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Jaffna Mayor election defeat causes crisis in TNA-ITAK


2 January 2021 02:06 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


While being lesser in numbers to the TNA, these MP’s are themselves  politically divided and seemingly  incapable of aligning as a united  bloc to  challenge the TNA

The TNA is  heading for a major crisis due to internal differences and rivalry

Arnold’s candidacy was approved by the ITAK,TELO and PLOTE at the meeting. All TNA councillors were instructed to vote for Arnold

All ten councillors from the EPDP also supported Manivannan. In addition one of the two SLFP councillors also voted for him. 

TNA Leader and veteran Trincomalee MP R.Sampanthan told the media that he had not been informed of Emmanuel Arnold being picked as the Mayoral candidate by the TNA hence he could not be held responsible for the party defeat


D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Tamil National Alliance(TNA)  is the premier political configuration representing the Tamils of North -Eastern Sri Lanka.  The TNA comprising the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK),Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) and Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE) has ten MP’s in the present Parliament. Of these nine are elected parliamentarians while one was appointed as a  National list MP. Six  including the nominated MPs are from  the ITAK while the TELO and PLOTE have three and one MPs respectively. The TNA contests polls under the House symbol of its chief constituent the ITAK.

Although the TNA tally dropped drastically from 16 in 2015 to 10 in 2020, the alliance continues to retain its dominant position in Tamil electoral politics. Parties opposed to the TNA such as the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party(EPDP), Tamil National Peoples Front(TNPF), Tamil Peoples National Alliance(TPNA),Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal(TMVP), Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) have together eight Tamil MP’s from the North and East in Parliament. While being lesser in numbers to the TNA, these MP’s are themselves  politically divided and seemingly  incapable of aligning as a united  bloc to  challenge the TNA.

Furthermore the TNA is the only Tamil Party to have MPs  from all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The TNA has three each  elected from the Jaffna and Wanni districts and one each elected  from the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts. No Tamil MP was elected from the Amparai district. However the TNA national list MP was specifically appointed from there to represent the district in Parliament.

Even though the reversals suffered  at the 2020 Parliamentary poll have contributed to an erosion of its monolithic image, the TNA continues to remain the chief political formation representing the Sri Lankan Tamils. The TNA may have lost its sheen at the 2020 Parliamentary hustings, but  certainly not its foremost position. However recent events  have indicated  that the TNA may soon lose this position too due to internal dissension.


Inner-party divisions
 The TNA is  heading for a major crisis due to internal differences and rivalry. These inner-party divisions came to light in the 2020 election campaign and were a major cause for the TNA’s poor electoral performance. Thereafter the  continuing intra-TNA tensions  simmered and exploded last week. The flashpoint of tension was the election of a new Mayor by the Jaffna Municipal Council. The TNA candidate who was the incumbent Mayor  lost by a single vote resulting in Jaffna having a non-TNA Mayor.

What has happened in essence seems to be this.  The TNA with 16 of the 45 Jaffna Municipal councillors, formed the Jaffna municipal administration in 2018. The ITAK was allocated the Mayor post while the post of Deputy-mayor was given to the TELO. Emmanuel Arnold of the ITAK was elected TNA Mayor of Jaffna. The budget presented for 2021  by Mayor Emmanuel Arnold was defeated twice in succession this year. Legally, Arnold was compelled to forfeit (Deemed to have resigned) his position and a new election was scheduled.

ITAK President and former Jaffna district MP Somasundaram Senathirajah known as “Maavai” wanted to nominate Emmanuel Arnold again as Mayoral  candidate. Maavai was supported in this by his political strategist and former Northern Provincial Council chairman C.V.K.Sivagnanam, Jaffna District MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan and many Jaffna Municipal councillors. However some other  Jaffna Municipal Councillors as well the  two Jaffna district MP’s elected from the ITAK (the third Siddharthan is from PLOTE), Sivagnam Shritharan and Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran were not in favour of Arnold. 

Sumanthiran opined that it would be ethically improper and morally questionable to re-nominate Arnold again as Mayor. Both MP’s suggested that another Jaffna MMC Solomon Cyril be nominated instead. Incidentally Cyril is also a former Parliamentarian. TNA Parliamentary group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan and ITAK Acting General Secretary Dr.Pathmanathan Sathiyalingam were also supportive of Cyril’s candidacy. 

