An Ineffective & Fragmented Political Opposition

By: Thambu Kanagasabai LLM [Lond.], November 6, 2017
Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo
President, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Organization.

In the last Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2015, majority of Tamils and Muslims voted for the ‘good governance’ promised by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and SLFP led by Maithiripala Sirisena who wisely broke free from the hold of Mahinda Rajapakshe.  The international community greeted the victories of these leaders with much relief, resulting in the ouster of a hostile and dictatorial Mahinda Rajapaksha.

The Tamils also felt relieved and hoped for the delivery of promises made during the election campaign by the new leaders.  Tamil National Alliance [TNA] for the first time called on the Tamils and Muslims to vote for the coalition parties, though Tamils were already determined to vote out Mahinda Rajapaksha for conducting the genocidal war with the support of 22 countries and caused the worst sufferings for the Tamils.

Now, after two years in power, the record of ‘good governance’ is disappointing and deceptive as a whole, except the removal of fear and insecurity among the civilians who now enjoy the freedom of speech and expression.

TNA’s Leader Sampanthan became the official Opposition Leader, a post which was earlier held by Tamil United Liberation Front’s [TULF] late Amirthalingam during the UNP’s rule in 1977 under late J.R. Jayawardene.

The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] who dominated the Tamil’s political scene and power in the 2006-2009 war has resulted in a complete change of equation.  The fall from a commanding position of the Tamils has now resulted in a fall into dismal, divisive politics and policies among the Tamil Parties and leaders.

The TNA composed of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization [TELO], the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam [PLOTE], the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front [EPRLF] and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi [ITAK] opted to support the ‘good governance’ coalition Government without joining it and without any written agreements laying down conditions of their support.  Oral and gentlemen’s promises and undertakings were preferred and relied on by the TNA despite the fact that earlier written agreements were treated like scrap, while oral promises also suffered a similar fate like Mahinda’s offering of 13+  [With more powers under the 13th Amendment for the Northern Provincial Council] for the Tamils made during the war.

It has always been the habit and practice of Sinhalese leaders to pour out promises on occasions whenever they appear in the Tamil areas and cities, Jaffna etc. and during election time.  Classic example is former Prime Minister Sir John Kotalawela’s promise in Jaffna in the 1950s to grant parity of status to Sinhalese and Tamil Languages.  In general, promises given to Sinhalese in the South are mostly honored to keep alive the chances of political success.  Similarly, written Pacts made with Sinhalese leaders also suffered the same fate for political expediency and fortunes:

  • Bandaranayake/Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957
  • Dudly/Chelvanayagam Pact of 1965
  • Indo/SriLanka Accord of 1967
  • Oslo Agreement of 2002, etc.

Political opportunism always prevails over political stability and national reconciliation.  The present Government of ‘good governance’ deservedly justified the hopes of Tamils for a permanent and acceptable political settlement, viewing the historic but uneasy alliance of the two major political parties, UNP and SLFP, which always earlier played the role of killing each others’ political proposals, true to the spirit of opposing them for political opportunism and gains.

These two parties with their absolute majority in Parliament along with the unconditional support of TNA now appear to be wavering, bickering among themselves, showing the lack of commitment and political determination to end the ethnic problem once and for all.  The present opportunity could be the last and if missed, it will never materialize in the future as ‘opportunity only knocks once and if missed it is lost forever’. It appears to be that this opportunity is being frittered away.

The past two year’s rule of the government is surely disappointing for all, but more so for the Tamils.  As for the Tamils the writing was on the wall when the 100 day program first mentioned and included the settlement of ethnic problem,’ but that priority was later deleted.  The hopes of the Tamils and even the TNA’s expectations were dealt a blow by this deliberate action, which was in fact like the Tamil proverb “the sound of bells comes first signalling the later arrival of elephant”.  True to the policy of following the precedents of earlier Sinhalese leaders, various promises were made by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil to Tamil leaders, Tamil demonstrators, Tamil delegations — even to the International Community and foreign dignitaries.  Some of these promises related to the release of political prisoners, the fate of missing and/or disappeared persons, the role of the military and seized civilian lands.

