The Sunday Leader

The Change They Desired

By Megara Tegal

Friday (08 Jan) saw the collapse of the Rajapaksa regime; a defeat that was largely attributed to the minority vote. The Presidential election was historic as the minorities made it clear that they are not to be ignored, nor taken advantage of. Dissatisfied with ten years of rule under the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, citizens of the North and East of the country that make up most of the Tamil and Muslims voter base respectively voted for the incumbent President, Maithripala Sirisena, who has pledged to address the issues of the minorities. The issues include the militarisation of the former warzones, and the oppression of the Muslims and Christian communities in the recent years.

 

Vote against Rakapaksa

In the Vanni, voter turnout was an astounding 98.5 percent of votes over the former regime. The overwhelming votes according to political economists based in Jaffna, Ahilan Kadirgamar, was the burning need for change. “It was clear that for many parts of the country, this election was really an election about overthrowing the incumbent regime. And it was clear that the minorities, the Tamil communities included, wanted a change. The manifesto of the opposition did not look into the grievances of the minority communities, including the Tamil community. Tamil demands for devolution of power to the provinces or power sharing at the centre were not addressed by the opposition manifesto” explains Kadrigamar. “In this context, the recognition of the increasing authoritarianism and the daily humiliation that the Tamil community faces with continuing militarisation by the Rajapaksa regime, led to the Tamil community,to overwhelmingly vote against Rajapaksa. So it was more of a vote against Rajapaksa than a vote for the opposition”.

When asked if the former LTTE cadres, Karuna and KP, having been granted powers in the North by the former regime, may have influenced the Tamil vote, Kadirgamar stated that is unlikely. “I don’t think either Karuna or KP had much influence on the vote. In the south, in the lead up to the election, there was a lot of talk about the regime using figures like Karuna and KP. And I think this really reflects the politics of the regime. The cynical way in which they have used these former LTTE cadres to manipulate the Tamil community to the extent possible, and I think that strategy was flawed and failed for the most part. There needs to be a more serious process of reconciliation. But the Rajapaksa regime very cynically involved certain individuals, and claimed they were engaging Tamil actors, and claimed they had some support in the Tamil community, which as the election results show was not the case. And now there’s a need for a broader process of reconciliation, and that process has been discussed in the LLRC report. Significantly, the LLRC report mentions the need for demilitarisation, whereby there is freedom of movement in the North, and land that was taken up by the military are returned to the people. Hopefully, that will be the way forward.”

The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) believes the conclusion of the Rajapaksa regime gives the Tamil people hope that their grievances, since the end of the war in 2009, will be addressed. “Mr. Sirisena’s election marks the end of a decade-long dynastic dictatorship of the Rajapaksa family, and hails the possibility and hope for a new democratic era. Tamil people in Sri Lanka, guided by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), have voted en masse in hopes of a new beginning. After years of suffering inflicted by the current government and despite various acts of intimidation, thousands of voters took to the polls, symbolising much needed hope for change. In the wake of this new beginning, CTC calls upon Sirisena to accommodate the aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka, so there can be real peace and harmony in the entire country. We ask the new President to work with the democratically elected Tamil leadership to resolve the immediate problems of the Tamil people and to find a lasting solution where all citizens of the island are treated with respect and equality”.

 

Creating space for change

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), announced their support of the common candidate, in the days leading to the Presidential election.

Kadirgamar explains that TNA had to join the main opposition candidate, to create the space for Tamil voice, suppressed by militarisation, to be heard. “I think the Tamil community voted overwhelmingly; voter turnout compared to the previous election was much better, also given the message sent by the TNA leadership to support the opposition. The TNA’s thinking is that there needs to be a change of regime before there can be space to address many of these issues” he elaborates. “These are very deep-seated, complicated problems that the country has not been able to find solutions for, such as the issue of militarisation, and here we have to really understand what militarisation means in the context of the North. It is not only the presence of the military, but the way in which civil institutions have become militarised. For example, the governor of the Northern Province is a former military general, a number of GA’s in the north and east were former military personnel, and the military is involved in various civilian activities including even school functions in the Vanni. When we talk about an end to that kind of oppression it is also a broader process of democratisation. The democratic opening that has come into the country with this elections, it is believed, could be a step from which some of these issues can be addressed”.

