Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Presidential Election: Keeping the Family Enterprise Afloat


Kotte, Sri Lanka


18 October 2005




President Chandrika Kumaratunga has discovered "federalism" about 2 months before she permanently vacates the post of Executive President in November 2005.  The process of discovery began on 8 September 2005, hours after presidential candidate Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse signed the pre-election pact with a Sinhala-Buddhist extremist party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

Kumaratunga wrote to Rajapakse on the same day demanding he explain why the pact rejected the Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure (P-TOMS).  The pact refers to the "unitary State", which, she claimed, contradicted their Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) policy on devolution.

Rajapakse ignored Kumaratunga’s sabre rattling and concluded a similar agreement on 13 September with the Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).  This jolted the process of discovery forward.

Plural and federal

Two days later, Kumaratunga completed the process.  "We need to transform the State so it is more inclusive - equally reflecting the concerns of all communities," she purred at the Asia Society in New York.  "My view and the view of overwhelming sections of Sri Lankan society is that this will involve transforming the State from a unitary one to one that is plural and federal in nature."

Tamils knew this blinding fact more than half a century ago!!!

Of course, Kumaratunga did absolutely nothing to effect that transformation during her 11-year tenure as Executive President.  Indeed, she did the opposite.  She unleashed unprecedented State terrorism to cow the Tamil National Movement into submission.  Simultaneously, she masked the military solution with a political smokescreen made up of moribund model constitutions laced with duplicitous, federalist-type vocabulary like "devolution", "Centre", "Region" and "Capital Territory."

Her efforts have been duplicitous because Kumaratunga ruthlessly excluded the word "federal" from every constitutional reform proposal she released, from the 1995 Basic Ideas to the 2000 Draft Constitution.

No Sinhala politician from either the Opposition United National Party (UNP) or the SLFP, including Kumaratunga, has ever explicitly included the word "federal" in any election manifesto.  The reason is well known.  For over half a century both Sinhala-chauvinist parties have cynically mis-educated the Sinhala people to believe that Tamils are plotting to introduce federalism to divide the country and eventually establish an independent Tamil State.

Federalism and Sinhala nationalism

As part of the mis-education, any Sinhala politician – invariably from the miniscule and irrelevant Sinhala Left – who expressly supports federalism has been branded a "Tamil lover" and a "traitor to the Sinhala nation."

Today every mainstream Sinhala politician sees conceding federalism to Tamils as a defeat for the Sinhala nation, as a mortal blow to Sinhala supremacy.

So, the UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe slurred over federalism in his election manifesto.  He coyly referred merely to a vague solution based on the Oslo and Tokyo declarations!

The SLFP presidential candidate Rajapakse went several steps further; his agreements with the JVP and JHU constitute a charter for Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy.

In her letter to Rajapakse, Kumaratunga scrupulously avoided the word 'federal'; "our party", she wrote, "has long held that peace can be achieved only by devolving power within a united country"!!!

Kumaratunga NEVER recommended that SLFP’s policies must be changed to purge Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and incorporate federalism as a political objective.

In fact, Kumaratunga’s SLFP opposed a federal alternative tooth and nail from 1956 to the present.  Kumaratunga also is opposed to adopting federalism as an explicit, written policy of her party.  All her actions – political and military – since she took office in 1994 strengthened and entrenched the Sinhala-Buddhist unitary State and brutally marginalized the Tamil people.

Why, then, is Kumaratunga pushing the party’s presidential candidate Rajapakse to publicly commit himself to changing the Sinhala-Buddhist unitary State into a so-called "inclusive" and "plural" federal State?

Kumaratunga apologists in Colombo – mostly Sinhala peace activists – came up with what they think is a clever explanation. "CBK", they gushed, "wants to leave behind a positive legacy by promoting federalism.  What is interesting is that Kumaratunga felt the urge to spruce up her legacy AFTER Rajapakse signed the two agreements with the JVP and JHU and AFTER he emerged almost overnight as a potential winner.

Exploiting the National Question

The Action Group of Tamils (TAGOT) sees the familiar pattern of Sinhala parties exploiting the Tamil National Question for electoral ends.

But this time our soundings in Colombo point to a novel political twist, in which the Tamil National Question is being exploited in an internal, intra-party power struggle.

