TNA should learn from history: Poonkuzhali Nedumaran
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should learn from history, and from the experience of their predecessors, on what should NOT be done, writes Tamil Nadu political activist Poonkuzhali Nedumaran in a feature sent to TamilNet this week. She cited the history of TNA’s predecessor TULF failing in upholding the responsibility it was vested with by the people in 1977, compromising with District Councils and how that triggered the Tamil youth to lose confidence in parliamentary methods. The NPC election results mean communication of a will than participation in governance. With the Eezham Tamils rejecting the polity and rule of the State in Colombo, the TNA must understand the responsibility vested with them by the people, she further said.
The Eelam Tamils know very well, that after the elections, the Sinhala rulers, having lost the elections, will avenge them outrageously with their military. Even then, they have risked their life and have sent out their message, Poonkuzhali said, adding that the message is nothing but rejection of the polity and rule of the Sinhala State in Colombo.
The election also shows that the Eelam Tamils are slowly coming out of the trauma and have started to fight back. That is why – beyond dense military presence, attacks on Tamil candidates, intimidation and humiliation in polling booths, Eelam Tamils have risked their lives to restore their dignity, she observed.
She traced a pattern in Tamil voting since 1977: TULF contesting on the Vaddukkoaddai Resolution based manifesto captured 18 out of 19 seats in 1977; 95 per cent boycotted local body elections in 1983 when the LTTE called for a boycott; TNA won 22 out of 23 seats in 2004; in 2005 when the LTTE wanted people to boycott the presidential elections, 95 per cent boycotted, and now the TNA victory.
The pattern is that whenever Eezham Tamils get a chance to vote they listen only to their own parties and not to any Sinhalese party. They categorically reject the rule of Sinhala polity and the rule of southern Sri Lanka over them, Poonkuzhali observed.
The election results also show what dangers are awaiting Eezham Tamils in the North, through demographic changes in the model that had already endangered the East, she cautioned.
“There are chances that this election results would have sent alarming messages to the ruling Sinhalese, which will motivate them to increase the unauthorised rampant settlement of Sinhalese in the North. Already the coastal areas of Vanni, Mannar and Mullaitheevu and the fertile lands of Vavuniya are occupied by the Sinhalese settlers. If this increases, the Eelam Tamils will be losing their legal hold on their homeland,” she cautioned further.
What Poonkuzhali fears should be achieved by the State in Colombo as quickly as possible, as the ‘lasting solution’ for the national question in the island, is the envisagement of New Delhi and Washington that have designed and decided the course of the genocidal war, and have set an internationally binding post-war process based on the Sinhala State’s LLRC recommendations.
Therefore, unless the Eezham Tamils, global Tamils and especially the Tamils in Tamil Nadu exercise their geopolitical weight and address the struggle directly and specifically against those two Establishments to the extent of affecting their geopolitical interests, no solution is going to come especially to the danger last mentioned by Poonkuzhali, commented Tamil activists for alternative politics in the island.
How the politicians were chosen for the NPC elections and what they have uttered before and after the voting are also messages sent to Tamils everywhere that the struggle is no more local or regional and that it has entered into a hitherto unseen internationalised phase, and that Tamils have to be prepared for that, the activists further commented.
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Full text of the feature by Poonkuzhali Nedumaran:
As nation-states move past war or even genocide, politics should eventually return to normal. But Eelam Tamils, still recovering from the killing field at Mullivaikaal in 2009, are put in a position to take up an abnormal political course, while the intention of genocide against them is very much alive and the structural genocide in a hitherto unseen and accelerated way is a daily routine. It is in such a context, the recent NPC election stands out, being different from all the ones that preceded it in the island in the post-colonial times.