Furthermore some non -TNA parties opposed the ousted Arnold becoming Mayor again and had pledged to support any other ITAK/TNA candidate other than Arnold. Under these circumstances, It was  pointed out to Senathirajah that there was a very strong possibility of the TNA candidate being elected Mayor without a vote, if Arnold was not nominated. Moreover another potential ‘danger’ was also pinpointed. If the ousted Arnold became Mayor again and submitted a budget for the third time and that gets defeated the entire council would be deemed dissolved.


Emmanuel Arnold
The “Maavai” Senathirajah -CVK Sivagnanam duo went ahead with their plans despite the contrary position taken by an influential section of the ITAK as well as some non -TNA parties. At a hastily conducted meeting  held   in Jaffna with Senathirajah presiding, it was decided that Arnold would be the TNA Mayoral candidate. Prior to the decision being formally approved, Emmanuel Arnold made an emotional speech imploring that he be re-nominated as Mayoral candidate. Arnold’s candidacy was approved by the ITAK,TELO and PLOTE at the meeting. All TNA councillors were instructed to vote for Arnold. The media was also officially informed of Emmanuel Arnold’s candidacy. Thus those opposing the nomination of Arnold were presented with a “Fait Accompli”. Media reports also stated that emissaries were sent by the Maavai- CVK duo to non -TNA parties seeking their support for Emmanuel Arnold.

When the Jaffna Mayoral election was held on December 30 there were two competitors in the fray.The TNA’s Arnold was challenged by Visvalingam Manivannan of the Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF). Though Manivannan was elected MMC from the TNPF contesting under the Cycle symbol of the Ahila Ilangai Tamil Congress (AITC) in 2018, he has fallen foul of the TNPF hierarchy after the 2020 Parliamentary poll. Expelled by the party, Manivannan has been forced to seek legal recourse to retain his position. A group of TNPF councillors in the Jaffna MC are Manivannan loyalists.The TNPF leadership comprising Parliamentarians Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Selvarajah Gajendran advised Party MMC’s to refrain from voting at the election in a bid to scuttle Manivannan’s bid for  the Mayoralty stakes. It may be recalled that Manivannan was the official TNPF candidate at the 2018 Jaffna Mayor election.

The  Jaffna Mayor election was presided over and  conducted by Northern Province Local Government Commissioner M.Patrick Diranjan. All 45 MMC’s were present. At the outset it was decided unanimously that it would be open voting and not a secret ballot. When voting began 15 of the 16 TNA councillors voted for Arnold. The solitary exception was Mahalingam Arutkumaran who abstained. Three MMC’s of the UNP and one from the SLFP also voted for Arnold. The lone TULF councllor also voted in favour of Arnold who obtained 20 votes in all.


Visvalingam Manivannan
Arnold however lost by one vote to  Visvalingam Manivannan. Although the TNPF leadership had ordered its MMC’s to refrain from voting an overwhelming number defied the diktat and cast their votes for Manivannan. Ten TNPF councillors voted for him while only three abstained. All ten councillors from the EPDP also supported Manivannan. In addition one of the two SLFP councillors also voted for him. (the other voted for Arnold). Thus Manivannan had 21 votes to Arnold’s 20. With three TNPF and One TNA councillor abstaining, Manivannan had got 21 of the 41 votes cast and won. Visvalingam Manivannan was declared the winner. He promptly  donned the crimson cloak, occupied the Mayor’s chair and thanked all who voted for him. 

When the TNA’s defeat became known the excreta collided with the oscillator! TNA Leader and veteran Trincomalee MP R.Sampanthan told the media that he had not been informed of Emmanuel Arnold being picked as the Mayoral candidate by the TNA. As such he could not be held responsible for the party defeat, stated Sampanthan. Former Northern provincial minister and ITAK acting Secretary-general Dr. Sathiyalingam and Jaffna District ITAK parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran wrote directly to the  ITAK President Senathirajah blaming him for the debacle. 

