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The 1982 Presidential Candidacy of G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam, Jr. Revisited

by Sachi Sri Kantha, August 11, 2008

The important question of the sovereignty of the Tamils of this island has again arisen with the holding of the Convention in New York on ‘Tamil Eelam’ recently. Where indeed lies the sovereignty of the Tamil people of this island at the moment?...

It serves every person in this island to know without any further delay whether the polity of Sri Lanka has been constituted without proper democratic base, namely, without the consent of the Tamils. Perhaps the Presidential election will be a very convenient way by which an answer to this question could be obtained. The Tamil Nation will also be given a good opportunity to give a mandate to any Tamil candidate for the rejection of the Constitution.

Had he been living, G.G. (Kumar) Ponnambalam Jr. (1938-2000) would be 70 on August 12th. As a tribute to his memory, I have opted to present vignettes from his 1982 Presidential candidacy. It was the first executive Presidential election to be held in the blessed island. Since then four more presidential elections have been held in 1988, 1994, 1999 and 2005. None of these latter featured a Tamil candidate. Thus, Kumar Ponnambalam’s 1982 presidential candidacy turned out to be the first and the last of its kind for an Eelam Tamil. What Kumar Ponnambalam achieved by contesting that presidential election has been chronicled by two ranking journalists of that era, namely S.P. Amarasingam (for the Tribune) and Mervyn de Silva (for the Lanka Guardian). In this anthology, I also incorporate two of Kumar Ponnambalam’s contributions to the Lanka Guardian in 1982.

Kumar Ponnambalam

Eelam Tamil voters in 1982 were evenly divided on Kumar Ponnambalam’s decision to contest the 1982 presidential election. The TULF, then led by A. Amirthalingam, attempted to portray Kumar Ponnambalam’s interest in contesting the 1982 Presidential election as nothing but a “cheap stunt” for personal glory. Some Left-leaning Tamils pondered that Kumar Ponnambalam was a ‘sham candidate’ standing on behalf of the President J.R. Jayewardene to siphon off the anti-UNP vote among the Tamils.

The Tamil daily Dinapathi, Colombo of August 1, 1982 reported that in a statement issued by the General Secretary of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam stated that the TULF should contest the Presidential elections to fulfill the ambitions of the Tamil-speaking people in this country and in order that such a contest could be considered as a referendum.

Four days later, Eelanadu, the regional Tamil daily from Jaffna, of August 5, 1982 reported that the Working Committee of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress held a meeting at Jaffna on Aug.4, 1982 and unanimously decided to nominate its General Secretary Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam as the candidate to contest the Presidential election scheduled in October 1982.

Following day, the government’s mouthpiece, Ceylon Daily News, Colombo (August 6, 1982) informed readers that the TULF General Secretary A. Amirthalingam, when asked whether the TULF would field a candidate for the presidency had quipped that, ‘The Tamil United Liberation Front will not resort to cheap stunts and put forward candidates to contest the Presidential election; our objectives are known and we will work towards achieving our goal, Eelam’.

A week later, S.P. Amarasingam noted the stance taken by Kumar Ponnambalam as follows: “All non-UNP parties, except the JVP and TULF, have so far gone on record that it would be necessary to field a single anti-UNP candidate if J.R. Jayewardene is to be defeated. The Tamil Congress however wants a Tamil candidate to give an opportunity to make a case for the Tamil desire to be recognized as a separate nation. But what this means is that the TC wants to out-Eelam the cry of the TULF at a time when the latter is more concerned with the DDCs. But Kumar Ponnambalam wants an agreed common Tamil candidate.” [Tribune, Colombo, Aug. 14, 1982, p.1].

The Lanka Guardian magazine, edited by Mervyn de Silva, carried Kumar Ponnambalam’s statement on the 1982 Presidential election. It was a critique on the ambiguous, waffling politics practised by the then TULF leadership in the early 1980s. The full text of this manifesto is as follows:

 ‘Sovereignty of the Tamils, the Constitution and the Presidential Elections’ [G.G.Ponnambalam Jr.: Lanka Guardian, Colombo, August 15, 1982, pp.11-12]

The important question of the sovereignty of the Tamils of this island has again arisen with the holding of the Convention in New York on ‘Tamil Eelam’ recently. Where indeed lies the sovereignty of the Tamil people of this island at the moment?