Electoral politics in Sri Lanka can not be reasonably disentangled from political definition of provinces in Sri Lanka’s constitutional scheme. The provinces are the first level administrative divisions, and were first established under British colonial rule in 1833, after abolishing the territorial identities of the three kingdoms I the island. Initially there were five provinces which became nine later. However, over the next century most of the administrative functions were transferred to the districts, the second level administrative division, and by the mid-20th century, the provinces had become merely ceremonial, vacant of meaningfully delegated political power.
The state’s allocation of, or lack thereof, of Tamil political power within the constitutional scheme of government has been a contentious issue since the dawn of the post-colonial era on the island. Tamil political parties have consistently requested for a greater voice in the political system, be it through federalism or the exercise of the right to self-determination. For example, right from 1948, the first political demand of the Eelam Tamils was a Federal System of Government, in which the Eelam Tamils have a single Province of their own with rights to rule themselves. This demand had been insisted time and again by several Tamil political leaders.
The 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed between Rajiv Gandhi and J. R. Jayawardane, proposed an amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka, calling for Provincial Councils as an elected administrative body. This amendment is popularly known as the 13th amendment. History suggests, the 13th amendment was subterfuge for denying, rather than granting Eelam Tamils greater political autonomy. Though it was said that the purpose of 13th amendment was decentralization of powers, in practice it was not so.
While the Eelam Tamil demand was for the integration of the North and East of Sri Lanka as a single Province drawn from the Tamil homeland, the 13th amendment essentially did the opposite. It failed in categorically asserting to the unity of the North and East and it provided space for Sri Lanka’s judiciary to delink even the provisional unity of the contiguous space of Eezham Tamils. Furthermore, the demand for a Tamil Province was primarily for the Eelam Tamils to have control over their homeland. However, to obstruct and dilute this aspect, the 13th amendment devolved power to all the 9 Provinces, of which demographically, seven were Sinhala, and two were Tamil Provinces. While there is not much need for the Sinhala Provinces to have additional powers, as the Government of Sri Lanka is by itself a Sinhalese State, the need of the Eelam Tamils was overlooked, obfuscated within the political concept of unitary Sri Lankan identity. The Provincial Councils thus formed are powerless. Even the basic local administrative organs of Land and Police were vested with the Government of Sri Lanka. This was nowhere near the Federal System of Government. The Provincial Councils are neither federal in form nor in substance.
Now with Sri Lanka hosting the Commonwealth Conference in November 2013, and with the mounting International pressure, the Government of Sri Lanka is forced to show the world that the Eelam Tamils are at peace and the Government has restored democracy back in the island.
It is in this context that the Provincial Council Elections were conducted in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka comprising of Jaffna and Vanni regions, which form the main part of Eelam Tamils’ traditional home land. The first election to the Northern Province under a provisionally combined North and East, was conducted in 1987 with the presence of the IPKF. After that, this is the second time that the Northern Province of the island is voting to elect a Provincial Council. To camouflage the disparity existing in the political arena, elections were conducted for the Central Province and the North Western Province also along with the Northern Province.
In the Northern Province, Tamil National Alliance, comprising now of 5 Tamil Political parties, viz., TELO, EPRLF, PLOTE, TULF and ITAK, has won 28 out of the 36 seats, thereby qualifying to get 2 bonus seats. The ruling alliance, UPFA of Mahinda Rajapakse has got 7 seats and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has won 1 seat.
Setting aside the debate on what powers that the Provincial council has, or whether TNA is going to bring about a change, there is much more to understand from the statistics the results provide.
Statistics indicate that TNA has secured 84.37% of the total votes polled in Jaffna and 65.89% of the total votes polled in Vanni region. Rajapakse’s UPFA has secured 14.2% in Jaffna and 22.1% in Vanni. Ranil’s UNP has secured 0.34% in Jaffna and 1.04% in Vanni. The Jaffna and Vanni region have faced 5 elections after the tragic end of the war in 2009. These include the Presidential Election in 2010, General Parliament Election in 2010, Local Body elections in 2009 and 2011 and the recent Provincial Elections – 2013. The Presidential Elections which were held within one year of the end of the war had one Tamil contestant among the list of contestants. The lone Tamil contestant, M. K. Sivajilingam – an ex-member of Parliament – was at that time not openly supported by any political party. Mahinda Rajapakse who won this election secured 24.75% of votes in Jaffna and 27.31% of votes in Vanni.