Sumanthiran’s missive was reported widely in the Tamil media. The lawyer-MP had chronicled  in detail  all interaction  that  transpired  between him and Senathirajah in this matter and charged “Maavai” of unilaterally nominating Arnold. Sumanthiran flung the  gauntlet down by castigating the ITAK leader for his acts of omission and commission and declared that Senathirajah should take all responsibility for the defeat.

“Maavai” Senathirajah responded in turn by taking on Sumanthiran frontally. The ITAK chief rejected the charges by Sumanthiran and reiterated that Arnold was not his choice,  but that of all the TNA Jaffna municipal councillors. He also said that TNA constituents TELO and PLOTE had also approved Arnold as candidate.  He also hinted that Sumanthiran was defying party discipline by criticizing his leadership publicly. When journalists asked Senathirajah on December 31  whether he would reply in detail to Sumanthiran, the ITAK president said he would do so after January 1, 2021 as he did not want to engage in unpleasant tasks on the first day of the  New Year.


Clashing on Social Media
Meanwhile supporters of Senathirajah and Sumanthiran began clashing on social media. Several Tamil  Newspapers, Websites, radio and TV stations also began adopting  different positions on the issue. It appears therefore that the Jaffna  Mayor election issue  may very well be the  precursor to a more intense political conflict between what may be described as the ‘camps’ of Senathirajah and Sumanthiran. Unlike the  clash between the Senathirajah-Saravanapavan duo and the Sumanthiran-Shritharan duo  before,during and after the 2020 Parliamentary election campaign, this ‘spat’ has serious ramifications with long-term consequences for the parties concerned.

The past months after the August 2020 election have seen a ‘cold war’ between Senathirajah and Sumanthiran where the former has been resorting to several controversial measures to undermine Sumanthiran and sideline Sampanthan. Hence there are many who feel  that an open confrontation  may help to resolve this ‘trial of strength’. The danger in this is the potential fragmentation of the TNA in general and the ITAK in particular. The factors and  reasons   causing the current intra-party  crisis and its possible outcome may be analysed in greater detail in a future article.

What is most interesting about the 2020 Jaffna Mayoral election is the sense of Déjà vu it evokes with the 2018  Jaffna Mayor election albeit with a sharp twist.    The roles of the protagonist and antagonist are reversed in this political drama.The 2018 winner Emmanuel Arnold is the loser in 2020 while  Visvalingam  Manivannan who lost in 2018  has won in 2020. Besides there are changes in the roles played by other characters in this exercise  also. I have written extensively about the 2018 Jaffna Mayor election in my column for the “Daily Mirror” of March 31, 2018. I shall conclude therefore  with an abbreviated version of that article to provide readers a glimpse into what happened then.


Seven Political Parties.
When  elections to local authorities  in Sri Lanka were held on February 10, 2018 , the municipal elections in Jaffna assumed great  political significance . Winning the Jaffna municipal poll and electing its candidate as Mayor became  a prestigious political party  battle. Seven political parties or groupings were in the race for the Jaffna municipal stakes comprising 45 seats(27 wards and 18 PR.) The contenders were the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) contesting under the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK) symbol of house.The TNA comprises the ITAK, PLOTE and TELO; the Tamil National Peoples Front(TNPF) contesting under the Ahila Ilangai  Tamil Congress(AITC) symbol of cycle; the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF) contesting under the  Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) symbol of Sun along with the TULF;the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party(EPDP);the United National Party(UNP);the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP).

There were 56, 245 registered electors  of whom 40,916 voted at the polls. With 586 votes being rejected, 40,330 votes were counted as valid. The  ITAK polled the highest 14,424(35.76%)and was entitled to 16 seats. The AITC coming next polled  12,020(29.08%) and obtained 13 seats. The EPDP came third polling 8,671(21.05%)and got 10 seats. The UNP garnering 2,423(6.01%)had 3 seats.The SLFP  with 1,479(3.67%) got 2 seats. The TULF got one seat polling 1,071(2.66%). The JVP having only 242 (0.6%) votes  did not get any seats.

With the fragmentation of seats among the different political parties, the end result was that of a hung council in Jaffna. This  situation however was not  in Jaffna alone, but also prevalent  in a very large number of local authorities all over the Island.  This was mainly due to the new voting system which was reportedly a mixture of the first past the post winner mode and the proportionate representation method. As a result in many instances the  situation was one where the party that came first found itself outnumbered by the other parties and being unable to form a viable administration in spite of gaining more votes and winning more directly contested wards.  The “overhanging” factor was the cause in most cases.