The 1972 Constitution: At the 1970 General Elections, the manifesto of the United Front contained the undertaking that, if a mandate is given, a new constitution would be drafted and adopted to make Ceylon a free, sovereign and independent Republic. Whilst the United Front received such a mandate, it cannot be said that the vast majority of the Tamil people had given a mandate for the making of such a constitution. Yet, the Tamil United Front (TUF) members of Parliament, knowing full well that the adoption of the constitution would result in the break in legal continuity with the British Parliament, attended the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, and voted unanimously in favour of the first basic resolution making ‘Sri Lanka a free, sovereign and independent republic’. This resolution was passed on the 15th March 1971. By having voted thus, were not the TUF MPs prepared to accept Sri Lanka as one polity? By having voted for this resolution, TUF MPs conceded that sovereignty resided with the people of that one polity taken together? Having done so from the 28th of June 1971 the representatives of the TUF boycotted further deliberations in the Constituent Assembly till the very end.

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) now argue that with the adoption of the new constitution on the 22nd of May 1972 that there has been a break in the legal continuity with England and the British Parliament with the abandoning of the Soulbury Constitution. With the break in legal continuity, argue the TULF, the sovereignty of the people in the 3 kingdoms of Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna revived and were restored once again. The date being 22.5.72 to be exact.

The TULF also argue that because most Tamil MPs did not vote for the adoption of the 1972 Constitution, it did not bind the Tamil people or a vast majority of them. But very soon thereafter all the Tamil MPs took the oath of allegiance to the constitution and compromised not only themselves but also the vast majority of the Tamils. Having done this, to say now that most of the Tamil MPs had not accepted the 1972 constitution because they publicly burnt copies of that constitution, is taking the Tamils for a ride because the TULF are arrogant in their belief that the Tamils will not or cannot open their eyes. The wording of the oath under the 1972 constitution is significant – ‘will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will uphold the constitution of Sri Lanka’.

The TULF Election Manifesto of 1977: If it is the TULF’s argument that the sovereignty of the Tamil Nation was revived and restored with the break in legal continuity with Britain on 22.5.72, and if it is their position that there is neither legal continuity in the consent of the Tamil Nation to the 1972 constitution, and if it is their stand that the Sinhala Nation has not taken over the sovereignty of the Tamil Nation through legal continuity or by consent or by the right of conquest, on what reasoning did they ‘ask for a mandate from the Tamil Nation to re-establish the independence and sovereignty of the State of Tamil Eelam, the expression of the sovereignty of the Tamil Nation’?

Or is it that the TULF realized the treachery they had perpetrated on the Tamil Nation by acquiescing in handing over sovereignty to the people of the independent republic of Sri Lanka by voting for the basic resolution one and therefore they sought a mandate to win back that sovereignty? If this is so, should not the TULF be blamed ‘for the amalgamation of the two states’? If the Tamils appreciate this and resent this, then they must rise up in arms against the TULF.

The 1978 Constitution: Having realized that they had been traitors to their own cause, in attending the Constituent Assembly proceedings, the TULF completely boycotted the deliberations of the Select-Committee on the Constitution, and Amirthalingam in giving their reasons for the boycott of the debate on the Constitution adopts the argument that with the break in legal continuity the sovereignty of the inhabitants of the island resurfaced and hence the sovereignty of the Tamil Nation revived (Hansard, of 3.8.78). But once the constitution was passed the TULF promptly took their oath ‘to uphold and defend the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’!

Regarding the taking of the oath, another of those arguments advanced by the TULF is that the LSSP which had not accepted the Soulbury Constitution permitted its MPs to take the oath of allegiance to that Constitution. This reminds me of the defence put forward by a son to his irate father who questioned him about his failure at an examination. His defence was ‘John failed; Jeremiah failed; why not I fail?’ The LSSP said they belonged to Ceylon. They wanted to go to the Parliament of Ceylon in order to agitate to enact another Constitution which would truly reflect the independence of Ceylon. Therefore they had to take the oath. But the TULF say they do not belong to Sri Lanka because this island is composed of two States – those of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam, and of two nations – the Sinhala Nation and the Tamil Nation. But it suits their logic to take their oaths and sit in the Sri Lanka Parliament in spite of the fact that they had in their 1977 General Election manifesto promised the Tamils to convene a Constituent Assembly and draft a constitution for the Tamils and then declare Tamil Eelam within a definite boundary if they received a mandate. They say they have indeed received such a mandate.