These promises remain unfulfilled so far.

The TNA’s leader Sampanthan, who is also the Leader of the Opposition and crowned with the leadership of Tamils, reposed full trust and confidence on the dual leadership of President Maithiri and Prime Minister Ranil.  He also made strong and convincing statements with full confidence that an acceptable political settlement would be forthcoming within 100 days and then promised it before Diwali in 2016 and then again before Diwali in 2017.  Now he is expressing his hope to celebrate the next 2018 Diwali with happiness and joy, believing that the evasive political settlement will materialize by then.  On all occasions, he requested for patience and not to spoil the present climate, which now seems muddy and pessimistic.

The ongoing episode involving the political prisoners who are locked up without going through the judicial process of trial, bail, conviction or release is simply a mockery of justice and rule of law inflicted by this ‘good governance’ regime.  The pathetic scenario concerning the three political prisoners whose trials which were conducted in Vavuniya and are now ordered to be transferred to Anuradhapura is just another hallmark of this ‘good governance’ aided by the favourable Attorney General’s office.  The obvious unjustifiable fear is that the trial in Anuradhapura, a Sinhalese are, will lead to a judgement influenced by ethnic factors.  The ‘good governance’ has thus indicated its ‘continuance of the policy of justice based on ethnic factors’. [It is to be noted these political prisoners were arrested on suspicion under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] and most of them have been in jail for more than 10 years with delayed hearings and inaction of the Governments in power]

It is all the more sickening to note the inability of the disappointing TNA leader to remedy this simple & unjust procedural step.  It appears that he has now folded his opposition role and has opted to treat the promises given by the President as lighthearted empty statements with no value or seriousness, while being careful to maintain the policy of collaboration and co-operation with the Government.

The TNA’s performance in the other serious matters affecting the Tamils is far also from satisfactory.  The Interim Committee’s Constitutional Proposals are just formulations and suggestions without any finality.  The proposals, such as the rejection of a unitary form of Government and a shared sovereignty for the North and East, have not been accepted by the committee which is confirmed by the TNA’s footnote to the proposals which bares the truth that there was no 100% consensus for the proposals by those who participated excepting the UNP.

The TNA Leader is now asking Tamils not to mention the word ‘federal’ as it would antagonize the Sinhalese.  It is to be mentioned that late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam formed the Federal Party advocating federalism as the only solution to the Tamils’ political grievances.  Even the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka’s judgement confirmed that ‘federalism is not separation and it would not lead to separation’, thus once and for all puiting an end to this unfounded controversy and confusion surrounding federalism which is prevailing among the Sinhalese.

TNA has also unreasonably failed to fully identify itself with the peaceful protesters campaigning for ‘the disappeared and missing’, ‘political prisoners’, and release of lands seized by the security forces’.  The TNA has now opted for the role of spectators instead of acting as leaders to spearhead these campaigns.  It appears that the affected Tamils as a whole are now brought down and forced to the position to initiate the protests and fend for themselves as long as they can survive, braving the heat, dust, cold and rain.

There is no doubt that this weak and aimless leadership of the TNA has emboldened the ‘good governance’ regime to proceed with its own agenda of Buddhisisation and Sinhalaisation in the North and East of Sri Lanka, the historical and traditional homeland of the Tamils.  The TNA holding the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ post is functioning neither as an opposition party to the Government’s program and decisions affecting the Sinhalese and Tamils, nor with any constructive moves to carry forward the struggle of Tamils giving vent to their feelings of grief, frustration and traumas accumulated during the last sixty years.

It appears that TNA has chosen to better support ‘Maithiri and Ranil’ rather than allowing Mahinda to rise as the next ruler.

As for the Tamils, there is no gainsaying of the fact that all the Sinhalese leaders are united in pursuing the agenda of Buddhisiation and Sinhalisation, but only disunited as to the intensity and scope in their pursuit of their communal campaign, with each one attempting to out-class the other to capture the political crown.

Maithiri’s veiled warning to the protesters in Jaffna who protested against his visit by saying that “If you don’t support me you will allow only a ghost to emerge” shows his fear for Mahinda , but for the Tamils both are one coin with two faces but with the same political value.