The parliamentary elections which followed also saw Mahinda Rajapakse’s UPFA win. The TNA, which contested in this election won 5 out of 9 seats in Jaffna securing 43.85% of votes and 3 out of 6 seats in Vanni securing 38.96% of votes. Rajapakse’s UPFA closely followed TNA winning 3 seats in Jaffna securing 32.07% of votes and 2 seats in Vanni with 35.07% of votes. Ranil Wickremasinge’s UNP won one seat each in both Jaffna and Vanni. In the local body elections that were conducted in 2011, UPFA secured 24.43% in Jaffna and 31.04% in Vanni, while TNA secured 64.85% in Jaffna and 46.57% in Vanni.
These details project a picture that from 2009, UPFA has been securing 24 – 32% of votes in Jaffna and 27 – 35% of votes in Vanni, which means that UPFA has almost one-third of the people supporting it. The current results which shows that UPFA has secured just 14.2% in Jaffna and 22.1% in Vanni is intrepreted as the fall in the reputation of UPFA as a ruling party. In any elections held in any part of the world, it is natural that parties may win or lose based on their general reputation. But the elections in the Tamil Provinces of Sri Lanka cannot be weighed with the same scale, and must be distinguished. More than the reputation of parties, an ideological paradigm has a significant influence on these polls.
To understand this, we must analyze the the details of the election results. It is important to note that the above details are calculated based on the Total number of votes polled and not based on the number of registered voters. Statistically, it is normal to evaluate the results based on the number of votes polled (Quantitative). But these election results not only reflect the numbers, but the minds of people in a conflict situation (Qualitative). So it is essential to take into account the polling percentage and also to evaluate the reputation of each party based on the total registered voters.
For Instance, in the Presidential Elections of 2005, when LTTE called in for a boycott, Mahinda Rajapakse is said to have secured 28.31% of votes in Jaffna and Ranil Wickramasinghe 68.72%. But the overall polling in Jaffna was just 0.73%. Hence if the polling percentage and the votes against the total registered voters is not considered, the data is bound to mislead. In this background, it is notable that the Presidential Election of 2010, the general Parliament election of 2010 both saw just 25.66% and 23.33% of polling respectively in Jaffna and 40.33% and 43.89% in respectively in Vanni. Now, if we analyse the votes secured by UPFA in these elections based on the total number of registered voters, it is evident that UPFA has secured just 6.12% in Jaffna and 10.77% in Vanni in the Presidential Elections. Similarly, in the Parliament Elections of 2010, UPFA has secured just 6.6% in Jaffna and 14.05% in Vanni. If we apply the same parameter in the current Provincial Council Elections in which the polling was 64.15% in Jaffna and 72.44% in Vanni, the votes secured by UPFA stands at 8.43% in Jaffna and 16.01% in Vanni.
On the contrary, applying the same parameter, the TNA which secured just 9.03% of the total registered voters in the Parliament Elections of 2010, has now secured 50.12% of the total registered voters in Jaffna. Similarly in Vanni, TNA which had secured 15.61% in 2010 has now secured 47.73% of the total registered voters. While the votes secured by UPFA have not shown much difference with the change in the polling percentage, the votes secured by TNA shows a proportionate increase. If we need to accept that there is not much change in the reputation of Rajapakse and his governance, we must also accept that the reputation of TNA has increased so rapidly from 2010 to 2013.
