Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Minister Douglas Devananda remains disillusioned about the electoral defeat at the Northern Provincial Council Poll on September 21. Mr. Devananda, the leader of EPDP, is a strong advocate of the Provincial Council (PC) system. Also, EPDP is a militant group that laid down arms soon after the introduction of the system in 1987 under the Indo-Lanka Accord. During a recent interview with Daily Mirror, he speaks out his sentiments on the elections and the way forward for his party.
Q : The Northern Provincial Council Elections are now over. What is your personal opinion about the outcome of this election?
We, Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), have always accepted the provincial council system as the best political mechanism to solve the national question. We have remained unwavering on our stand right from the beginning. As things stand now, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which won the elections with a two-thirds majority, appeared to have embraced the policy that we advocated for a long time. We stood for the 13th Amendment which provided for the constitution of provincial councils in Sri Lanka and their meaningful implementation. This is what I can say at the moment. We are happy about the TNA accepting our policies, but do not know whether this is their genuine stand. Most TNA members whipped up communal sentiments in the run up to the elections and got elected. They played with the emotional sentiments of people for political ends. It is too early for us to conclude they will sincerely co-operate with the government in the discharge of their duties for people in the north. We have to wait and see. It is difficult to deaw any conclusion.
Q : Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran took his oaths before President Mahinda Rajapaksa soon after his election to office. Do you see it as a genuine gesture?
Mr. Wigneswaran is now part of the political system which we campaigned for, since the inception of our party. The Chief Minister asked for a mandate to constitute the first Northern Provincial Council. He campaigned for it under the house symbol of the TNA. We also sought a mandate to do the same, but did in alliance with the government. We campaigned under the betel symbol of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). However, people have voted the TNA in. Whatever Mr. Wigneswaran might have intended to signal through his act of taking oaths before the President, we are not sure whether other TNA elected members would stand for such co-operation. Those TNA members used racism. Their line of thinking is not what Mr. Wigneswaran intended through his act of goodwill. Therefore, it is doubtful whether these communal minded TNA members will stand in the way of Mr. Wigneswaran to have a cordial relationship with the government.
Q :The government has carried out development work by way of constructing roads and railways. Yet, people voted out the government overwhelmingly in the north at the September 21 election. In your view, how do you analyse the reasons for such rejection?
The TNA's election propaganda, based on racism, and supported by the Tamil media, resulted in it. Also, we have not politicised development work done by us. Therefore, northern voters did not attach political significance to these development projects. They considered development as the obliged duty of a government. Therefore, we could not get any political mileage out of it.
" We also sought a mandate to do the same, but did in alliance with the government. We campaigned under the betel symbol of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). However, people have voted the TNA in. Whatever Mr. Wigneswaran might have intended to signal through his act of taking oaths before the President, we are not sure whether other TNA elected members will stand for such co-operation. Those TNA members used racism. "
Q :How are you planning your future political activities in the backdrop of this defeat?
We are in the process of analysing these results with due seriousness. We have to identify where we went wrong, and to take steps to correct the mistakes. As you are aware, I wanted to be the chief ministerial candidate initially. That was my stand announced from time to time. But, I did not contest. It was also a setback at the elections. People were concerned about my absence. Also, I was politically silent most of the time during the elections.
Q :You remained silent deliberately?
The situation compelled me to be silent politically. Otherwise, we could have got more votes.
Q : The Kayts electorate remained your stronghold at previous elections. You retained it even during the height of LTTE activities. But, you lost it this time. Why was that?
Political sentiments, driven by emotional attachment of people to their national identity, remained high. The island areas covering the Kayts electorate remained in our stronghold even during difficult times. Despite our presence, people in the island areas were capitulated to these political sentiments. The TNA's racial approach only inflamed such sentiments. People voted for them.
Q :What are you doing to revamp your party in this context?
We are doing a political post-mortem to detect the mistakes. We will announce our steps in due course.
Q : Do you think that your decision to contest under the betel symbol of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) also contributed to this defeat?
The TNA projected itself as a Tamil party and there was no other alternative Tamil party to contest against them, which also contributed in a way for this defeat. The UPFA was projected by the TNA as a Sinhala political party. If I contested, I could have brought more votes. Yet, if I resign from Parliament to join the provincial administration, EPDP will lose someone to represent the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) mandated to evolve a political solution. It is the best forum to find a solution in consultation and consensus with other parties. We, EPDP, supported the move to constitute this PSC.
Q : What is your personal opinion on Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran?
We used to know each other. But, there was no close association for better understanding. He seems to be trying to work amicably with the President. We observe whether he will live up to his gesture of goodwill displayed at the beginning. There is a contradiction between what the TNA mentioned to the President and what appeared in the Tamil media. Ours is a party that is for the provincial council system. When the system was introduced in 1987, the alliance partners of the TNA called it a white elephant. The provincial council system was interpreted by them as a mechanism that can never fulfill the political aspirations of Tamil people. When we appeared for it, we were branded as traitors. There were assassination attempts on me. By the time the provincial council system was introduced under the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, the LTTE claimed they had lost 651 cadres in military engagements and rejected the system with such claims. That was the number killed by that time. Today, how many persons have died? Had they accepted the system in 1987, all the other thousands of lives could have been saved. We still doubt whether the TNA will approach this problem with honesty or not.
Q : As a Tamil Minister in the central government, will you co-operate with the TNA administration at the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) in carrying out development work?
Before the constitution of the NPC, we did development work well under the supervision and co-operation of the governor. We are ready to do the same in co-operation with the TNA administration. We are not certain whether they will co-operate with us or not. Anyway, the provincial council system is like our child. We will not do anything that hinders the provincial administration. We will give them time and space to perform. We will be silent observers.
Q : What is the situation after the election?
It is true the TNA got a landslide. However, they got it by arousing racial sentiments. It will have serious implications. After the LTTE was defeated, there is freedom of expression and free movement of people in the north. Anybody can write anything. The TNA misused it. They projected this election as a fight between a Tamil party and a Sinhala party. They talked to the people in such a way. They said the international community was watchful on political developments in the north. They talked about the need for unity among all Tamils to sustain that international support for their political rights. Shortly before the elections, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay visited the north. It was a fillip to the TNA's campaign under those circumstances. By coincidence, that visit was also timed in a manner helpful to the TNA's campaign. I always supported the Sri Lanka Army. EPDP always stood by the military in the fight against Tigers and supported the army openly at that time.