It is incomprehensible to note that the TNA led has not achieved anything concrete so far after eight years of leadership given by the Tamils since 2009.  Their failings and omissions have to be highlighted for the sake of information.

  1. TNA has neither passed a resolution confirming the ‘GENOCIDE’ nor is there any oral statement made to this effect so far.  TNA by this unpardonable blunder have only weakened the Tamils cause in the United Nations, UNHRC and international community while discouraging the West also to desist calling the war crimes as GENOCIDE.
  2. TNA has failed to carry on a campaign to prosecute the war criminals either locally or outside or even initiating steps to prosecute them under the Universal Jurisdiction Clause. This inexcusable lapse is nothing but inflicting more wounds to the victims of war and to the dead and fallen youths and civilians, thus jettisoning the twin principles of accountability and justice.
  3. TNA has maintained inexplicable silence over the ongoing process of Sinhalisation and Buddhisisation.  It appears they have left this matter to the affected locals to protest in places where Buddhist Viharas are built and Buddha statues are erected. This silence of the TNA could be considered as consent to the Government’s program, justifying the saying that ‘silence is consent’.
  4. Furthermore Sam & Suma appear to be controlling the ITAK as well as the TNA. This is seen when the other partners in the TNA [TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE] have started to openly criticize Sam and particularly Suma for taking decisions without their approval, not even consultation with them. Sampanthan’s recent step motherly treatment of EPRLF MP Sivasakthi Ananthan as an outcast in the Parliament during the debate on the constitutional proposals by denying and stifling his democratic rights to speak while allowing all the other TNA MPs smacks of his dictatorial attitude. Above all this unjust action confirms his utter disregard to maintain the unity of TNA, thus falling into the hands of Maithiri/Ranil’s ‘divide and rule policy’. The duo have thus broken the TNA’s unity and discipline along with their strength to speak with one voice. Undoubtedly, the duo have fallen into the historical ‘divide and rule trap policy’ of Sinhalese leaders. The often heard pleas and cries of suffering Tamils for a united front and united voice seem to be falling on the deaf ears of TNA.
  5. TNA has so far never initiated any mass and popular protests against the Government for their delay, refusal and denial of justice and remedies for the grievances of Tamils which have been accumulating for the past sixty years, particularly after the genocidal war. Above all it is a pity that TNA has no agenda or program of action to pursue the goals and aspiration of Tamils. It appears the recent statements of TNA are confirming their abandoning the election pledges of Federalism and North & East merger while accepting the unitary form of Government and endorsing Buddhism’s foremost place in the Proposed Constitution.
  6. TNA leadership is also making wavering and confusing statements on the Interim Committee Proposals, sometimes saying “we will fight for federalism and merger of North and East’ and on another occasion ‘a united country with federal aspects’, while Suma says ‘There is no possibility of North and East merger’. Sam and Suma are also blowing hot and cold over the clause giving Buddhism its foremost place’. While in Parliament, Sumanthiran in one breath advocates the insertion of ‘secular state’, in another breath he says ‘we will accept Buddhism’s foremost place if the Buddhists want it’. This is nothing but confusing and self-contradictory.

It is further disappointing to note the dismantled TNA and the subdued and meek opposition expressed by TNA which is not the hallmark in the political history of Tamils. Viewing the TNA’s unacceptable and poor political performance and consequently weakening the causes of the Tamils, who are also ignored by Security Council and United Nations so far, a solemn duty has fallen on the shoulders of students and their leaders to rise up and take control of the politics and destiny of Tamils. Power of students has to be recognized, embraced and accepted by all the Tamils to carry forward the struggle for accountability and justice.

Sacrificing some time and energy for this noble cause will go down in the history as sacrifices to save the Tamils from extinction through the process of assimilation which is underway in the North and East. Duty and burden also lies on them to make the Government and the international community realise the strength of opposition which is now treated by the Government as nuisance or no value.  Sam & Suma’s much applauded speeches in Parliament during the debate on ‘Interim Committee Proposals’ focused on the need for an acceptable solution ending with entreating and humble pleas to the Government to consider the importance of solution to the national question. However, it has fallen short without indicating or mentioning the action plan of TNA in the event the Government fails to honor the pleas and deliver an acceptable political settlement proposals, which situation is going to be certain to materialize viewing the past political somersaults of past Sri Lankan Governments’, who have been adept in delivering promises only to be followed by breaches.