In the meantime, Article 5 of the constitution says that the territory of the Republic of Sri Lanka shall consist of the 24 administrative districts. Is it that the 24 districts together go to make up Sri Lanka? If that is so, certainly the people of the Northern Province consisting of 4 districts have given no mandate to draft, adopt and operate a new constitution, nor did they empower their representatives to constitute Sri Lanka into a Democratic Socialist Republic. Is there then a lack of constitutional validity for the administrative authority in these areas? If so, is there not a requirement that the constitution should be validated in respect of the Tamil Districts of the North? Should not a referendum be held in these districts to ascertain whether the people in these areas accept the constitution in view of the fact that their representatives have consistently said that they have nothing to do with the constitution? Is this not a matter of national importance?

It serves every person in this island to know without any further delay whether the polity of Sri Lanka has been constituted without proper democratic base, namely, without the consent of the Tamils. Perhaps the Presidential election will be a very convenient way by which an answer to this question could be obtained. The Tamil Nation will also be given a good opportunity to give a mandate to any Tamil candidate for the rejection of the Constitution.

Therefore we request the TULF to reconsider its decision not to contest the Presidential election. We urge the TULF to contest the Presidential elections as it is the major Tamil party. This election would be an ideal opportunity to show Tamil solidarity on an all island basis. With the support of the 90% of the Ceylon Tamils the TULF claims it enjoys, and with the support of the hill country Tamils and the Muslims which will be forthcoming in ample measure if a Tamil-speaking candidate stood for election on certain specific but limited issues, there is every expectation that it will be possible to show the strength of the Tamil-speaking people.

Let there be no fear amongst the Tamils that if a Tamil contests the Presidential election that there will be violence. Let there be no illusion in the minds of the Sinhalese that the Presidential elections must necessarily be very much a home and home affair. If indeed there is the slightest racial crises it will mean that the Sinhalese do not want the Tamils to be in one body politic with them. In short, if the Sinhalese want this island to be one polity, not only must there be urgent rethinking on the Tamil Question but they must also decide to keep the peace.

It is not a question of winning the Presidential stakes, it is the vital question of Tamil identity.

*****

During September 1982, S.P. Amarasingam, in his editorial commentaries, made the following two observations:

“The TULF has so far said it will not put forward a candidate. The Eelamites want the elections boycotted. A few bombs at booths may disrupt voting in Jaffna. Mr.Kumar Ponnambalam wants to run for President on the ACTC ticket if there is no TULF candidate. Such are the perspectives on the eve of the first presidential elections in Sri Lanka.” [Tribune, Sept. 4, 1982, p.1]

 “The TULF at a General Council meeting held on August 28 at Trincomalee decided not to put forward a candidate for the post of President. It also decided not to support Kumar Ponnambalam if he came forward as a nominee of the ACTC. He has now paid in his deposit of Rs. 50,000 being the first to do so. The hardline pro-Eelam group wanted the TULF to call for a boycott of the elections, but no decision was taken, the consensus being that the matter should be reviewed after all the nominations were received on September 17. There is also a trend of thinking that the TULF should permit individual Tamils to vote or abstain as it pleased them – a conscience vote.” [Tribune, Sept.11, 1982, p.2]

*****

Pre-election analyses by Mervyn de Silva and Amarasingam

Mervyn de Silva provided a succinct analysis on the dilemma faced by the then TULF leadership, under the caption ‘Tamils and Polls – Amir as Arafat’. To quote,

“Those are the dilemmas of leadership. And that’s where Mr.Amirthalingam and the TULF high command find themselves. Their diplomatic moves, directly and through intermediaries (Dr.A.J.Wilson from New Brunswick) would have been hailed as personal and political triumphs if they had ‘delivered’ something tangible, something worthwhile to the Tamil constituency in the north. They must deliver the goods – DDC powers, army and police presence, home guards, varsity admissions, jobs, colonization etc. Not everything, but something that will satisfy the ‘moderate majority’.

If they had done so, the ground would have been cut under the feet of Mr.Chandrahasan, Dr.Dharmalingam, Mr.Mahesan (Sutantiran editor), Mr.Eelavenden etc. It is their evident failure after protracted and tortuous negotiationsto present any tangible gains to the northern province Tamils that has encouraged the restive ranks of the TULF, and strengthened the hand of the anti-leadership dissidents.

Since the TULF leaders are experienced politicians, it would be a mistake to believe that they are the victims of their own incredible naivete. To be fair, time worked against the TULF leaders. Once the President started thinking about elections, concessions to the TULF became unthinkable. No (Sinhala) President or Premier, would grant concessions, especially on the DDCs (an issue with a long history beginning with the Regional Councils of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact) to a Tamil party on the eve of elections unless of course he was secretly contemplating his early exit from politics.

