- The political outlook of the of minority politicians, be they contest under parties with racial tags or under the so-called national parties, is narrower than that of the major political parties in the country
- The affection of Sinhalese towards the armed forces and that of Tamils towards the LTTE is strange
- If one peruses the election manifestos of the TNA or other coalitions headed by the Ilankai Thami Arasu Katchi (ITAK), he would find that they hardly differ each other
There is no difference in essence between the politics and particularly the election campaigns of majority Sinhalese politicians and minority Tamil and Muslim politicians. No political party, be it majority or minority, has any programme for the economic or social development of the people of the country as a whole or the community they claim to represent.
But every party has something to sell during elections, which they call services to the people, despite them having made little or no contribution towards the upliftment of the country or a particular community. However, the election campaigns by the minority political parties and candidates might be interesting to the people of the south since the issues they discuss on election platforms are different and not heard by them.
The political outlook of the minority politicians, be they contest under parties with racial tags or under the so-called national parties, is narrower than that of the major political parties in the country. Comprehensive and far-reaching national issues such as economic development, poverty, education, health, national security, corruption, democracy, or media freedom are not in their agendas and thus not taken up on election platforms. Southern parties taking up these issues only for electoral mileage is a different matter.
Minority parties are not concerned about Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), or Central Bank bond scandal, or selling national resources to other countries, spiraling cost of living or any other nationally important issues, whereas these are the major weapons used by the southern politicians to attack and outshine their rivals. In fact, some issues, such as cost of living, micro loans, unemployment and resettlement have already been affecting the Tamil and Muslim communities immensely.
Though extremism, terrorism and racism are common issues utilised by both southern and northern politicians on the political platforms, Sinhalese extremism against the minorities is not an issue in the south while it is being an important and popular topic for minority leaders. Similarly, the Tamil and Muslim extremism benefits only the Sinhalese politicians and is ignored by Tamil and Muslim leaders.
Similar to the leaders of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) having been doing since the end of the war between the armed forces and the LTTE, almost all Tamil leaders have been selling the sacrifices made by the LTTE during the war and attempting to turn the people’s sympathy towards the organisation into votes cast in favour of them. Former Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran is in forefront of them. He calls LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran “Thambi” (younger brother), not because “Thambi” is a nom de guerre used for the LTTE leader but to show to the Tamil people his affection towards him.
Disowning or distancing from the LTTE - leave alone ridiculing or condemning it or its activities including using the Tamils as a human shield during the last lap of the war which ended in a catastrophe - would cost a political party in the north dearly. The spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), M.A. Sumanthiran was recently in the soup, just for saying that he did not accept the armed struggle as a way for the resolution of problems faced by Tamils.
He managed to calm down the uproar over his statement by challenging his adversaries to take up arms to solve the Tamil’s problems, if they accept that mode of struggle. Yet, it showed that such statements, irrespective of them being true in respect of all other Tamil groups as well; they are not welcomed by Tamils.
In a way, the affection of Sinhalese towards the armed forces and that of Tamils towards the LTTE is strange. Even after the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had claimed that war-time army commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka was the best army commander in the world, the latter was defeated mainly by the southern people at the 2010 Presidential election. Similarly when a group of former LTTE cadres contested the 2015 Parliamentary election separately in the north, they even lost their deposits made at the nominations.
Nevertheless, the LTTE is still a force to be reckoned with at elections and many Tamil leaders attempt to show the relationships – real or perceived- with the organisation they maintained during the war. Thus Tamil National People’s Front leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam had for the first time claimed during a YouTube interview recently that the LTTE was in contact with him immediately before its leadership was decimated by the armed forces, requesting to broker a safe surrender for the LTTE leaders.
Despite former LTTE Special Commander for Ampara and Batticaloa Districts, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman returning to parliament at the August 5 election seeming to be a remote possibility, he too attracts considerable media attention these days. The number of his speeches published in Tamil newspapers almost equals that of other prominent Tamil leaders such as Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan, its spokesman Sumanthiran, Wigneswaran and Minister Douglas Devanada.
The main reason seems to be that he always drags his militant past and talks venerating LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has been doing this not out of love for his former organisation or his former boss, but due to the fact that he has been treated by many Tamils as a “traitor” for breaking away from the LTTE and becoming a member of the government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa. While claiming that he was then the Deputy Leader of the LTTE, during a meeting in Kalmunai on Monday, he made a long list of his sacrifices that were made towards what he called the liberation of the Tamils.
As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in an interview with an Indian journalist on the heels of his assumption of office, leaders of the main Tamil political parties have been preoccupied only with a political solution to the ethnic problem. They seem to have totally abandoned the issue of development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The President stated during that interview that they have been talking about this for the past 70 years without anything happening on the ground. Echoing the same sentiments, Minister Wimal Weerawansa speaking to a gathering of Tamils in Wellawatta on July 12 said since the day he entered the Parliament he has been hearing the same speech from TNA leader Sampanthan.
It was basically true. If one peruses the election manifestos of the TNA or other coalitions headed by the Ilankai Thami Arasu Katchi (ITAK), he would find that they hardly differ each other. One cannot blame the Tamil leaders for seeking a political solution to the problems that cannot be resolved through economic development alone. Yet, they have totally abandoned the development. During the ITAK convention held in Batticaloa in 2012 Sampanthan said that development is a death trap which would eclipse the demand for the political solution. One can imagine the stance of the other main coalition in the north led by Wigneswaran which has taken a further hard-line, on development.
However, there seems to be a slight change in TNA’s electoral strategy with Sumanthiran, the de-facto leader of the party hinting the probability of party accepting ministerial portfolios in future. He said at a meeting in Vadamarachchi on July 10 that if the TNA is to join the Cabinet of the new Government, it should have the power to bargain on the number, subjects and powers of portfolios.
The Tamil representatives of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna is more practical than other Tamil leaders since development has topped their priority list. Being members of the SLPP, the hard-line Sinhalese nationalist party, they cannot speak Tamil nationalism and hence they seem to have embraced President Rajapaksa’s doctrine - reconciliation through economic development.
Tamil politicians have at least one issue to fight for, but except for calling the people to increase the number of their representatives in Parliament, Muslim leaders seem to have none.