Underscoring that presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa’s election manifesto is progressive on furthering democratic reforms including key Tamil considerations such as continuing with the constitutional reform process, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) urged the Tamil people in the Northern and Eastern provinces and throughout Sri Lanka to freely exercise their franchise at the November 16 election.
It said in a statement that SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto, on the other hand, has strong national security focus, but no serious commitment to expanding the fledgeling democratic space.
“The refusal by all major presidential contestants to engage with Tamil political leaders based on their collective positions is also disappointing. All those negative sentiments, however, should not lead to political apathy and despondency. It is important that Tamil people take an active part in this election, instead of giving into flawed thinking such as 'sending a message to the international community’ through ineffective voting strategies. Also important is that the Tamil people should use their vote wisely for a candidate who has a realistic chance of winning. Any wasted vote may lead to the election of a candidate, not to their liking,” the GTF said.
Referring to the promises made at the early stages of the current government, the GTF said “The present government during its early years offered hope by initiating democratic reforms. There was also the promise to deal with wartime accountability and formulate a new constitution to accommodate Tamil political aspirations. However, progress on most fronts came to a halt during the past two years. There were even notable reversals, demonstrating the weaknesses of Sri Lanka’s reform processes and the vulnerability of its key institutions”.
It said in this context, the upcoming presidential election raised genuine doubts about whether Sri Lanka would restart and broaden its reform agenda or change course, perhaps for the worse.
GTF also referred Mr. Premadasa’s election manifesto and said it was progressive on furthering democratic reforms, which included key Tamil considerations such as the continuation of the constitutional reform process, power-sharing and reconciliation commitments, and respecting international treaties and resolutions. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto, on the other hand, has a strong national security focus, but no serious commitment to expanding the fledgeling democratic space.
“A more democratic Sri Lanka that is respectful of human rights is a worthy goal to achieve for all its citizens. Though on its own it does not allay the fears and apprehensions of the minority communities, particularly the Tamils, such democratic framework offers more space and opportunities for furthering their interests. All these considerations need to be in the Tamil people’s mind when making their choice at the upcoming election,” the GTF said. “Concerning human rights, we are also conscious of the appalling human rights, governance and rule of law record when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the defence secretary – wanton violence and enforced disappearances, threats to media personnel, and intimidation and violence against Tamil, Muslim and Christian communities. Return to such an era, coupled with isolationist international policies, is the nightmarish scenario feared under a Rajapaksa Presidency.”
The GTF said whether Sri Lanka should continue determined to advance the stalled reform process or follow a different political agenda, possibly losing recent democratic gains and perhaps even entering an era of authoritarianism, are matters the electorate must weigh carefully at this presidential election.
“Most importantly, all eligible Tamil voters should cast their votes and be part of the democratic process of determining the country’s future political direction,” the GTF said.