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NPC Election and the Future of Lankan Tamil Politics

NPC Election and the Future of Lankan Tamil Politics

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Published by: Thavam on Jun 02, 2013
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June 2, 2013 |
This year promises to be a decisive one for Lankan Tamils. Events that take place this year will considerably determine the future trajectory of Tamil politics. It is only a beginning where the end of the
’stotalitarianism gives the Tamils opportunity to evaluate their nationalist politics that has brought only tragedy so far.Failure to do this would have tragic consequences.The concluded UNHRC sessions and theproposed CHOGM make up the list of keyinternational fixtures. Efforts of the
– likethe formation of 
– and other such diaspora groups willprovide much entertainment, all to no avail. Apartfrom these events, the continuing strugglebetween Tamil Nadu and the Indian CentralGovernment will also be of significance for India’sneed to wake up from her long slumber in tryingto wish away an explosive situation on her doorstep.However, local political (and economic)developments are what matter most. The climax,no doubt, will be the promised NorthernProvincial Council election to be held inSeptember (or August, according to the ElectionsCommissioner).Despite the fact that Provincial Councils, in their present form, are powerless
organs and of little consequence indetermining the national political discourse, Tamils simply cannot afford to lose come this September. There arethree prime reasons for this. First, to lose in a free and fair election would, foremost, delegitimise everything Tamilshave fought for in the past thirty years, and effectively spell doom for the Tamil cause
.Second, it will legitimisethe regime’s post-war dynastic project, consolidate Rajapaksa power, and significantly undermine internaldemocratic resistance against the incumbent regime. Third, calls for justice and accountability from human rightsdefenders, too, will – at least partly – be rendered meaningless. Therefore, the election is of immense importancefor both Tamils and, indeed, for all Sri Lankans who desire justice and democracy. A Tamil – and thereby, a TNA –victory is an utmost necessity.Connected to the NPC election are several matters that demand careful analysis.Militarisation and Sinhalese ColonisationSinhalese colonisation schemes that are being carried out in the North (and in the East) will, in the long run,undermine the political power of Tamils. When viewed in relation to the NPC election there are at least twoimmediate concerns.First, given that the present regime is a master at the electoral game, a sizeable Sinhalese population – coupledwith heavy military presence – in the North will be an important weapon wielded by the government. As TisaraneeGunasekara noted in her incisive analysis of militarisation inSri Lanka:
Militarisation in the North is aimed not only at imposing a non-consensual peace on Tamils but also atimplementing a project of demographic re-engineering…military cantonments would break the contiguity of Tamilvillages in the North and act as control centres and as symbols of dominance. They would form expanding Sinhalaislands in a contracting Tamil sea…And the Sinhala soldiers and families can become an excellent first line of defence against any Tamil struggle for political rights and democratic freedoms.”
The primary concern, then, is the manner in which the military and the Sinhalese population will be used by thestate during the election. During the days leading up to the Eastern Provincial Council elections last year, a groupcalling itself the ‘blue force’, threatened Tamils who came to place a vote for the TNA. Given the significance of theNPC election, a rise in such activities can be expected.The second concern is related to the electoral numbers game. There is a distinct possibility that the government willresort to ballot stuffing and other forms of election rigging techniques. While moving enough Sinhalese to the Northbefore the election to independently effect a substantial electoral gain is unlikely, the Sinhalese vote couldnevertheless be decisive when combined with the Muslim vote in these areas. The rapid pace at which newSinhalese settlements are being created only validates such fears. The result would spell disaster for the colonisersand the colonised alike, possibly leading to anarchy and bitterness: resources are scarce, and the Government’splans neither go beyond grand promises to the Sinhalese populating the North, nor evince any long term plans or means for their welfare.Implications of TNA’s Internal ConflictsThe internal politics of the Tamil National Alliance also adds an interesting dimension to the NPC election. An articlethat appeared in Thinakkural sums up the matter in detail:
TNA’s internal conflicts are not ideological clashes: they are strictly related to power. It is evident that SureshPremachandran wants to become the leader of the TNA, after Sampanthan. However, Sampanthan, and thus theITAK, is pushing Sumanthiran as the next leader. For Suresh, it is securing public opinion in his favour [that] iscrucial. Therefore, becoming the Chief Minister of the Northern Provinceis an essential component of Suresh’sgame plan. However, in the existing administrative framework of the TNA, it is the ITAK that nominates candidates;unless the alliance is registered as a separate political party before the NPC elections Suresh stands no chance obeing nominated. The real intentions behind the constituent parties’ demands to register the TNA will come to lightwhen the Northern PC elections arrive: if the nominee is someone else, Suresh will break away from the TNA totest his luck.
The reality is such that the ITAK and the constituent parties can achieve very little as individual political entities.Here, the role of the Indian Central Government is also worthy of attention. When the TNA visited India lastOctober, the Central Government reportedly emphasised internal unity.