To grasp this new twist, it is useful to begin with the background elaborated in our Press Release of 4 August 2005.

"Having failed to change the Constitution to her convenience, Kumaratunga is evidently falling back on "Plan B," which is crafted according to the current ground realities.  The Sinhala-chauvinist Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has significantly eroded the SLFP’s Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist vote base… Worse still, SLFP rule is answerable for the economic woes most dramatically demonstrated by skyrocketing costs of living and falling real incomes. 

Kumaratunga must also be aware of the history of regular electoral swings in Sri Lanka.  That indicates the time has come round for the next United National Party’s (UNP) President… Clearly victory for the SLFP candidate is far from certain.  President Kumaratunga, if she were the candidate, is the only SLFP politician who stands a fighting chance of success since she can exploit the powers of Executive Presidency to her advantage.  Defeat is most likely for any other under current conditions.  So, in Kumaratunga’s calculations this is not the time to risk the neck of her brother Anura Bandaranaike in a contest against the Opposition UNP’s candidate and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. 

Clearly that would be unwise.  If Anura Bandaranaike were defeated, which is very likely, that would truly put an end to the family’s dynastic politics.  But the SLFP has to field a presidential candidate.  So it is time to deliver a sacrificial goat.

Rajapakse, as Prime Minister, would take a direct hit for the deepening economic crisis. He is a lame-duck candidate.  In Kumaratunga’s calculations, if a SLFP presidential candidate is bound to bite the dust, it better be Rajapakse.  His defeat will neutralise a competing centre of power within the SLFP and immensely strengthen her hand.  It follows that Kumaratunga would begin manoeuvres to entrench her position in the Party.  This is confirmed by reports last week, almost parallel to the news of Rajapakse’s nomination, that the SLFP is considering revising the Party’s constitution to give its leader – Kumaratunga – more powers.

Rajapakse’s defeat also will, by contrast, underline the Bandaranaike family’s electoral credibility.  Kumaratunga’s supporters within the SLFP and outside can be expected to make the hypothetical claim that had she been the candidate, she would have won.  Their obvious intention would be to strengthen her brother Anura Bandaranaike’s claim to be SLFP’s presidential candidate six years (or less) from now."

In August Kumaratunga did not even remotely expect Rajapakse to clinch a deal with the JVP.  Rather, she calculated that the JVP would work against Rajapakse.  An isolated Rajapakse was destined to lose the coming November election to Wickremasinghe.  And then her brother Anura Bandaranaike (not forgetting her son waiting in the wings) would have been the unchallenged SLFP candidate for the next presidential election.

But Rajapakse outmanoeuvred Kumaratunga.

His pact with the JVP and the support he garnered from the JHU are very likely to ensure his victory.  Kumaratunga’s ploy to keep her family’s political prospects alive for the next presidential election is in serious jeopardy.  A victorious Rajapakse will consign all of them to the dustbin of history.

That would suit the JVP just fine.  It is in JVP’s interest that Rajapakse’s wins and puts the Bandaranaike clan out to grass.

So Kumaratunga is moving to undermine Rajapakse’s chances of victory by demanding that he publicly commit himself to federalism.

Obviously Rajapakse will not do that.  And Kumaratunga knows it well.  So, she is raising federalism to underline the fact that Rajapakse, by rejecting it, is defending the existing Sinhala unitary State.

Her transparent intention is to turn Tamil and Muslim voters against Rajapakse and reduce his chances of victory.

Aggressive Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism

Rajapakse answered Kumaratunga aggressively by intensifying his Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism.  Immediately after formalising the agreement with the JHU at the historic Buddhist Dalada Maligawa Temple on 13 September, Rajapakse bluntly warned Tamils: "They [the Tigers] must realise that we have to satisfy the Sinhalese people in the majority.  Without them we can't move forward."

Three days later, at the Sinhala-chauvinist Patriotic National Movement (PNM) convention, Rajapakse made a moving plea to safeguard the Sinhala country: "I will save the [Sinhala-Buddhist] nation for the future generation," he chanted to an ecstatic crowd.

All this confirms the conclusion Tamils have reached already.  Who wins in Colombo at the November presidential election is of little consequence to the Tamil people.  The reactionary Sinhala leadership of any hue is incapable of working towards a political settlement with the Tamil National Movement, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT)
Dr S Sathananthan Ph D