The TNA consisting of the ITAK,PLOTE and TELO  suffered greatly as a result of this overhanging  syndrome. The TNA had contested in 55 local authorities in the North and East. Of these 48 were Tamil majority local bodies. The TNA came first in 40 of these local authorities. However   the TNA found itself unable to form a viable administration in over 30 of these bodies including the prestigious Jaffna municipality.


‘Hung’ Municipal Council
The Jaffna municipal council was the jewel in the crown for the TNA. Candidates were selected on the sharing formula agreed upon. The ITAK picked Emmanuel Arnold as its Mayoral candidate. The TELO selected Thurairasa Eesan as its nominee for deputy - mayor. The election campaign got underway and polls were held on February 10. The results as stated earlier brought about a ‘hung’ municipal council.  The TNA had come first with 16 out of 45 seats but was unable to get Arnold elected as Mayor with a majority. It was against this backdrop  therefore that the election for the Jaffna Mayoralty  was  held.

D-day was on March 26, 2018. Forty-four of the forty-five Jaffna municipal councillors gathered at the municipal council  premises. The councillor elected on the TULF ticket had been convicted  for an offence  under the penal code and was absent.  The Local Govt  commissioner M. Patrick Diranjan presided at the election. Visvalingam Manivannan from AITC, Mudiappu Remedius from EPDP  and Emmanuel Arnold of the ITAK were the contestants in the ring. 

An ebulliently confident Manivannan asked for secret voting while  Arnold wanted open voting. The decision about mode of voting  was put to the vote.The 16 TNA and 3 UNP councillors wanted open voting while the 13 AITC,10 EPDP and 2 SLFP councillors wanted secret voting. So secret voting was adopted. 


‘Thiruvulacheettu’ method
When the first round of voting was conducted Arnold came first with 18 votes while Manivannan and Remedius tied with 13 votes each. While Manivannan had been unable to attract votes from outside his party, Remedius had got three outside votes presumably two from SLFP and one from UNP. Thereafter the names of Remedius and Manivannan were  written on pieces of paper and  one slip was picked.  This is called the ‘Thiruvulacheettu’ method. Remedius was lucky and Manivannan exited from the  contest. 

Now it was going to be a straight fight between Arnold and Remedius. The EPDP candidate then asked for a recess of 20 minutes which was granted by commissioner Patrick Niranjan. Mudiappu Remedius was then seen conversing animatedly with Manivannan and thereafter was  seen to be engaged in a prolonged telephone conversation.

According to informed political sources  Remedius had  apparently asked Manivannan for support from the Tamil Congress which was refused. Apparently the  Tamil Congress claiming to be ‘Tamil nationalist puritans” was not prepared to support a group like the EPDP which had collaborated with  the Rajapaksa regime. It was also felt that instructions given by SLFP national list MP Angajan’s father Ramanathan to the two SLFP councillors to vote for the EPDP at the first round of voting had been countermanded by the party hierarchy. 

The chances were that both the SLFP and UNP would vote for the TNA against the EPDP. With defeat  being imminent if a vote took place  Remedius  was  facing a difficult dilemma and consulted the EPDP leadership.


Bombshell dropped
When it was time again to resume voting the lawyer Mudiappu Remedius dropped a  bombshell. He stated that he was withdrawing from the Mayoral race and went up to Arnold and shook his hands congratulating him. At this juncture the Tamil Congress’s Visvalingam Manivannan, also a lawyer, requested that he be allowed to contest against Arnold because Remedius had withdrawn. Patrick Diranjan however said that the election rules did not permit it. Manivannan therefore recorded his protest at the decision.

Under these circumstances Emmanuel Arnold was formally declared as  the Jaffna Mayor in 2018. The announcement was received enthusiastically with TNA, UNP and even EPDP members applauding loudly. TNA Parliamentarians Senathirajah and Sumanthiran along with some provincial councillors were present and congratulated a jubilant Arnold together  then. 

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at [email protected]



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