Tamil National Alliance National list Member of Parliament M.A Sumanthiran spoke to the Daily Mirror on the TNA preparations for the Eastern Provincial Council Elections, the commitment of the party to the Parliamentary Select Committee and the Militarisation of the North.
Eastern Provincial Council Elections
If people vote we will win the election
Q. When it comes to the upcoming local government elections, what will be your campaign strategy?
Basically door to door, through newspaper and we will also have public meetings. In the East, when we have it as a province, we will have public meetings as well. However already the indications are that there is a lot of violence that is being planned to be unleashed.
We feel there will be violence against our party, by other parties—particularly those aligned to the government. Our chief candidate found out earlier this morning (18) that his gate had been locked with many chains and padlocks, from the outside. His house is just a few yards from the Chief Minister’s house, so at least the Chief Minister's security would have known that this happened to his gate. Those who did this, thought that we were going to file nominations today (18) and so they locked him inside the house.
Therefore these types of threats and intimidation have already started. When we had our convention in Batticaloa this May, the Chief Minister himself went past many times, observing what was happening. Further there were others who were trying to disrupt the meeting; our buses from Jaffna were stoned and the Battcaloa town was full of posters against our meeting. We are aware that there are only a very few people who can carryout these activities without the police apprehending them. Therefore it is those people who are involved in this.
Q. Therefore you feel that the ground situation in the East is not conducive for campaigning by the TNA due to the forces in the area that are aligned to the government?
Last time we did not contest. We went to the Supreme Court and filed a case and said that the Former Chief Minister belonged to a party that was still carrying arms and in such a situation we cannot contest.
This time round we are contesting, I would not say that the situation is conducive for a free and fair election, but it is better than the last time. Last time we would not have been able to even get candidates to contest because the level of intimidation and threat was that great.
However this time it is better, but it does not mean when I say better, that it is easy for the TNA to contest. Already a lot of violence is being prepared and threats and intimidation are being used. On Election day people will be prevented from voting, that is the general tactic.
Therefore we plan to call for foreign monitors. We have already asked the Elections Commissioner to look into this. We will ask the world to take a look at what is happening.
Q. Taking into consideration all these matters, what is your level of confidence going into the Eastern Provincial Council elections?
We are fairly confident; we will do all that we can to ensure that despite the threats and intimidation our people will have the courage to come out and vote. If people do vote we will win the election.
Q. The TNA extended an invitation to the SLMC to contest jointly at the Eastern Provincial Council elections. The SLMC turned down this invitation and thereafter decided to side with the government and their ultimate decision was to contest alone. Do you feel that the TNA has a strong enough voter base to win the election without the support of the SLMC?
Militarisation of the North
I am not sure that I can say that we can win without the support of the Muslim community but we can win without the support of the SLMC.
Q. You made an accusation recently that for people in the North to have funerals—they need to get military permission. However is this based entirely on your personal observations?
Not just funerals but even for public gatherings you need to get permission. There was one instance where some elderly gentlemen met as a reading club and the military personnel came and sat at the reading club and were listening to what was read. That is the situation in the North, you cannot have any gathering without the military personnel asking what it was for.
For funerals the military actually have a banner through which they express their sorrow and this is a signal that it is “military approved” funeral. It is not something that is written, but everyone knows it and they dare not violate it.
They involve themselves in civilian life, which they ought not to do—that is the very idea of militarisation. It is subtle that is the whole problem. If it was documented then we can challenge it or find fault with it.
When we went to have meetings with people in 2011, in certain areas of the Vanni for the local government elections, the people told us “don’t come and have meetings with us, because you will come and have meetings with us and go, but tomorrow, we will be called by the military intelligence and questioned by them. Therefore it is a hassle for us, don’t come—we know how to vote”.
Therefore in certain places like Manthai East we didn’t have a single meeting.
Parliamentary Select Committee
Q. What conditions do you feel are necessary for the resumption of talks between the TNA-Government?
TNA talks began with the government in January 2011, consequent to the President appointing a committee. At the first meeting itself we told the government delegation what our idea of devolution was. At the second meeting they wanted something in writing we gave it to them, and at the third meeting, in March 2011, we gave them a comprehensive set of proposals. Thereafter they said that they would respond to it, but they did not respond to it for five months and seven meetings. Each of these seven meetings started with an apology on their part, saying they were not ready to respond to our proposal. That is the reason why the talks broke in August.
They resumed once the President and Mr. Sampanthan met. Thereafter there were two conditions that were agreed upon firstly, that we bring in previous documents and governmental proposals for constitutional reform—into our discussion. The second agreement was that after the government and the TNA arrive at some level of consensus, with regards to a solution we will go in for talks with that consensus forming the basis for discussions. However the government walked away from the talks—there were three days of talks, but the government delegation never turned up, we simply sat there.
Even after that we were ready to submit names to the PSC, provided that the clearly agreed positions of the previous documents were the basis of discussion. In May the leader of the opposition tried again and raised the Agenda of the PSC, which was agreed to by the TNA. The leader of the opposition merely asked if the government endorsed this agenda, so that the TNA and the UNP could enter the PSC. But the government never endorsed it. The leader of the house said many things, but he did not endorse the agenda, which has been previously agreed upon by both sides. Therefore the leader of the house got up and asked again “all I want to know is, do you endorse this agenda?” The government would only say “you come to the PSC we will talk about all this”. That is where the deadlock is, we are not opposed to the PSC. We will go to the PSC, we have never said that we will not go, but we are not going to the PSC to start from scratch, or to start on some aimless journey. We want it to be a precise exercise and the government has agreed with us on what that should be. All we want is a confirmation that this is what will be discussed in the PSC.
Q. Do you think that so long as the present government is in place, there will be an acceptable political solution for the issues of the Tamil people and one that the TNA can agree upon?
So far the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has not delivered, but that is not to say that they cannot be convinced to deliver. We don’t give up hope nor should we judge now once and for all. We are committed to stay on this path, therefore whether it is this government or any other government our objective and commitment to finding a solution within a united country will remain.