Now the TULF leadership has been pushed from ‘non-participation’ to ‘virtual boycott’. Even Mr.Kumar Ponnambalam has played a hand. Once a major factor in Tamil politics, the TC of GG. Ponnambalam was rapidly eclipsed by Mr. Chelvanayakam’s FP, later TULF. The TULF may regard Mr.Kumar Ponnambalam’s entry into the presidential battle a quixotic gesture but it served its purpose of embarrassing the TULF. And in a strange paradoxical way, it gave more strength to Mr. Chandrahasan’s elbow – and elbow he has plainly thrust into the soft underbelly of the TULF bosses. (Ponnambalam Jr. has thus helped Chelvanayakam Jr.)

Mr. Chandrahasan, the rising star of the North, has assets other than the fact that he is Chelvanayakam’s son. He has some of his father’s virtues, including his integrity. He is a hard worker and has had the courage to appear for every young Tamil snatched by the police or army. He was in the committee that drafted the TULF’s General Council statement of 19th. Although it may be imprecise in its ‘boycott’ call, Mr. Amirthalingam has explained with a nice gift for ambiguity: ‘We will not ask the people to vote, we have left it at that.’ The Jaffna district has nearly half a million registered voters. What percentage will go to the polls?” [Lanka Guardian, Colombo, October 1, 1982, pp.4 & 6]

*****

S.P. Amarasingam, for his share, contributed the following two brief commentaries relating to how Kumar Ponnambalam would fare on October 20, 1982. Please note that the sentences in italics, wherever they appear, are as in the original texts.

“The general consensus in political circles is that the UNP’s J.R.Jayewardene is ahead of all other contestants with Hector Kobbekaduwa running second. Dr.Colvin R.de Silva and Rohana Wijeweera are said to be fighting for the third place with Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Kumar Ponnambalam bringing up the rear. Ponnambalam is not concerned about being the President. He only wants a mandate for his leadership of the Tamils – and his slogan is Eelam. With this he hopes to bypass the boycott demanded by the terrorists (how can you refuse to vote to give a mandate for Eelam?) and to discredit the TULF leadership.” [Tribune, October 9, 1982, p.2]

*****

“Kumar Ponnambalam seems to be a lone ranger seeking only Tamil votes not to be President but to get a mandate from the Tamils. His ACTC is not a formidable organization and the more powerful and widespread TULF has asked people not to vote for Kumar. No other organization or party has backed him. But he has chosen on an election cry which will put the TULF, TELF, expatriate-inspired Eelam groups and the terrorists into a dilemma. He wants a mandate, not for himself personally or as the chief of the ACTC, but as a Tamil, for Eelam. How can they refuse to vote for him? How can they boycott the polls? If they do, they are by implication rejecting Eelam or at least refusing to give a mandate to a Tamil who says he has come forward only because no one else was willing to come forward to provide the Tamils with an opportunity in this presidential election to reiterate once again their desire to have Eelam. In 1977, Kumar says, the TULF obtained such an Eelam mandate but which it has now thrust into cold storage. How far can Kumar Ponnambalam break the non-participation or boycott of the TULF, the TELF and the terrorist groups is yet to be seen. To the TULF, at least, the non-participation strategy in the Presidential election is only a tactic to prepare for the parliamentary elections. Kumar Ponnambalam is challenging the TULF and is seeking to exploit the sympathies for Eelam among the extremist youth. Many say that he will find it difficult to save his deposit, but he is not concerned about t. He only wants a political foothold among the Tamils.” [Tribune, October 16, 1982, p.2]

*****

Post-Election Impressions of Amarasingam and Mervyn de Silva

I provide below the text of Amarasingam’s analysis on Kumar Ponnambalam’s performance in the 1982 Presidential election and how the Eelam voters in the North and East choose to express their political rights. Amarasingam summed up with the inference, “On the votes he obtained in Jaffna and elsewhere in the Tamil areas, Ponnambalam becomes a force in Tamil politics – unless he is removed by assassination.” Here is the complete text of Amarasingam’s analysis that appeared in the Tribune of Oct.23, 1982.

“Colombo, October 22: The country was virtually on holiday the whole week, and all work, except election work, was at a standstill, especially from Tuesday, the 19th. Everything went off quietly and peacefully, on polling day, October 20. But a state of emergency was declared by 6 pm that evening. Information had been piling up that in certain areas well-known racial chauvinists had issued threats of violence to certain groups of citizens who openly supported the UNP to stop them from going to the polls. There is no doubt that in such areas (not in the boycott-ridden North), the polling was low (very low) because of these threats. In Colombo, too, such threats had been uttered in whispers and a large number who normally would have exercised their franchise did not do so. The currents and under-currents of this racialist war against decency and communal harmony will be examined in the coming weeks. But even more disturbing were stories that a coup had been planned to take over all strategic positions no sooner the election results were announced that Kobbekaduwa had been elected. More of this later.