 

The need for devolution of power

Another reason for the overwhelming Tamil vote is attributed to the need for devolution of power. Kadirgamar stated that the devolution of power would allow for the Tamil community to weigh in on decision making.

“The other important issues are, of course, the devolution of power and a political settlement, where the minorities can participate better in the life of the country. And there again the Rajapaksa regime put in as many obstacles as possible to interfere with the Provincial government. So this opening, and the possibility of a political process, can lead to changes whereby some of the grievances of the minorities can be addressed. But it is yet to be seen, to know whether this opening will be taken advantage of by all the communities. It is in the interest of the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil community, that for once and for all, the problem that has been ravaging our country from the time of independence  that this polarisation is once and for all solved through a political process. So that all communities can live together and interact better with each other”.

Apart from the devolution of power, the CTC stated that there are other areas that require the present regime’s immediate attention. “The aspirations of Sri Lanka’s diverse people to meaningfully access state power must be facilitated. Sri Lanka’s justice system is in desperate need of restoration and in this regard, we particularly call upon Mr. Sirisena to abolish the Executive Presidency, repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, restore independent commissions and guarantee primacy to the rule of law.

In order to ensure that this change in leadership has any meaningful results for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, CTC remains hopeful that restrictions on freedom of expression, free speech and the media are immediately removed”.

 

Muslims vote for Sirisena

Coastal Organiser for the UNP, Abdul Majeed, spoke to The Sunday Leader on why a large majority of the Muslims voted for the newly elected President, Sirisena. According to Majeed, the Muslims were disregarded by the former regime.

“The main reason is that they never had any genuine democracy here. Both candidates were Sinhala Buddhists, but the opposition candidate was concerned about all the communities and all the religions in the country. That is the main reason why people rallied around him. You cannot build one religion by destroying another. That is why the people gave an overwhelming victory for the common candidate who said that all religions in this country are equal”.

The Muslisms felt vulnerable in the recent years, as violence committed by hardline Buddhists went largely uninvestigated. Few arrests were made and the government feebly denounced the attacks on mosques, and the attacks in Beruwela that resulted in death of both Muslims and Buddhists as well the loss of homes and livelihoods.

“Take the injustice caused to the Muslim communities, like in Beruwela, Aluthgama, and Mahiyangana, nobody wants to see your own kith and kin being burnt and destroyed. The former President should have personally gone to the places where violence had occurred and told the people ‘don’t do this’.  He should have gone to Mahiyangana, where pig entrails were thrown into the mosque, assured their safety and asked them to resume activities. They say, ‘one country, and one people’, but it was one country and three people. Now we are a peaceful people, and a peaceful country.

The oppression and intimidation, felt by the minorities under the former regime tipped the scale granting President Sirisena a win by a margin over Former President Rajapaksa. Conceding defeat, before the election results were officially announced, Rajapaksa stepped down from office giving way for Sirisena to take his place as the 6th executive President of Sri Lanka. Having voted him into power, the minorities have entrusted Sirisena with task of reinstating democracy in the island.

3 Comments for “The Change They Desired”

  1. daggy

    Rajapakshe did not loose.
    The majority defeated itself.

    Mahinda has once told the US Under secretary of State that unfortunately Muslims are not the Terrorists in Sri Lanka.
    The very muslims voted against MR.

  2. len

    Question would your paper invite Frederica back as the Editor now?

  3. Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    Mahinda Rajapakshe is a very good person. He gave leadership to end the 30 year war. His contributions will always be remembered.
    But others in the regime had harassed minorities, damaged the properties and killed Muslims in Aluthgama. This took away 700,000 Muslim votes from Mahinda.
    They interfered in police and judiciary. This annoyed peace loving Sinhala voters. In fact these are the elements that are totally responsible for the defeat of Mahinda Rajapakshe

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