Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Presidential Election and the Tamil People

Translation of an article by Saa. Aa. Tharmaratnam in the 'Thinakural' Tamil daily on 29th October 2005    

As far as the Southern politicians of Sri Lanka are concerned, time and again their acts have always been directed to capturing political power. Every time there is a change in the  leadership of the Sri Lankan government (GoSL), our Tamil people believe that their status will improve with such a change. But our people have always been disappointed with such hopes. Because of this, Tamils do not believe anymore that the Sri Lankan leader brought to power through an election will engage with the Tamils or will be dedicated in taking the peace process forward.  

Under the present circumstances, both the candidates for the Sri Lankan Presidency are focusing their attention on strategies that would increase the number of votes for them ( from their vote banks ). Neither of them are coming up with any practical solutions to the problems faced by the Tamil people, that can be implemented.  

By joining forces with Sinhala chauvinists, Mahinda Rajapakse has been putting forward to the electorate views that oppose the just and reasonable stand taken by the Tamil people. Likewise, Ranil Wickramasinghe is also telling the electorate that the peace effort would be feasible only with the consent of the SLFP. Therefore, the views of both parties are unfavourable to the Tamil people, and are not creating a conducive environment to resolve the long standing problems of the Tamils.  

Our people, who have long been subjected to racial violence and oppression, have become politically awakened. In the recent past, the Tamil people through their votes in the elections have sent clear messages to the International community what their political aspirations are. Likewise, during this presidential elections, our people will express their clear stand using their independent minds. This is the current stand of all the Tamils. The above was said by LTTE Political wing head P. Thamilselvan, who was heading the team of senior LTTE delegates who met the Norwegian Envoy.  

Well before the recent past, in the general elections held from 1956 to 1977, the Tamils from Southern Srii Lanka had been voting for one of the two Sinhala chauvinist parties and had helped them capture power. Tamils have learnt bitter lessons from such experiences and there is no doubt that this has resulted in the current stand taken by the  Tamil people, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The Prime Minister before 1956 was Sir John Kottalawela. His party, the UNP, until then held a stand of parity of status between the Sinhalese language and Tamil language as far as the official language policies were concerned. The UNP went against that stand, and suddenly passed a resolution stating that the Sinhala language will be the only official language of Sri Lanka, at the  National Conference of the UNP held at Kelaniya. Immediately after passing the Sinhala Only  resolution, the UNP dissolved parliament to obtain a mandate from the electorate to make the Sinhala Only resolution into law through a Parliamentary Act.  

In the meantime, SWRD Bandaranayake, the leader of the Srilanka Freedom Party ( SLFP), had promised that his party would implement the Sinhala Only official language policy within 24 hours of coming into power after the April 1956 General Elections. Bandaranayake formed a coalition called the United Peoples Front by joining forces with Sinhala extremist parties like Philip Gunawardne's  VLSSP, W.Dahanayake, KEMP Rajaratne & others, and contested the elections.

Although, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party headed by Dr.N.M.Perera and the communist party headed by Dr.Wickramasinghe were emphasizing the importance of maintaining the parity of status between the Sinhala and Tamil languages to avoid  contest in any constituencies, they signed a NO CONTEST pact with SWRD Bandaranayke's coalition before the 1956 elections. The Southern Sri Lanka Tamil voters were mislead by such a pact. They believed SWRD Bandaranayke, who got the support of the two leftist parties, would never go forward with the implementation of the Sinhala Only official language policy - that it was only an election strategy to maximize votes - and thus voted overwhelmingly for SWRD Bandaranayke's coalition comprising the Sinhala extremists.   The aim was to teach a lesson to the UNP for the somersault made by its leader, Sir John Kottalawela, on the official language policy, clouded the eyes and thinking of the Southern Tamils. By their votes they helped SWRD Banadaranayke's party, which had the same Sinhala Only policy, to gain a majority and to capture power. Thus, it was a sad political lesson for the Southern Tamils. The UNP that got defeated in this election was only able to safeguard 8 seats. Because of the lesson learnt from the elections, Kottalawela said that he would not like to sit in parliament as an equal with TREE CLIMBERS and abstained from attending the parliament. Everyone knows this. After that he never went to parliament.  

Even though the Southern Tamil voters had taught the UNP a lesson for the somersault they did on the official language policy, by making SWRD Banadaranayake who endorsed the same Sinhala Only official language policy, gain overwhelming majority, they shot themselves in the foot. They should have taken this as a classic lesson and should have used their votes prudently in the subsequent elections.They did not do this. It is sad, indeed regrettable.  

