By Noor Nizam
The victory of the UPFA in the recent Eastern Provincial Council elections has to be given serious thought by the Muslim community. Though the UPFA has got 204000 votes and captured 14 seats, this does not mean that the UPFA is the governing body of the Eastern Provincial Council. If the UPFA had got at least 21 seats, then the situation would have been different as it could have been sworn in to governance with their CM candidate. By doing so, they could have formed the EP Council political administration without any hassle.
But the realities are different. In the beginning it was that the UPFA would also field candidates nominated by the SLMC, a constituent party of the UPFA coalition in Parliament. Due to certain demands put forward by the SLMC hierarchy, which were not agreeable to the UPFA and two other Muslim-based political parties (break away groups of the SLMC) who are also constituent parties of the coalition government of the UPFA, at the very last moment, the SLMC decided to contest the Eastern Provincial Elections on its own.
This is the political dilemma that had created a situation where the Muslims of the East are facing, viz-a-viz the support expected by the government to form the new UPFA Eastern Province political administration. The ground cause for the SLMC to give in to the majority call of its “poraaligals”from the East were the issues which had been placed before the government by the General Secretary of the SLMC and nominated MP Hassali of Ninthavur.
These are many issues that come under the purview of the 13th amendment and made law by the central government. SLMC parliamentarian Hassanali echoed the sentiments/grievances of the Eastern Muslim voters. The Muslims who comprise 8% of the population have been a sidelined community in the political annals of Sri Lanka until 1981, and then in 1986 the SLMC entered the national political arena of Sri Lanka Since 1946, the elite of the Muslim community in Colombo benefited the best until a change took place in the early 1960s with the late Hon. Badiuddin Mahmud becoming the Minister of Education, under the late Hon. Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike as the PM then.
The advent of the late M.H.M. Ashraff, an SLFP’er himself then, later created the SLMC in 1981. On 11th September 1981 the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was established at Kathankudy in the Batticaloa district under the Chairmanship of Marhoom A. L. Ahmed. Marhoom M H M Ashraff was elected its Founder President. This Party was formed by a small group of Eastern province political leaders. Marhoom Ashraff was a good motivator and the key mobilizer in organizing meetings, and question and answer sessions with Muslim youth, where he began to get people to think seriously and question the Muslim leaders under the majority Sinhalese parties, then. He had the ability to inspire the younger generation of Muslims who were losing faith in the country. He aroused tremendous hope and optimism by talking little things to people. In November 1986 the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was formally inaugurated as a political party at the “badsha” festival held in Colombo with Marhoom Ashraff as its Leader. The late M.H.M. Ashraff had a vision for his people in doing so.
The Eastern Muslims were very much battered by this unethical practice of the Northerners. This is not an allegation against the Tamil community of the East or the Trincomalee district, but the truth cannot be swept under the carpet at this crucial moment of the history of the Eastern Province that will be opening under the possibilities of an SLMC-UPFA Eastern Province Council Political Administration.
This was also a reason for Karuna Amman to break away in March 2004 from Prabhakaran and to help the government forces to clear the East from the LTTE presence. The government as a result of the demerger, called for an Eastern Provincial Council election which took place on May 10, 2008 to elect members to the Council, even at the peak of the war against the LTTE. At this election, the Eastern Muslims got their majority. 18 of the 35 elected councilors were Muslims. Of these eight were in government ranks. Only ten of the elected councilors were Tamils. Of these only six were from the TMVP. But the biggest loss was for the Muslims when they lost lock stock and barrel’ the possibility of having a Muslim Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council. Was this due to petty selfish regional politics or political selfishness and greed for positions by neglecting the overall benefits to the Muslims in the East or due to the failure of political “CUEMANSHIP” by a certain Muslim political leader, is well explained today.
Today, this situation has changed for good. The Muslims in the East did not oppose Mahimda Rajapaksa. They opposed some of the detrimental administrative policies of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. The general Secretary of the SLMC and the Leader of the SLMC have gone on record stating this to the media in the run-up to the EPC elections. Therefore “politics should not be confrontational, but participatory”.
Muslims in the east have their issues to settle and this they have to talk over with an open mind and heart with MR. Mahinda Rajapaksa when deliberating the tie-up to the formation of a coalition of the SLMC and the UPFA to form the new EPC political Administration. Nevertheless, the SLMC should be very happy that the President has engaged a very able and trustworthy young politician with innovative vision to be the facilitator and mediator between the two parties. Young to politics, but well known as a “doer”, Parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena can be trusted as a person who is well informed, read and balanced in his thinking of the ethnic and socioeconomic issues of all Sri Lankans, especially being involved in the internal issues of this area and the challenges in the international forum.
Muslims in the east have their issues to settle. With the balanced and trusted understanding of the facilitator/mediator, parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena in place, the SLMC is in the “Right place at the Right time, with the Right people”. The SLMC cannot fail this time.