As for the Indian Central Government,the primary factors that underscore the need for a coherent strategy as regards the Lankan Tamil question areTamil Nadu and China. If protests in south India rage unquenched, it will cause many headaches for the CentralGovernment. The last thing the Congress needs is a fully hostile Tamil Nadu before the General Election next year.China has already become the principal foreign investor in Sri Lanka, and the influence of the Asian giant istangible. China’s growing power over Sri Lanka clearly undermines India’s role as the regional super power. Additionally, for India, the 13
Amendment carries an emotional dimension to it as well. A split in the TNA will landIndia in a rather precarious situation: that is, it will be pushed to take sides. In light of India’s recent track recordwith regard to Sri Lanka, it can be assumed that it will back the ITAK. The damage a split will cause, domesticallyand internationally, will be horrendous. Domestically, the Tamil vote will split up and cause severe harm to (what isleft of) Tamil political power; internationally, it will give the impression that Tamils are divided and their aspirationsdistorted. It is, therefore, only logical that the constituent parties, including the ITAK, somehow stay together.The smaller constituents of the TNA have gained much ground over the past few weeks. Leaders of the four smaller constituents, in late February, unanimously agreed to register the TNA by the end of March, with or without theconsent of the ITAK. In effect, this was an ultimatum. The decision, naturally, forced the ITAK to reconsider itsstance on the matter and prompted several compromises from its hierarchy.
But, if the appraisal of Thinakkural is correct, registering the TNA now might not be an optimal step as far as thefuture of Tamil politics is concerned. Suresh Premachandran is a very ambitious individual, and his political historysuggests that he is capable of taking extreme measures to meet his personal ends. The manner in which Sureshpushed the issue of registration last year provoked a senior citizen from the Tamil diaspora to describe him by theidiom ‘bull in aChinashop’. The post-Sampanthan era will, no doubt, pose major challenges. Tamils can only hopethat Sumanthiran and Premachandran work together and complement each other. The Northern PC election will setthe precedent for the future.The Role of the Governor and the Future of Douglas DevanandaThe Northern Governor has, in the absence of a Provincial Council, established himself as a powerful individual. Itis reported that he has his eyes firmly set on acquiring the powers of land distribution before the elections. If theTNA wins it will have to come up with a strategy to curb the Governor’s powers.Douglas Devananda, who is seen by most Tamils as a partner-in-crime of the Governor, has proclaimed his desireto become the Chief Minister. Yet, there are rumours that the government may consider KP as the candidate for theCM portfolio. If that happens,Douglas’ standing as a leader will diminish. He is already a spent force. The very factthatDouglasis considering competing in the PC election goes to show that his Ministerial portfolio is meaningless.However, if Douglas secures the UPFA’s nomination, the NPC election will make for a violence-filled denouement.Re-emergence of the TNPF as a Major Political ForceRe-emergence of the TNPF, headed by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, as an influential political force is a factor that must not be underestimated. The TNPF demonstrated its opportunistic instincts when it, unwarrantedly,condemned Sampanthan for comments the TNA leader had made with regard to the LTTE’s conduct. Furthermore,Ponnambalam’s political agenda is not Tamil nationalism, but rather Tamil-Hindu nationalism. Ponnambalam hasdefined the Tamil nation as a people of the same religion in his interviews with TamilNet.The TNPF also wields significant power over Tamil university students. This coupled with strong diaspora backingcan cause substantial damage to the TNA (It is worthy to note that the TNA has done little as regards creatingopportunities for young Tamils to engage in politics). The manner in which the TNPF approaches the NPC electionwill set the tone for future TNA-TNPF confrontations.ConclusionsSinhalese settlements and the military must be handled with foresight. The Tamil side must demand intenseinternational attention and monitoring mechanisms for a long period, starting well before the actual day of theelection. Token presence of monitors on Election Day will only serve to legitimize the election carried out under conditions of threat and intimidation. It must also be noted that there are reasons why the government may stillconduct a relatively clean election: first, in all probability, the victory margin of the TNA will be too overwhelming toerase by fraud; second, given the stakes of the election there will be considerable international, especially Indian,attention.The political reality of Tamils is such that it is of immense importance that the TNA decidedly wins the NPC election.However, the leaders of the TNA must recognise the weight of their responsibility and act accordingly. SureshPremachandran, in this regard, has a lot to learn. Informed sources claim that the Chief Minister candidate, in allprobability, will be Mavai Senathirajah. Premachandran, we can assume, knows better than to defect from the TNA,lest the fate of Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam befall him. He will be very reluctant to show himself as someonehindering Tamil unity, especially since he is keen on leading Tamils in the future. However, there is a verydangerous possibility that Suresh may stay within the alliance and continue to cause internal headaches.If Premachandran is serious about leading the Tamil people, he must first reduce his appetite for petty quarrels, andprove that he is committed to principles of fairness, justice and equality. Tamils cannot afford to have another leader in the mould of Prabhakaran. He must set his focus on matters that concern the Tamil cause, as opposed to trivial

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