With the campaign trails of the presidential candidates entering in the final stage, the political formations of the main candidates seem to be exhausting all possible strategies at their disposal to swing votes in their favour. Ahead of the elections, two significant political events took place this week. One is that the Ilankai Tamil Arashu Katchchi (ITAK) which is the dominant force of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) decided to support National Democratic Front’s candidate Sajith Premadasa last Sunday. The other is that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga pledging support to Mr. Premadasa at a summit convened on Tuesday.
The ITAK’s decision, though taken after much deliberation, was virtually a foregone conclusion. And for many, there was nothing surprising about it because the ITAK or TNA for that matter had stood by the candidates fielded by the political fronts led by the United National Party (UNP) both in 2010 and 2015. If not for the boycott engineered by the LTTE at the 2005 presidential elections, the TNA would have thrown its lot behind then UNP candidate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for sure.
Mr. Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa - did not respond positively to the 13 demands put forward by five Tamil parties, including the three TNA parties. These demands include the merger of the North and East, the release of LTTE suspects commonly called Tamil political prisoners and private lands held by the military, and power sharing
Voting at a presidential elections has always been polarized. There is no exception since signs of such polarization are all the more apparent. In such a way, the ITAK would have gone by the sentiments of the Tamil people in the North and East when taking its position as far as the presidential election is concerned.
The People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), another ally of the TNA, fell in line with the ITAK forthwith. However, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), the third ally, sought further contemplation. The party was to have a meeting yesterday to take its final decision.
The ITAK will be able to deliver the majority of Tamil votes to the candidate of its choice, for sure. However, unlike last time, the party is bound to face some hiccups in its attempt to ensure that the Tamils vote en bloc for its chosen candidate. Last time, it succeeded in ensuring that Tamil constituents en bloc cast their ballots to President Maithripala Sirisena who was the common presidential candidate. Today, political dynamics have changed, making it challenging for the ITAK to perform the same in favour of the candidate handpicked by it. It will succeed in ensuring a majority, but faces hurdles in getting the support of voters en bloc.
The ITAK will be able to deliver the majority of Tamil votes to the candidate of its choice, for sure. However, unlike last time, the party is bound to face some hiccups in its attempt to ensure that the Tamils vote en bloc for its chosen candidate
One main reason is the lack of voter enthusiasm in the North and East compared to 2015. The two main candidates - Mr. Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa - did not respond positively to the 13 demands put forward by five Tamil parties, including the three TNA parties. These demands include the merger of the North and East, the release of LTTE suspects commonly called Tamil political prisoners and private lands held by the military, and power sharing. Mr. Rajapaksa declined to accept any of these demands, whereas Mr. Premadasa did not commit to them.
So for some Tamil constituents who are concerned about their long standing political demands, there is no reason to be excited about the two main candidates. For them, there is no stimulant as such to turn up in large numbers and vote for any candidate since no one is committing to realize their demands.
Likewise, two other Tamil parties - the Tamil Makkal Kootani (TMK) led by former Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) led by former MP Suresh Premachandran - have reservation about the ITAK’s decision to support Mr. Premadasa. Instead, they have asked the Tamil people to vote as they wish. “None of the candidates responded our requests positively. Therefore, there is no valid reason for us to vote for any of the candidates. Therefore, we ask people to vote according to their conscience,” Mr. Premachandran said.
These two parties are in alliance with each other. They have a following in the North and the East. Besides, the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) led by former MP Gajan Ponnambalam has also called for a boycott of the elections by the Tamil voters in the north and east.
These are not factors that trigger enthusiasm among voters. As such, voter turnout in the North and East could possibly be less than last time. However, those who do vote, would do so according to a clearly defined line
These are not factors that trigger enthusiasm among voters. As such, voter turnout in the North and East could possibly be less than last time. However, those who do vote, would vote according to a clearly defined line.
That may be the case in the North. But dynamics in the Eastern Province are slightly different from those of the North this time around. It is a province where all the three communities live. In the Batticaloa and Digamadulla electoral districts in particular, the divide between the Tamils and Muslims is likely to go against the TNA’s aspirations at this election. Likewise, it is reported that Tamils in the Kalmunai electorate are outraged with the government for its failure to carve out a separate divisional secretariat for Tamil areas. These issues would work against the TNA to a certain extent in these two districts.