But both are not true. The truth is that, whenever the Eelam Tamils people get a chance to vote, they vote for their own Party, and not for any Sinhalese party. They have categorically rejected the Sinhalese parties and thereby Southern Sri Lanka ruling them. In 2010, the people were deprived of thier fundamental right to cast their vote. Does that mean the Eelam Tamil’s right to vote is being reinstated now? Or the democracy is restored in Sri Lanka? Rather, it is only that, the Eelam Tamils are slowly coming out of the trauma and have started to fight back. That is why – beyond dense military presence, attacks on Tamil candidates, intimidation and humiliation in polling booths, Eelam Tamils have risked their lives to restore their dignity. From 1977, the elections were used by the Eelam Tamils to communicate more than just who their representative was. The elections held in the Tamil homeland in the island was never just to acquire seats and go by the governance of Sri Lanka but rather was a vehicle to communicate their will.
In 1977, when the TULF contested the Parliamentary election with a single point manifesto to achieve ‘Self-Determination of Tamils through a separate Tamil Nation’, out of the 19 seats 18 seats were won by them, indicating that the majority of the people were for separate Tamil Eelam Nation. In 1983, during the Local bodies election, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam called for the people to boycott the election, on the line of the struggle for a separate Tamil Eelam Nation. Though LTTE was at that time just one among the 5 militant organisations and the smallest in number, the people accepted their call and 95% of them boycott the election. In 2004 Parliamentary elections, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), then comprising of 4 Tamil Political parties, viz., TELO, EPRLF, ITAK and ACTC, contested the election stating that they accept the leadership of LTTE in the struggle for a separate Tamil Eelam Nation. TNA won 22 of the total 23 seats. In 2005 Presidential Elections, LTTE called for boycott and more than 95% boycott the election. In Jaffna, which was under Government Control at that time, the polling was only 1.21%.
As such, this Provincial Election too, has been effectively used as a tool by the Eelam Tamils to express themselves to the world, who are otherwise completely restricted of any expressions due to the absence of constitutional free speech protections and dense post-war militarization of Tamil home land. This is not just a mandate in support of TNA as a political party. The people’s decision clearly indicates that the people want to rule among themselves and do not want to be ruled by any Sinhalese party. It is nothing but a complete rejection of the Sinhalese and the Southern Sri Lanka from ruling them.
Further, this election cannot in anyway serve as a facade for eluding Sri Lanka’s responsibility for war crimes and genocide. In fact, the attacks by the military on the candidates and other such intimidating actions add to the crimes and human rights violations of the Government of Sri Lanka.
An other important message this Election results convey is the effect of Sinhalese settlements, that bring about demographic changes in the Tamil homeland thereby paving way for the Sinhalese parties to anchor themselves in the Tamil homeland. This has already been achieved in the East. There are chances that this election results would have sent alarming messages to the ruling Sinhalese, which will motivate them to increase the unauthorised rampant settlement of Sinhalese in the North. Already the coastal areas of Vanni, Mannar and Mullaitheevu and the fertile lands of Vavuniya are occupied by the Sinhalese settlers. If this increases, the Eelam Tamils will be losing their legal hold on their home land.
The Eelam Tamils know very well, that after the elections, the Sinhala rulers, having lost the elections, will avenge them outrageously with their military. Even then, they have risked their life and sent out their message. With the Eelam Tamils rejecting the Sinhalese polity and the State in Colombo amidst draconian laws and horrifying conditions, TNA must understand the responsibility vested with them by the people through this elections. In 1977, the TULF was vested with such responsibility. TULF contested the elections with a single manifesto of ‘Self-Determination of Tamils through a separate Tamil Nation’, which gained the overwhelming support of the Eelam Tamils. But after the sudden demise of SJV Chelvanayakam, TULF gave up its will to Self-Determination, and agreed for District Councils. This is what triggered the Tamil youth to lose their confidence in such Parliamentary methods. They were pushed to take up arms to defend and restore the rights of their people and land. The TNA should learn from history. They should learn from their predecessors of what should NOT be done.