In the subsequent general election, held in March 1960, none of the parties got the necessary majority to form the government. The voters had voted for a hung parliament. It was bad situation. Neither the UNP nor the SLFP could form the  government without the support of the Ceylon Thamil Arasu Kadchi ( Federal Party or FP) lead by 'Thanthai' Chelvanayagam. The Federal Party leader Chelva had declared that the party which accepts and agrees to implement the minimum four demands put forward by the F.P. will get their support in forming a government. Without getting the consent of Chelva, the UNP's Dudley Senanayake ( the gentleman ) told a lie to the then Governor General Sir Oliver Gunatillake that the UNP has got the support of the F.P and thus got appointed as Prime Minister. Dudley also appointed 6 nominated MPs. Dudley Senanayake had rejected the 4 demands put forward to him by the F.P. and had started to use, influence and pressure Chelvanayagam to render unconditional support to his party to form the government.  

In contrast, the new leader of the SLFP, Silva agreed to implement the 4 demands put forward by the F.P., provided the latter supported the SLFP to form the government. Under these circumstances the  government of Dudley Senanayke was defeated at the first voting on the Throne Speech in parliament. Although a petition signed by all the opposition parties agreeing to Silva forming the new government was given to Governor General Sir Oliver Gunatilake, the latter rejected the request and accepted Dudley's proposal to dissolve the parliament. He thus ordered parliament to be dissolved for fresh elections.  

The re-election was scheduled to be held in July 1960. In the meantime, on the advice of Iron Man Dr.E.M.V. Naganathan, the young widow Srimavo Bandaranayake came forward to lead the SLFP. She made a gentleman's agreement with Chelva that, if she was helped by the F.P. to capture power, she would implement her husband's Banda-Chelva Pact.  

In the General Election held in July 1960, with the overwhelming support of the F.P., LSSP, CP, the SLFP won the elections with a huge majority and was thus able to form a government as a single party. The leader of the SLFP, Srimavo Bandaranayke, who did not contest the elections, got appointed as a member of the Senate and thus became the Prime Minister.  

When the results of the election were announced via radio, for the first time in Southern Sri Lanka the Sinhalese celebrated the victory of Chelvanayagam in the Kankesanthurai constituency with firecrackers. This was a historic event. Likewise, when the parliament was convened after the elections, the SLFP supporters who gathered in front of the Parliament Building, cheered in rhetoric  shouting " Jeya Wewa for Chelvanayagam Mhathaya. . These events proved the important support the Federal Party gave the SLFP to clinch such a great victory in the General elections.  

There is a well known Tamil proverb, "Big brother, small brother relationship is formed only until crossing the river.Once the river is crossed, you are different and I am different." Soon after securing the position of prime minister, not only did Srimavo Bandaranaykae follow her husband's footsteps by aborting the Banda-Chelva Pact, but went further to take the Sinhala Only official language policy into the judicial courts in the island. Under the leadership of Chelvanayagam, the Federal Party of Ceylon objected to these actions by the SLFP government and started a civil disobedience campaign by doing a 'satyagraha' in front of the Jaffna Secretariat of the government.   Step by step the 'Satyagraha' campaign was extended to other areas and the NorthEast administration was brought to halt within 2 months. The establishment of their own  postal services by the FP was one of the major aspects of the 'satyagraha' campaign which resulted in the release of postal stamps. This had attracted the attention of the international stamp collectors. The Srimavo Government, which was keeping quiet until then, woke up and as a combat tactic announced that the crown lands in the north and east will be distributed to the landless people. At the same time, the Government declared a state of emergency and imposed a 48 hour curfew and ordered the armed forces to attack the 'Satyagrahis' who were campaigning peacefully.  

The Satyagrahis were taken by force to the new army camp at Panagoda. All were kept under arrest. Chelvanayagam fell sick and developed fever. The anxious government took him to his rented house,  Alfred House in Kollupitya and kept him there under house arrest. Non FP members, Jaffna Mayor Tha.Sa.Thurairaja, Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan, Vavuniya MP Tha Sivasithambaram, were also put under house arrest among others.  

Among those who were born to make stories, the Iron Man Dr.E.M.V.Naganathan was one. He was the one who advised and influenced Srimavo Bandaranayke to accept the leadership of the SLFP in order to make the name of SWRD Bandaranayke make its mark in history. Dr.Naganathan was the only one who went into hiding to escape house arrest. His objective was to suddenly appear in the parliament and reveal to the house all the atrocities the army had unleashed against the peaceful Tamils.  