Above all whether the proposed new constitution will have a ten month safe delivery without abortion is doubtful and far from certain, viewing the rising tide of irrational and communal opposition from various quarters in the South like Mahinda front, Mahanayakas front and other chauvinist outfits and groups who are breathing fire and fury and helping themselves with the bogey of separation as their trump card.

With a wavering and disunited TNA,  which is not exploiting its present political strength and status, it is left for the students, Tamil Civil Groups, Intellectuals and Diaspora to lead the Tamils as one force while seeking the support and intervention of International Community.

It is better late than never for the TNA to initiate and pursue a concerted campaign for the universally and UN recognised people’s right of self-determination which has been kept alive in all the political manifestos of all Tamil political parties since 1976 including the present TNA.

The much expected hope and optimism that the existing historical coalition of major parties in Sri Lanka, UNP and SLFP would bring out a permanent and acceptable political settlement for the Tamils has proved to be an illusion as the reality is  that the South political parties will never be able to free themselves from the entrenched ‘Mahavamsa’ mindset and the resultant process of  Buddhisisation and Sinhalisisation agenda set in motion from 1948 by the late D.S. Senanayake which is continuing unabated, unhindered, undeterred and uninterrupted  in the North and East.

It is relevant to quote Thirukurral no; – 448-

“This bemoans the fate of a king who will perish without the guard of men who can criticise him, even though there is no one to destroy him”.


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Filed under Politics.

No Responses to “An Ineffective & Fragmented Political Opposition”

  1. Kumarathasan Rasingam

    This is an excellent article explaining the inaction and conflicting statements made by the Tamil Leaders during the election and coming out with baseless excuses and lies to the Tamil citizen who are eager to know what is in this proposed draft.
    Sinhalese leaders my3 and Maha Sanga that there is no Federal form of government and no merger of North and East.
    Further My3 is trying to protect the War Criminals and challenges even the UN that he will not allow his soldiers investigated by foreign Judges or investigators.
    Also he promised the soldiers that the military will not be removed from North and East.
    It is shocking why our Tamil Leaders still continuing their soft diplomacy – not uttering a word against these statements by Sinhalese leaders in public to the people.
    The writer very cleverly identified the ‘mindset’ of all successive rulers of Sri Lanka since independence ‘THE MAHAVAMSA MINDSET’ which is entrenched in every Sinhalese minds. Mahavamsa is really a myth and not a historical record.

  2. S Siva

    The author exposes his expertise in ground situation, pinpoint government failures despite they came to power with Tamils’ votes. Further author exposed failures of Tamil leadership from time to time even after genocide was committed.

    President Srisena is just marking time without fulfilling his obligations as he was part of the alleged genocidal regime and potentially cover up those committed genocide and mass human rights abuses. Foreign diplomats and leaders are corrupted by the Regime to support their genocidal agenda and ignore plights from the victims demanding Justice.

    Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid and racism spread to Myanmar that committed alleged war crimes and ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas. Unfortunately our neighbour, India, is a total failure on human rights and Justice due to its highly corrupt culture and many alleged criminals are in parliament. At present, India is one of the worst abusers of human rights, oppressing freedom struggles, democracy and Justice using armed forces to commit atrocities against civilians and human rights activists, dissidents, journalists in Kashmir, Manipur and in many states and thus Tamil leaders cannot rely on an oppressive nation to support a democratic freedom struggle.

    Unless International community intervene without further delay, investigate all crimes and deliver Justice, state forces crimes will be committed with impunity, refugees flee for safety from Sinhala Buddhist oppression. Tamils who fled oppressive Sri Lanka are living as law abiding citizens in many nations, prospered well academically and professionally and it exposes Tamils’ discipline, dedication, determination, values and contribute to their new home country immensely.