Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Sri Lankan Presidential Elections and the Future of Tamils

by P. Ramasamy, University of Kassel, Germany, TamilCanadian, November 19, 2005

The lack of crucial Tamil support for the UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe paved the way for Mahinda Rajapakse of the SLFP to win the presidential elections with a narrow margin. If the vast majority of Tamils had cast their vote, Wickremesinghe would won the post, even increasing his majority. But alas, Tamils refused to vote because they simply did not want the UNP to take them on another fruitless and dangerous road.

Before the elections, it was clear to the LTTE and those freedom loving Tamils that the presidential elections in the south mattered little to their long and arduous campaign for a just and peaceful solution to their plight. This led them to the logical and rational conclusion that nothing would be gained from exercising their vote to either one of the candidates. In this respect, the decision taken by the LTTE and the TNA was the right and correction decision, a decision that would pave the way for the Tamils in the north and east to exercise their ultimate decision to self-rule.

The UNP under Wickremesinghe had the golden opportunity to regain the trust and confidence of Tamils, but he failed miserably. In the last days of the election campaign, having realized that Tamils might not vote for him, some of his party stalwarts sought a move to the right by boasting about how they had split the LTTE, sunk their ships and obtained the confidence of India and the United States to check the military pursuits of the LTTE. This was something done consciously and purposely for the UNP to gain the support of the Sinhalese chauvinistic elements. But to Wickremesinghe's dismay, it was not good enough to wean away the support of the majority of Sinhalese from Rajapakse and it was a political disaster that alienated the millions of Tamils. In the final analysis, Wickremesinghe had to pay for his political opportunism by losing the overwhelming support of the LTTE. It is no use now blaming the Tamils for not backing Wickremesinghe: he was mainly responsible for alienating the Tamils.

Of course, the history of the UNP is replete with examples how successive leaders before Wickremesinghe had betrayed and alienated the Tamils by their chauvinistic policies.

Rajapakse, despite his close association with the right-wing Sinhala organizations like the JVP and JHU, must thank the Tamils for not voting for Wickermesinghe. If they had, he would have gone into political oblivion, with no prospect of ever again contesting for the coveted post of president.

For the Tamil nationalist forces, it really does not matter to them who has become the president of Sri Lanka. In fact, there are grounds to believe that Rajapakse’s victory would provide the crucial political circumstances for the Tamil nationalist forces to convey and to impress upon the international community that there is no way that Tamils would expect any justice and decency from the chauvinistic forces currently represented in the office of the president.

In a more concrete sense, the election of Rajapakse and his avowed intention to review the ceasefire, question the role of Norway and talk tough with the LTTE have provided the Tamil nationalistic forces the necessary political impetus to chart the next course of history. For sometime since the signing of the ceasefire agreement in early 2002, the pretensions of turning Sri Lanka into a federal state to meet the aspirations of Tamil have come to a complete naught with the election of Rajapakse as the president.

The international safety net, a sort of entrapment for the LTTE designed by Wickremesinghe in his early days as the prime minister, must be in tatters. It should be remembered that this safety net was planned on the grounds of providing substantial autonomy for the Tamils in the northeast, but the recent elections seem to have once and for all negated the question of autonomy for Tamils. Thus, in the absence of something substantial, at least theoretically, the international safety net that was designed to check the separatist ambitions of the LTTE is a dead horse now. Wickemesinghe's defeat in the elections has entombed that dead horse now.

So, with the prospect of further real impediments to the peace process, the stage has been more or less set for the respective communities, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, to pursue different political paths in the coming years.

For the Tamil nationalist forces under the leadership of the LTTE, less time will be spent on convincing the international community of its bona fide nature. There is no need to do so anymore. Instead, in the coming days and months, the LTTE will have to focus on the following issues that are related to the exercise of its ultimate option of a separate state.

  • First, it has think of ways and means to regain lost ground in the east and tackle the prevalence of the paramilitary Tamil forces that working hand in hand with the Sri Lankan army intelligence. It is expected that Rajapakse, with the advice of the ultra-ring elements, would provide more support for the Tamil forces united around a few disgruntled elements. In this context, the east would become much more volatile and dangerous, something that could not be avoided. The LTTE will never give up the east, it is an integral part of the Tamil homeland.
  • Second, is the question regarding the Jaffna peninsula. The Sinhala army occupation will be less and less tolerated now. It is not that the LTTE cannot take Jaffna. For a long time they refrained from doing so because there was a prospect for peaceful settlement.

It is not that the Tamil national question cannot be resolved through negotiated settlement, but the future prospect for such a direction seems rather slim given the change in southern politics. The bluff of international military intervention to fight the LTTE seems rather remote given the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq and the difficulty faced by the United States in imposing its will on North Korea and Iran. India has learnt some bitter lessons as well, but now that an intransigent power bloc has been elected in Sri Lanka, there is possibility that India may come around to see the rationale behind the ultimate option.