The Sunday Leader

Can LTTE Win Or Lose Elections One More Time?

By N Sathiya Moorthy

C. V. Wigneswaran, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa won the post-war polls in January 2010, his critics wanted to believe that the LTTE’s complete rout had more to do with the results than the incumbent’s contributions to rural development while in office through the previous five years. When in January 2015, he lost the presidential polls, the Rajapaksa camp too seemed to have concluded like his critics that ‘good governance’ and not ‘LTTE terrorism’ was the issue.

There is no reason why the Rajapaksa camp should now be raking up the possible revival of ‘LTTE terror’ ahead of the August 17, parliamentary polls, and link it to reports about the arrest of some LTTE cadres in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu with trade-mark ‘cyanide capsules’. Does it mean that if the Rajapaksa-led SLFP-UPFA won the polls, the LTTE would have returned to the centre-stage? Or, does it mean if they were to lose, there is no hope and scope for any possible return of ‘LTTE terror’ afterwards?

The truth may lie in between. Barring, however, the TNA manifesto, near-exclusively for the Tamil-majority North and parts of the Eastern Province, there is nothing to suggest that the rest of Sri Lanka was too much worried about the return of the LTTE. That included the visit of Northern Province Chief Minister, Justice C V Wigneswaran, to the UK and North America, where he addressed Diaspora Tamils and granted interviews to localised Tamil channels, which are all over the YouTube.

As if the ‘LTTE threat/bogey’ were not enough, there is the more immediate question of a ‘federal solution’ to the ethnic issue that the TNA has flagged once again, as a part of its election manifesto. For the presidential polls, where it backed the ultimate winner in Maithripala Sirisena, the party had laid down no pre-conditions, for obvious and justifiable reasons from its perspective.

 

‘Ghosts of Mullivaikkal’

For all those who had opposed Rajapaksa, the TNA too had reasons to support an alternative on the ‘good governance’ manifesto. On the more immediate front, the party was confronted by the ‘ghosts of Mullivaikkal’ that had resurrected themselves long after the TNA had commenced political negotiations with the government of the day.

No one at the time was talking about ‘war crimes’ and ‘accountability issues’, UNHRC resolution and International Criminal Court (ICC). The question would thus remain as to what would the TNA have done if the political negotiations with the Government of the day met some of their long-standing demands on power-devolution? Would they have gone back on the same in favour of ‘accountability issues’, which was an after-thought as far as the TNA was concerned but was already on the top of the western agenda?

It was/is a chicken-and-egg question as to who between the ‘international community’ and the Tamil Diaspora had taken forward the ‘accountability issues’, as much before the conclusion of the war as afterward? And what would the TNA have to say if a post-poll government were to provide them with a satisfactory solution on the political issues, but would (want to) fall short on ‘accountability issues’ and the like?

 

Federal solution

By pressing the TNA’s pre-poll demand of a federal solution still to the question of power-devolution, Rajapaksa’s SLFP-UPFA seems to be pushing the rival UNFGG to the wall, to take a position. It’s thus that the UNP’s efforts to continue sticking to the ‘good governance’ issue, to try and ‘isolate’ Rajapaksa one more time, stands exposed.

With Rajapaksa at the helm, the UPFA could not hope to muster the TNA support in Parliament, if that’s required to form a government. The UNP/UNFGG leadership too would come under pressure, both from within and from the TNA, to make its position clear on the federal question in particular, if they were to depend on the party’s support to form a government.

Already, the JVP adversary of Rajapaksa has come out openly against such a solution, though the party’s post-poll influence in Parliament would be limited, if at all. It’s another matter a party in the JVP’s place, with its history of ‘Second Insurgency’ over the ‘ethnic issue’, could do with any possible revival of the ‘national problem’, if only to try and resurrect itself. As if conceding defeat already this time, the JVP has begun talking about the 2020 polls, where it says, it would bounce back and capture power!

 

Follow, follow-up

The JHU, which unlike the JVP, continues to be a part and parcel of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe-led UNFGG, has gone beyond the JVP. It has also asked the Tamils to integrate with the majority Sinhalese. The party has spelt out, for one more time, what many in the ‘Big Two’ Sinhala majors, namely, the UNP and the SLFP, do not want to be heard saying in public. The Muslims and the Upcountry Tamils and their divided polity have all along been their reference point for the SLT to follow and follow-up on.

It’s also here that the Tamils the old-world TULF, the LTTE and the TNA have got away with their own agendas, be it federalism of the moderates, or ‘separatism’ of the militants, or a ‘confederation’ of other ‘moderate, Tamil nationalists’, in between. Even while asking India and the US, among others, to help them get their due this time again, the TNA has also returned to seeking their facilitation for what it wants, little acknowledging that war or no war, LTTE or no LTTE, political negotiations are all about give-and-take.

It’s not that the TNA leadership does not understand the dynamics of devolution discourse of the kind. For political and electoral reasons, they end up taking a ‘maximalist’ position, as always, which in their case has been ‘federalism’ (and not certainly ‘separatism’, as ‘Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists’ would want the world to believe). Yet, the TNA is unable to dismount from their moderate position, post-poll, as they are guided by their masses, influenced as the latter is by the Diaspora hard-liners.

More importantly, the maximalist Tamil moderate position at election time triggers ‘Sinhala maximalist position’ on the reverse. This in turn gives little or no space for the Sinhala moderates, who are left asking themselves as to what (all) had gone wrong with their own prescription. It’s thus that they all together reach a point-of-no-return, one more time.

 

Whither 13-A?

It’s here India has to learn now from India – and also Norway, and all those that had sought to facilitate a negotiated settlement to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. If they complained that the Tamils (be it the moderates or the LTTE) failed ‘em, it was their mistake in not reading the former right, when they should have done it. It’s no different now.