It must be admitted Rupavahini did the country grand in the way the elections, the counting and the final results were flashed to the nation. The Radio too did a great job, but the visual in television cannot be easily matched. And coupled with the verbal telecast announcements, TV information got across with an impact that was truly staggering. The first result (Moneragala) came in around 6:30am on Thursday, October 21, and the last (Kurunegala) was around 5:30pm in the evening. Everyone was glued to the TV or the Radio during the whole day and it was an undeclared all-island holiday. Though the Election Commissioner had indicated that the first announcement would be after 5am on the 21st, some had kept up the whole of the previous night not wanting to miss any announcement. After all the results of the 22 electoral districts had come in, the Elections Commissioner announced the final figures:

J.R.Jayewardene – 3,450,811 votes (52.91%)

Hector Kobbekaduwa – 2,548,438 votes (39.07%)

Rohana Wijeweera – 273,428 votes (4.19%)

Kumar Ponnambalam – 173,934 votes (2.67%)

Colvin R.de Silva – 58,531 votes (0.90%)

Vasudeva Nanayakara – 17,006 votes (0.26%)

Valid votes – 6,522,147; Majority – 902,373; Total rejects – 80,470; Total polled – 6,602,617; Registered voters – 8,145,015; Voter turn-out 81.06%

One matter that has drawn comment is that J.R.Jayewardene won 21 out of 22 districts with 52.8 percent (which is the highest ever recorded by any party in an all-island poll). The district where he came a poor third was Jaffna where the results were as follows:

Kumar Ponnambalam – 87,263 votes (40.03%)

Hector Kobbekaduwa – 77,300 votes (35.46%)

J.R.Jayewardene – 44,780 votes (20.54%)

Colvin R.de Silva – 3,376 votes (1.55%)

Rohana Wijeweera – 3,098 votes (1.42%)

Vasudeva Nanayakkara – 2,186 votes (1.00%)

Valid votes – 218,003; Rejects – 10,610; Majority – 9,963; Total votes polled – 228,613; Total registered votes – 493,706; Voter turn-out 44.16%.

The TULF had called for non-participation in the elections by all Tamils. The TELF had called for a boycott. The ACTC had wanted the maximum voting by Tamils to give its candidate G.G.(Kumar) Ponnambalam a fresh mandate for Eelam. These three parties have influence only among the Ceylon Tamils and not among the Indian Tamils or the Tamil-speaking Muslims. In Jaffna where the TULF and TELF have maximum punch, the polling was 44.16%.

In the Wanni-consisting of three mainly Tamil areas of Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, the polling was as follows:

J.R.Jayewardene – 32,834 votes (46.42%)

Hector Kobbekaduwa – 23,221 votes (32.83%)

Kumar Ponnambalam – 11,521 votes (16.28%)

Rohana Wijeweera – 2,286 votes (3.23%)

Colvin R.de Silva – 584 votes (0.83%)

Vasudeva Nanayakkara – 293 votes (0.41%)

Valid votes – 70,739; Rejects – 2,447; Majority – 9,613; Total votes polled – 73,186; Total registered votes – 119,093; Voter turn-out 59.40%.

And in Batticaloa, it was:

J.R.Jayewardene – 48,094 votes (40.05%)

Kumar Ponnambalam – 47,095 votes (39.22%)

Hector Kobbekaduwa – 21,688 votes (18.05%)

Colvin R.de Silva – 1,294 votes (1.08%)

Rohana Wijeweera – 1,287 votes (1.07%)

Vasudeva Nanayakkara – 618 votes (0.51%)

Valid votes – 120,076; Rejects – 2,879; Majority – 999; Total votes polled – 122,955; Total registered votes – 172,480; Voter turn-out 69.62%.

In Trincomalee, another Tamil majority area, the voting was:

J.R.Jayewardene – 45,522 votes (48.64%)

Hector Kobbekaduwa – 31,700 votes (33.87%)

Kumar Ponnambalam – 10,068 votes (10.75%)

Rohana Wijeweera – 5,395 votes (5.76%)

Colvin R.de Silva – 635 votes (0.68%)

Vasudeva Nanayakkara – 276 votes (0.29%)

Valid votes – 93,596; Rejects – 1,795; Majority – 13,822; Total votes polled – 95,391; Total registered votes – 133,646; Voter turn-out 70.03%. 

