addition to 29 members who would be appointed from National List to make 225 members in total for the unicameral legislature. The UPFA comprised the SLFP, CP, LSSP, NFF, CWC, EPDP, Upcountry People’s Front and MEP, and a few smaller parties not represented in Parliament. Some dissidents from the TNA such as Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam threw their weight behind the ruling coalition.

The Sri Lankan Elections Secretariat gazetted the names of newly elected members to the seventh parliament. According to the final results released, the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 144 seats including 17 places in the national list. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) got 60 seats including nine national list MPs. The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK) won 14 seats including one place in the national list. The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) led by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) won seven seats including two places in the national list. The final all island results as follow: UPFA-4,846,388 (60 per cent); UNP-2,357,057 (29.34 per cent); DNA-441,251 (5.49 per cent); and ITAK-233,190 (2.90 per cent).

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) became the third biggest party in the house with 14 seats. The future of Tamils in the island will depend on how Mr. Rajapaksa and his new government will accommodate the genuine national demands of the Eelam Tamils, a section of whom fought militarily for more than three decades demanding a sovereign ‘Tamil Eelam’.

In reality, the successive elections in 1989, 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2004, gave only a slim majority to the governing parties. Even the UPFA elected in 1994 had a majority of only a single seat, creating many uncertainties in the local political arena. Prior to the 1977 election, the Sinhala leadership never wanted to speak about autonomy for the Tamils who occupied the north and east of the island and lived in the region for millennia. After 1977, things got worse. Tamil leadership failed in their attempt to secure at least a federal model of government even with the powers enjoyed in India, unlike Canada who is far better with provincial powers allocated by the federal government.

After 1977, the Tamil leadership proclaimed that they wanted nothing but the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam. After which, Tamil militants became popular and they gained enormous support from an overwhelming number of the Tamils who believed that the Tamil militants would bring them their freedom with justice and dignity. The Tamil political leadership weakened while the Tamil militancy got stronger with the support of Tamil rank and file.

Sinhala nation used Tamil militants as shields

Despite the fact that the Sinhala nation was not happy to offer autonomy for the Tamils, they used the Tamil militants to play their political game for more than the last three decades. The leadership of the Sinhala polity went around the world crying that they were fighting terrorism. In fact, the Sinhala body politic, with the credit of having itself recognized as a State, and as a member of the United Nation and as a democracy (of sorts), conducted an horrendous genocidal war against the Tamil people. One cannot imagine that a State could kill the Tamils, whom they call their own citizens, in such manner. The Sinhala State bombarded the Tamil civilian population, including women, children, and orphans, painting them as members or supporters of the terrorists, a notion supported by its justice system. The only outcome of the Presidential commission to inquire into human rights abuses, not even mandated. They had to show themselves to have done some work, having been responsible for spending such colossal amounts of money, time, and international resources.

The Tamil nation has lost over 140,000 of their members. Over 40,000 Tamils were killed within a matter of months in the final war instigated by the Sri Lankan State while the LTTE maintained the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement signed in 2002. If the LTTE had failed to silence their guns in the middle of May in 2009, the Sri Lankan State would have killed over 300,000 remaining Tamils with no mercy shown even to disabled people, but the United Nations still put the death toll of Tamils at the last phase of the war at only 7,500. This is called the world order in which we all live as tax-paying citizens who contribute to the existence and survival of the UN.

If the oppressed Tamil nation were at the mercy of God, then even God has failed to secure their release from the clutches of state terrorism. Even after over 300,000 Tamils were taken hostage under the pretence of liberation, they still face enormous hardships, and they can not return to their homes due to their homes being turned into what is called the high-security zones.

Mahinda, with his philosophy “Mahinda Chinthana”, came to power to deal with the LTTE. It was none other than the United National Party led by Ranil Wickramasinghe that put the LTTE in the peace trap with the help of the international community. In order to avert further international isolation since they were fighting for Tamil freedom, the LTTE did not want them to be seen as a terrorist outfit like the Al Qaeda because the U.S. was quick to act against any “terrorist” group.

The LTTE had to change their strategy to win the freedom of Tamils. And once again they had no choice but to give up their military capability when the Sri Lankan armed forces were trying to take control of their stronghold. Political strategists, however, would argue that the current situation is providential in that it gives an opportunity for the Sinhala polity to meet Tamil aspirations unfettered and to gaugeas to what extent the Tamils will be accommodated as equal partners. Now they once again have the opportunity for political settlement through talks without any militancy on the side. The Sinhala body politic cannot use Tamils use the Tamil militants as a cover to discredit the genuine struggle of Tamils. The world community should be aware of the consequences if the Sri Lankan State fails to silence Tamils in the future.