The armed forces which put Tamil Congress members, like Jaffna Mayor Thurairajah and Vavuniya MP Sivasithambaram, under house arrest in Panagoda and make stories, failed to get  stories out of Udupiiddy MP Sivasithambaram. Instead he was severely assaulted by the armed forces which resulted in serious injuries. The plan hatched by Dr.E.M.V.Naganathan and T.Sivasithambaram to go to the parliament in disguise as a Christian Priest and a labourer respectively did not work because of the transport ban. Dr.Naganathan surrendered to his son-in-law Nathaniel, a CID officer and was put under house arrest in Panagoda camp.   The atrocities carried out by the armed forces in the northeast were brought to the attention of the parliament and placed on record  by Edmund Smarakody and T.Sivasithamparam.  

The LSSP in which the Tamils had  great faith accepted 3 Ministry posts and signed a pact with the SLFP and joined the government in 1963. Objecting to this somersault by the LSSP leaders, both Bla Thamboo (a Trade  Unionist) and Edmund  Samarakody left the LSSP, whereas the Communist Party which did not get a Ministry post still supported the SLFP coalition government.  

The 1965 General election was due and was held under the above circumstances. Like in 1960, it resulted in a hung parliament. With the aim of wooing the Ceylon Federal Party (FP), Srimavo Bndaranayake, although defeated in the GE, delayed her resignation. All the efforts she made to go for an agreement with the FP did not bear any fruit. Under these circumstances, when she came to know that an agreement was reached between UNP and CFP to establish District Councils at the meeting held at Tiruchelvam's house at Rosmead Place, and that the UNP was going to form the next government, she submitted her resignation to the Governor General, William Gopallawa.  

In order for his government to be strong, Dudley Senanayake insisted that at least 3 ministry posts be held by the Federal Party. But this was turned down as none of the elected F.P MPs were willing to take on the Ministry positions. Nevertheless, on the insistence that at least one Ministry  position must be taken up to plan and prepare the District Council Bill, an outsider, the late Thiruchelvam, was made a senator and appointed as Minster for the local Government.  

Amidst protests and other obstructions, the Bill for reasonable use of Tamil language based on the Dudley-Chelva Pact was submitted in the parliament on 8th January 1966.On that day, the protest march carried out by all the opposition united  parties, ended in violence. One Buddhist monk died. Nevertheless the bill was passed in  Parliament, however, he reasonable use of Tamil language act was never implemented properly.  

With regards to the District Council promise in the Dudley-Chelva Pact, the government was able to submit only a white paper in parliament. Dudley Senananayake accepted his inability  to introduce the District Council Bill  in parliament and make it an act because of the strong opposition within his party.

The opposition parties' vehement objection to the District Councils was  also one of the main reasons for the pathetic state of Dudley's government. The Federal Party did not want to add strength to the objections of the opposition, and as a result postponed the withdrawal of their support to the government.

When Dudley Senananayake made an official visit to Trincomalee, the Saivite Hindus of Trincomalee handed over a petition to the Prime Minister, requesting the area surrounding the Thirukoneshwaram temple to be declared a sacred city. Dudley passed that petition to the Minister for the local Government, Senator M.Thiruchelvam, who was standing beside him and asked him to take the necessary action on the petition. Subsequently, what the minister did was to appoint a committee of enquiry under the chairmanship of KC Nithiyananda, through a miscellaneous gazette notification, to study and submit a report.

The three party-coalition government elected in 1970 should have completed its term and faced a new election in 1975. Instead, it cited the new 1972 constitution in force as a reason, and extended its term by one year in an irregular way. The new constitution not only denied many of the rights Tamils had under the earlier constitutions, it also removed the 29th special provision under the Soulsbury constitution and gave special position and rights to Buddhism. Because of this, all the Tamil Representatives in parliament rejected the new constitution and walked out of the house.  

The TULF which declared that the 1972 new constitution would not bind them, passed a resolution at their national conference held at Vaddukoddai stating that they will regain and revive the Tamil Kingdom the Tamils lost to Portuguese before the European colonization. They went with that mandate to the NorthEast voters in the 1977 general elections and won 18 seats in the NorthEast and proved that the people had overwhelmingly approved their mandate. Even so, the Southern Tamils who had the intention of defeating the LSSP, CP, SLFP, by voting for the UNP helped JR.Jeyawardne to sit on the ruler's chair with a 4/5th majority.

After 1977, the UNP government was the leading force behind the 1981 and 1983 July riots and racial killings of Tamils.

Because of all the above said bitter lessons, the Tamils are a politically awakened people now. In all the elections in the recent past, the Tamil people have clearly expressed their political aspirations and their stand to the International Community.

Likewise, in the forthcoming Presidential elections, the Tamil people with their independent thinking and decision will show their stand definably in a clear way.