The net result is that in the Ceylon Tamil areas the percentage of voting was 60.97 percent. It falls short of the national average of 81.063 percent poll on October 20.

In all other (Ceylon) Tamil districts (Wanni, Trincomalee and Batticaloa), J.R. had obtained the highest number of votes but in Jaffna he had been a poor third – and it is likely that he got some of his votes from the Kilinochchi area which is likely to be a separate district soon and may be attached to the Wanni electoral district. Admittedly, there is a great demand among all sections in Kilinochchi for the separation of Kilinochchi from Jaffna and the campaign for such separation is led by the MP Anandasangari who was elected on the TULF ticket. The High Command of the TULF had vigorously opposed this and because of this the government was slow to move in the matter. But recent developments indicate that the Government is likely to consider the Kilinochchi demand favourably.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to how Kobbekaduwa got his 77,300 votes in Jaffna. Had Jaffna forgotten, among other matters, the Sinhala Only, the 1972 Constitution where language rights were not enshrined in the Constitution and the infamous scheme of standardization of marks which openly discriminated against Tamil students? Various guesses have been made and continue to be made as to how the SLFP got votes they never did before. Among the reasons given are:

(1) Kobbekaduwa got a chilli and onion vote – the Jaffna farmers (like other farmers) have a grievance that imports made by the UNP had depressed prices. But many ask could chilli prices alone make people in Jaffna forget Sinhala Only or Standardisation? Kobbekaduwa had promised to stop chilli imports to enable Jaffna farmers to get Rs.40 for a pound of chillies. Was this alone enough to give him 77,300 votes?

(2) Another grievance against the UNP in Jaffna is the continued military presence and the allegations of ‘atrocities’ on civilian population. But others ask, was there not a military presence in Jaffna since the Satyagraha of 1961? Greater violence, murders, terrorism and robberies, it is being pointed out, had erupted during the UNP regime and the confrontation had become greater. Can this be remedied by casting votes for the SLFP which was the root cause of the Tamil problem with its 1956 Sinhala Only?

(3) It is also said that Kobbekaduwa had promised a pardon to free Kuttimani and the other youth now held in death row. ‘If JR can release Wijeweera why can’t I release Kuttimani?’ Did this make the TELF to relax its boycott and make an effort to bolster Kobbekaduwa’s national vote by piling it high for him in Jaffna?

(4) It is also on record that Kobbekaduwa had promised to revive the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and grant the Tamils regional autonomy. Knowledgeable observers ask whether the Jaffna man (who is credited with acumen and intelligence) sat back to consider whether Kobbekaduwa, already precariously perched on one limb of a four-faction SLFP, could resurrent the B-C Pact which S.W.R.D.[B] himself could not invest with life? Was the TULF willing to risk throwing away the DDCs (a bird in hand) to seek whatever the greener pastures of the dead B-C Pact long lost in the oblivion of time?

But these four points, individually and/or collectively, cannot explain the gift of 77,300 votes of Kobbekaduwa. A perceptive reader of Tribune who came into Colombo from Jaffna after the polling says that the stampede was the result of whirlwind whisper that a Kobbekaduwa tidal-wave had swept everything before it, including JR and the UNP and the Jaffna should make a symbolic gesture to jump into the Kobbekaduwa bandwagon. This the 77,300 votes were hustled in by both the TULF and TELF mainly  in the afternoon of the 20th. It was also intended, said our informant, to minimize the impact of the heavy poll G.G.Ponnambalam was evidently getting. We will come back to the GG poll later, but this 77,300 votes for Kobbekaduwa, it is said, was the result of an understanding between Kobbekaduwa’s political brokers and some agents of the TULF and the TELF. Tribune has no independent confirmation about such a secret understanding, but this story is going the rounds.