Parliamentary elections 2010 provides golden era

As like never before, the current Sri Lankan leadership should come close to a final solution. Tamils have never been a warmongering people, nor were they mentally retarded to take up arms. They are like the Jews. They made Sri Lanka a prosperous country before the 1950s, and even the former Singaporean leader, when visiting Sri Lanka, said Singapore wanted to be like Sri Lanka. But, things turned back to square-one because of racist attitudes and policies against the Tamils by the majority Sinhala leadership.

While the highly educated Tamils fled the country contributing towards the prosperity of many countries, the Sinhala leadership remains, keeping the Tamils interned in camps preventing the children from attending school, diverting the Tamil children by offering them narcotics and other uncultured habits in the occupation of the Sri Lankan State army, milking hard working families both at home and abroad. These children are now exploited by the government forces done with sinister motives.

The general election has now come to end. In the past, the Sinhala political parties in power blamed the opposition for sabotaging any proposal that was brought up to solve the Tamil question. Now, they have the opportunity to solve the problem unfettered.

However, considering the astounding victory by the UPFA, and since it needed only six members support to make up 2/3rd majority in parliament, it can definitely make a change, and even has the power to grant a good measure of autonomy for the Tamils by embracing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which already confirmed that they would talk to the UPFA if they are willing to come forth to solve the Tamil national question through peaceful means.

If Rajapaksa has the courage to solve the long-rooted conflict, then the TNA will support them. The Tamils and Sinhalese have different opinions as how the conflict should be solved. Now, the mediation comes in handy. Tamils were fighting for a separate State and they sacrificed over 140,000 Tamil civilians in addition to over 30,000 Tamil freedom fighters. So, Tamils have sacrificed enough for freedom. Now is the time for bargaining. Now is the time to recognize Tamils as a nation with self-determination, at least internal, under international law, and form two houses – one of which is for the Tamil nation while the other for Sinhala nation – having two prime ministers, one for Tamil nation and the other for Sinhala nation, and the President who will be the head of the State will take turns.

There are many other alternatives to discuss in how to solve the conflict if both parties come to the table and thereby make the island of Ceylon prosperous. Mahinda Rajapakasa should use the people’s verdict as a golden opportunity and if, when Rajapaksa invites the TNA to join forces to make up 2/3rd majority so that they can make real changes in the Constitution and thereby engage in serious talks to end the conflict beyond reasonable doubt, both nations would live in peace. Let’s stop talking rubbish and let’s talk about real peace and resolution for ending the Tamil national question.

The President of the Jaffna Citizens Council for Peace and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna Professor P. Balasundarampillai said after the general election that all political parties from the North and the East should be more cohesive with the ruling party with regard to fulfilling the political aspirations of the people they represent. “Therefore, the Members of Parliament elected from the North and the East have a highly responsible role to play politically to fulfil the aspirations of their people. On the other hand, the ruling party and its alliance must also accommodate parties from the North and the East in a compromising manner to make the peaceful atmosphere that prevails in the country a reality in future, too.”

The government should not adopt the attitude of colonial Britain: ‘divide and rule’. The government should regularise the north and east as one unit, as it is the Tamil homeland and the Tamils of both regions were living as brothers and sisters for millennia. The Government also should come up with recognizing the legal boundaries of Tamil homeland prior to 1948. After 1948, the Sri Lankan successive governments took control of Tamil villages and made them Sinhala colonisations. So, the Sri Lankan government should negotiate sincerely to recognize the Tamil homeland and then recognize their administrative units and offering them the power to rule themselves.

The victories of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election in January 2010 and general election in April 2010 show that Rajapaksa can end the six decade old ethnic conflict which has taken the lives of tens of thousands while retarding the economy of Sri Lanka astoundingly. Rajapaksa can amend the Constitution and make history by granting autonomy for the Tamils, setting an historical precedent by having two governments within one sovereign State with two prime ministers and one head of state, which would the best alternative to end Sri Lanka’s long rooted conflict or Sri Lanka should consider the model of Switzerland. All these can be done through negotiations with the Tamil political leadership in order to stop another bloodbath in the country and it is the most optimistic outcome for the Tamils.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)


Courtesy: The Tamil Mirror

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