Better or worse still, for India, the US, or the UN, or whoever, their expectations from the Tamils is different and varied, at given times. With the result, a firm Tamil position on their basic concerns and consequent positions become looking stubborn and un-bending after their own immediate concerns had passed by. It’s thus that India continues to look at the TNA’s revived position on the India-facilitated 13-A. The TNA has not changed its position for long, of claiming that 13-A is inadequate.

Time used to be when the Rajapaksa Government was promising ’13-Plus’ without outlining in clear terms as to what it had meant, India, for instance, would not want to interfere in any domestic process and political solution acceptable to every stake-holder in Sri Lanka. Today, the two Sinhala majors are as ambiguous as they used to be on power-devolution, given their own immediate electoral concerns. Where from here is the post-poll question, not just the Sri Lankans of all hues, the Tamils included, should be asking, of themselves and of one another.

 

Sirisena at the centre?

Whoever wins or loses the parliamentary polls, and whoever forms the government afterward, it’s President Maithripala Sirisena who would be at the centre of all post-poll politics over the ethnic issue, political solution and ‘accountability issues’ of the UNHRC kind. He may have a reason and justification going beyond good governance issues, his own electoral mandate, et al, not to back/favour Rajapaksa for prime minister, if it came to that.

In theory, President Sirisena’s pre-poll position on not wanting to make Rajapaksa prime minister even if the latter enjoyed parliamentary majority, post-poll, may also owe to his concerns on the ‘ethnic front’, and the inevitability of ‘Tamil isolation’ that a Rajapaksa government could trigger, as if by cue. Of course, neither Sirisena, nor the TNA, has talked about such a scenario, but even such a possibility does not rule out other inevitabilities.

It’s not about who forms the government, or who becomes prime minister. Under the ‘unitary Constitution’ that Sri Lanka still has, and which could if at all be amended only through a ‘public referendum’, President Sirisena is assigned to protect the sovereignty of the concept and its continued relevance in the Sri Lankan context.

Successive Presidents in Sirisena’s place have faced the untenable position of having to preside over the liquidation of a constitutional position that he had sworn to protect – at least until such an alternative statute scheme that would stand the test of law of public support had been put in place. President Rajapaksa had a chance viz the mandated two-thirds majority in Parliament, but that meant simply nothing, if the parties and people(s) were to come up with their views.

Maybe, those that are now arraigned against his leadership might have torpedoed it from within – or, there was at least a genuine apprehension of the kind. It’s also on the question of ‘national consensus’ on the ‘national problem’ that competitive Sinhala politics gets turned into ‘competitive Sinhala nationalism’, tying down incumbent Presidents to a parliamentary situation that had often gone out of their hands.

There’s nothing to suggest that it could be otherwise, post-poll, unless one or the other of the ‘Sinhala majors’ get a sweeping majority. It’s next to impossible under the existing PR scheme, and going by available voting pattern. The post-war 2010 ‘Mahinda magic’ was as much about an electoral coalition as it was about ‘war victory’ and ‘leadership charisma’. It does not get repeated often under the electoral scheme of the kind.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike-Kumaratunga’s twin packages, particularly the second one, hold the key to the future. Could Parliament muster the numbers for a two-thirds majority, followed by a national referendum win, are questions that the TNA and its international backers should be asking themselves, without stopping with dubbing every Sinhala political move as ‘racial’ as the latter have now begun dubbing the TNA’s federalism demand, as well.

 

Wigneswaran’s neutrality

With all this also now comes the announcement by CM Wigneswaran that he would maintain neutrality in the parliamentary polls, including in the North, where his party is the main contender – and viz other Tamil groups, and not any ‘Sinhala major’, so to say. His decision not to campaign for the TNA raises more questions, not just for the party but also for the nation as a whole.

It’s anybody’s guess why the TNA has not co-opted CM Wigneswaran to the party’s decision-making apparatus even nearly two years after his election. It’s equally everyone’s guess what the CM plans to do with his Provincial Council (PC) majority on sensitive issues that might still fall out of the nation’s ‘ethnic problem’.

Already, Wigneswaran has gone on record – he also got the NPC to pass a controversial resolution, that too soon after the parliamentary poll – that reflected hard-line sentiments. Now, after his solo tour of Europe and North America, where he met with Diaspora hard-liners more than the moderates (so to say), whether the party is wholly with him. Leave aside the developmental aspects of provincial administration, where the CM and his administration have been demanding a greater say and as a part of power-devolution, there are other issues on that score, where the Provincial Council can take a view diametrically opposite to what the party leadership may have hinted, commended or promised.

This has been the greater concern of the ‘Sinhala polity’ and the ‘Sri Lankan State’, too, be it a political solution, or power-devolution, or the more immediate concerns attending on US-driven UNHRC-centric ‘accountability issues’. It’s here that the contending Sinhala polity has been vague at best, just now, but would be called upon to deliver in every which way, by every section of the nation’s populace…

The UPFA’s position under Rajapaksa is known, but that under President Sirisena is not yet clear. Rather, it’s clear only as much as that of the UNFGG. That way, all sections of the Sinhala polity and their electoral allies, particularly from the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil communities, would come under pressure in government-formation, almost instantaneously.

After all, the UNHRC session is due only weeks after a new government is to take over in Colombo – a government, whether or not dependent on the TNA for ‘external support’ even if not ‘international participation’ – could not still avoid taking a position and pushing a decision, both nearer home and overseas, with the nation’s friends and ‘adversaries’ alike. A ‘defining moment’ again, it could prove to be, for the Sri Lankan nation to ‘identify’ its friends, all over again. Or, that’s how the campaign could end up!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research  Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: sathiyam54@gmail.com)

 

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