Anyone or any party is entitled to vote for anyone or any party even in pursuance of a secret understanding. But what is in question is the wisdom of jumping on bandwagons on bogus information furnished by interested election campaigners. Some of Kobbekaduwa’s close supporters had started a widespread whisper campaign all over the island to say that in the last week…the tide has turned in favour of the SLFP…that the UNP was being submerged by their immense upsurge in favour of the SLFP…that Kobbekaduwa’s victory was assured…that foreign diplomats and missions were certain of JR’s defeat and were hastening to woo the Kobbekaduwa camp…that the BBC (The World Today and Commentary) had predicted that Kobbekaduwa would overtake JR at the winning post…

These elements in Jaffna, it is said, were persuaded that JR was out of the picture already and that the October 20 polling would confirm the end of the JR era. The whispers had also claimed that Kobbekaduwa will not give time to the UNP to file election petitions or take other constitutional steps to prevent his being sworn in, but will stage a coup and install with his private army and police all the key positions in the Government and the administration. The whisper campaign was spread throughout the island, but seems to have had some impact in Jaffna. There is no doubt that the negative boycott politics pursued by Jaffna has tended to cut it away even from the mainstream of Tamil politics in the island. The Indian origin Tamils are now in a world apart and this came about owing to the segregationist and separatist politics of Jaffna. Earlier, Jaffna had cut itself from the Tamil-speaking world of the Muslims. And with this election, it is well on the road to distancing itself from the Wanni, Trincomalee and Batticaloa Tamils, unless it changes the course of its politics to meet current realities.

The isolation of the Jaffna politician has been brought home by the voting for G.G.Ponnambalam. He chose a slogan with which the TULF, the TELF and the expatriate moneybags in the USA and UK cannot quarrel. Their own political imperatives placed them under a compulsion to support any cry for Eelam. But the TULF and expatriate organizations wanted Tamil voters not to vote for Ponnambalam even if they wanted to exercise their franchise. The TELF wanted a boycott of the elections. But in spite of these bans, G.G.Ponnambalam Jnr. Got many more votes than many (including ourselves) had anticipated. On the votes he obtained in Jaffna and elsewhere in the Tamil areas, Ponnambalam becomes a force in Tamil politics – unless he is removed by assassination. But he has not aligned himself with any Sinhala party as Thuraiappah had done with the SLFP. He was assassinated because he had joined the SLFP, but now 77,300 persons have voted for the SLFP. Thiyagarajah was murdered because he had joined the UNP. But J.R. polled more votes than the UNP has done previously in Jaffna. But can anyone justify an attempt to assassinate challenger Ponnambalam who blackguards all Sinhala parties with equal fervour and wants a mandate for Eelam? These questions are some of the imponderables of the politics of Jaffna. But the Government has a great deal of rethinking to do about the way it should deal with the problem of Ceylon Tamils in Jaffna, the Wanni, the East Coast and elsewhere in the island.”

*****

Compared to Amarasingam’s descriptive analysis, Mervyn de Silva provided a snappy sum-up on Kumar Ponnambalam’s performance, under an attractive caption ‘The Lone Guerrilla’. The entire text was printed in italics, probably for emphasis. To quote,

‘The Lone Guerrilla’

[Mervyn de Silva: Lanka Guardian, Colombo, November 1, 1982, p.1]

Having seized the day to give the near-extinct Tamil Congress a new lease of life, Mr.Kumar Ponnambalam (or better still G.G.Ponnambalam Jr.) is making maximum use of the fact that he came first in the Jaffna district to embarrass the TULF leadership. ‘They did not have the guts to hold public meetings and tell the people their stand. Instead they held some so-called seminars in private homes and in back gardens’ sneers Mr.Ponnambalam.

Mr.Ponnambalam speaks with the authority of 170,000 votes, while the TULF finds solace in the well below 50% poll.

While some make sly use of figures to claim Mr.Ponnambalam in fact helped the UNP, Mr.Ponnambalam argues that the TULF ensured a first count win for Mr.Jayewardene. What goes on in the mind of the Tamil voter in the north? Perhaps only a general election will provide an answer.

In ‘Tigerland’, Kumar is the lone guerrilla.

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The Lanka Guardian magazine also carried a post-election analysis by V.I.S.Jeyapalan, on the topic of Tamil vote. The relevant portion is reproduced below. Sentences in the bold font are as in the original.

‘Presidential Elections ’82 and the Tamil Vote’

[V.I.S.Jeyapalan: Lanka Guardian, Colombo, November 15, 1982, p.12 & 15]

Behaviour of the Tamil voters – Northern Province, Jaffna and Vanni Districts: During the Presidential election, the Tamil speaking people who are supporting the self-determination of the Tamil speaking people of Eelam, were confused by the behaviour of several forces who had accepted or tactically utilized the ‘Cry for Eelam’. Several radical organizations with a sector of TULF, who considered the mandate for Eelam was already obtained in 1977 General Election, called for a boycott in the name of Eelam. Meanwhile Kumar Ponnambalam of the Tamil Congress, who had never accepted the right of self-determination of the Tamil people, used the Eelam cry as the main trump card in the campaign. In Batticaloa and in other areas, while a considerable section of the TULF worked for Kumar Ponnambalam, a section of the TULF notables worked for the UNP too. ‘Thamilar Suyadchi Kazhagam’ of V.Navaratnam, one of the Eelam parties, openly campaigned for Hector Kobbekaduwa on economic and tactical grounds. In this confused and confounded situation, Tamil voters have acted in the following manner:

In the Jaffna District, while 53.69% of the registered voters had refrained from voting, 17.67% of the registered voters cast their votes for Kumar Ponnambalam. The total percentage of the people who had refrained from voting and who had cast their votes for the Tamil Congress, which used the Eelam cry as their trump card in the Northern Province, was 66.86% while this percentage in Jaffna District was 71.36% (10,610) in the Jaffna District. It also appears that a good number of the rejected votes carried Eelam slogans. The above trend could reasonably be interpreted as an expression of support for the call for Eelam or its numerous variants.

The voting pattern of the Vanni District and some parts of Jaffna District were affected by the CWC activities and those of Mr.S.Thondaman who has been deeply involved in UNP election campaign, because of the fact that the participation of the recently migrated Up-country Tamils is not yet solicited by the mainstream Tamil politics.

Another important point to mark here, is the rejection by Kilinochchi voters of the mandate called for granting of a district status to Kilinochchi. In the Kilinochchi electorate, among the voters who have not boycotted this election, only 3,616 people had voted for Jayewardene while 9.822 voted for Ponnambalam and 4,188 voted for Kobbekaduwa. Another important aspect is the rejection of the JVP after their expensive and hard political work since 1979 because of their double standards on the National Question. They have obtained only 0.6% of the total registered votes in Jaffna District and 0.8% of that of Northern Province.

Tentatively analyzing the Eastern Province based on overall data is not easy because of the following reasons: (1) The homogeneity of this province of the Tamil-speaking people has been highly affected by the state-sponsored Sinhalese colonization (apart from Batticaloa district). (2) The non-homogenous population pattern of Tamil-speaking people itself.

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Kumar Ponnambalam contributed the following rebuttal to V.I.S.Jeyapalan’s analysis.

‘Tamil Vote’

[G.G.Ponnambalam Jr.: Lanka Guardian, Colombo, December 15, 1982, pp.1-2 & 15]

“I refer to the article ‘Presidential Elections ’82 and the Tamil Vote’ in your issue dated 15.11.82 by V.I.S.Jeyapalan. I wish to put the record straight on one or two matters.

(1) The mandate for Tamil Eelam was not obtained at the General Elections of 1977. According to the late S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, this mandate was given on 6.2.75 with his victory at the K.K.S.[Kankesanthurai] by-election. (Vide the speech he read out immediately after the results were announced and a motion filed in Parliament by TUF MPs including the late Chelvanayakam on 4.2.76 reiterating the same position).

(2) It is quite wrong to say that I had never accepted the right of self determination of the Tamil people. The party to which I belong and I have always accepted the right of self-determination of the Tamils. What the ACTC and I say is that the right of self determination of the Tamils in this island is inalienable and does not depend on anybody accepting or recognizing it. It is inalienable because the Tamils of Ceylon satisfy the five prerequisites of statehood.

(3) I am surprised that the writer says that 53.69% of the voters in the Jaffna District refrained from voting? Did they all refrain from voting? Was there ever a 100% turn out? Of the 53.69% who did not vote, how many were dead, away from the Jaffna district, ill in homes and hospitals, people of other races? The writer seems to have equated this 53.69% as those who had heeded the call for a boycott or non-participation.

(4) I am very happy to hear that the writer has information that a number of the rejected votes carried Tamil Eelam slogans. After the results I have been ceaselessly taunted by interested parties that something was radically wrong with the Tamils of the Jaffna District because the number of votes spoilt were over an astronomical 10,000, whereas in the other parts of the country it was nothing like that. At least now we can defend ourselves!”

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Coda:

Sixteen years later, (after the deaths of Amirthalingam, J.R. Jayewardene and Premadasa), Prof. A. Jeyaratnam Wilson revealed a ‘secret’ on why the TULF leader opted not to contest the 1982 Presidential election. To quote, “despite pressure from his TULF, Amir decided not to come forward as a presidential candidate at the 1982 presidential election. JRJ and Premadasa appealed to him and persuaded him to stand down. Amir hoped that JRJ would then, if elected deliver on the DDCs, only to be disillusioned.” [‘The JRJ – Amir Relationship’, Island, Colombo, November 29, 1998]

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