My dear brothers and sisters,
We live in confusing times. Oppressed, threatened, intimidated and discriminated against. We are at crossroads where there is no clear sign of resolution of our travails. Which path do we charter? To vote for MR or MS or any other contestant or to boycott the Election. I have grappled with this question as much as you have and have come to the conclusion that we have only one option- to vote for the Common Candidate, Maithripala Sirisena contesting under the Swan symbol. I will lay my thinking before you in the hope that it may help my Tamil speaking brothers and sisters from the North and East, from the Upcountry, from Colombo or from any other part of the Country to make your decision.
At the outset I must say that the TNA as a coalition party has made a decision to support the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena. It is not important whether their decision is right or wrong. Even those who say it was a wrong decision have not come out openly and asked others to vote for Mahinda. Of course I do not refer to the nondescripts who fawn upon Mahinda. Why I refer to this fact is because we Tamils, have been fractured and disunited, which has helped successive groups of politicians to take advantage of and decimate us. In these trying times, we must remain united. Not voting as the TNA has urged would portray us as a divided group with no political power. We have to show that we are a power to be reckoned with; that parties that come to power in the South need us to build coalitions. Voting in numbers will give us that respect and political bargaining power.
Very cogent arguments have been made by several informed groups and even two of my own councillors asking you to vote according to your conscience and in opposition to the TNA call to vote for the Common Candidate. Noteworthy is that no one is asking you to vote for the incumbent President contesting for an anti-democratic third term. In fact, my friends at the Tamil Civil Society Forum have in their recent public announcement stated that the current regime is ferociously implementing a programme aimed at destroying the collective existence of the Tamil people.
You, my brothers and sisters, have witnessed and are witnessing the oppression first hand.
In those circumstances is it not obvious that we should vote against the incumbent to ensure our survival as an ancient and culturally cohesive group? Can we do that by boycotting the election, spoiling the vote or voting for the lesser candidates? No, we cannot. For a vote to be against the incumbent and for that vote to be worthwhile it has to be cast for the Common Candidate. Thus if we want to put an end to our immediate travails and prevent our group from being destroyed we must vote for the only other candidate who can win.
Many questions have been raised about the coalition partners supporting the Common Candidate and whether the Common Candidate himself will continue the subjugation and suppression of the collective rights of the Tamil speaking people. The honest answer is we do not know for sure. But, we can say, that it will certainly be more difficult for him to do so. You must remember that he is a supported by a diverse coalition, including our Muslim brethren and the party led by Mano Ganesan largely supported by our Upcountry bretheren. He cannot therefore marginalise a particular group easily. His campaign is based on inclusiveness and democracy and therefore it will be very difficult for him to change it. He has also pledged to curb the authoritarian executive presidency and has put forward a credible plan to depoliticise the judiciary and the public service. That would go a long way in helping us vindicate our rights and fight against systematic discrimination. As long as we are faced with a dictatorship we can have no hope of a rights based solution. Opening up democratic space will help us speak to our Sinhalese brethren, who for the first time have understood what it is like to be under the heel of a dictator. They are in a position where they could understand our problems if the space opens up for discussion. The incumbent thrives on keeping us labelled as “terrorists” and there can be no hope of an exchange of ideas or building up of trust. Finally, the common candidate is a farmer’s son from Polonnaruwa who is aware of the problems of an agrarian society. He will be more likely to empathise with our concerns for land rights and our need to get back our agricultural lands.
Others are concerned that we will lose the momentum achieved in international fora. These people possibly fail to understand how these international fora work. Those processes will continue. They will only cease to operate if impartial domestic tribunals are set up and justice is obtained. If justice is obtained we have no reason to complain. It is because we don’t have faith in our domestic system that we seek support from the international community. Of course, given the current system the common candidate will face an uphill task in reinstating such faith, and until such time we will not give up our quest for justice. In any event Geneva would complete its assignment before we repair our Judiciary!
People have also voiced the concern that voting for the Common Candidate is a vote for the JHU, which is opposed to sharing of power with the Tamil speaking peoples. From a legal and moral perspective voting for a candidate who stands for multiple issues does not mean that you are supportive of all the issues of that candidate. This applies with stronger force when a person is supported by a diverse group with diverse interests. No one can claim that a vote for Maithripala Sirisena is a vote for the JHU. I see this as an opportunity to engage with members of the JHU who are committed to democracy and make them understand our problems.
Most importantly, a vote against the regime is a vote for democracy. We have said that the Sinhalese are suffering today because they turned a blind eye when we were being discriminated against and oppressed. We must not make the same mistake. We must show them that as Tamils, we will always support democratic processes and stand up to tyranny. We will win their respect and gratitude. Even if we don’t, our honour and dignity will remain unsullied.
Let me urge you my dear brothers and sisters to go early to your polling booths and vote for Maithripala Sirisena contesting under the Swan symbol and not let the undemocratic measures that the government will most likely take, discourage you. I am reliably informed that they are poised to hinder the vote and possibly target several of us but we must remain strong. I urge you to vote as you did at the Provincial Council Elections. Hold strong and may God give you courage.