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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Tsunami & Aftermath > Presidential Election In Sri Lanka: Tweedledum & Tweedeldee?
Presidential Election In Sri Lanka:
Tweedledum & Tweedeldee?
Sam Rajappa in
20 September 2005
The prospects of the peace talks in Sri Lanka
resuming in the near future have receded further with the political
head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, SP Thamilchelvan,
ruling out Katunayake international airport in Colombo as a venue.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen has invited Sri Lanka
President Chandrika Kumaratunga and LTTE supremo Velupillai
Pirapaharan to send their representatives to Oslo to engage in
discussions to take forward the ceasefire agreement. Colombo turned
down the venue for fear of the LTTE internationalising its position
and suggested Katunayake airport instead.
Lame duck government
With the presidential election due in November, the LTTE is in no mood to resume peace negotiations with the lame duck government of Kumaratunga whose second term as President comes to an end in December. The Constitution does not allow a third term. The ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led United People’s Freedom Alliance’s presidential candidate, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, by signing a 13-point agreement with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna for its support, has already forfeited his right to hold peace talks with the LTTE. Clause III of the agreement says: “It is hereby agreed to protect, defend and preserve the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan state under any solutions to be presented, formed or formulated” to solve the ethnic conflict. The three-year-long peace process was set in motion on the clear understanding that Colombo would explore the possibility of introducing a federal form of government in which the ethnic Tamils would have an autonomous state comprising the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. Rajapakse faces Ranil Wickremasinghe of the United National Party which was responsible for the signing of the existing ceasefire agreement with the LTTE on 22 February, 2002, and his party is committed to a federal solution to the ethnic problem.
Rajapakse, who belongs to the SLFP as Kumaratunga, was tempted to enter into an agreement with the Sinhala chauvinist JVP for fear of loss of support of Tamil votes. The JVP withdrew from the government in June last protesting Kumaratunga agreeing to share tsunami aid with the LTTE as it would legitimise the rebels in the eyes of the international community and strengthen their case for a separate Tamil Eelam. Kumaratunga won an unprecedented 62.28 per cent votes in the 1994 presidential election on a peace agenda. In the exclusively Tamil district of Jaffna, though turnout was low, she registered a record 96.35 per cent of the votes polled and in the predominantly Tamil district of Batticaloa she polled 87.30 per cent votes. She was riding on the crest of a wave of popularity generated by her promise to end the intractable Tamil problem through negotiations. She frittered away her advantage in the next five years. In the 1999 election she barely made it by polling 51.12 per cent votes against the minimum requirement of 50 per cent in a presidential race. She fared badly in the Tamil-majority electoral districts with Batticaloa accounting for just 34.66 per cent votes. The peace process has further deteriorated in the last three months, culminating in the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a Tamil opposed to the LTTE style of serving the cause of the linguistic minority.
Militant Tamil organisations like the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, which is a constituent of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, a faction of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front, and the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal led by the former eastern commander of the LTTE, V. Muralitharan, popularly known as Col. Karuna, are opposed to the LTTE’s claim of being the sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils. While the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front is aligned with the LTTE-sponsored Tamil National Alliance, its president, V. Anandasangaree, is for a multi-party federal polity. As these organisations are unarmed and the LTTE would not allow them to campaign freely; their ability to mobilise votes in the rebel-held North-East is doubtful. The role of the Muslim parties and the Ceylon Workers Congress could tilt the balance either way.
The assassination of Kadirgamar was only the latest in a series of murders of Tamils opposed to the LTTE’s cult of violence to achieve its goal. In the 1999 election, the LTTE made an unsuccessful assassination attempt even on Kumaratunga. The Norwegian brokered ceasefire agreement has a serious flaw. One of the cornerstones of the agreement was that the LTTE should have the right to do political work in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces where its cadres, who are invariably armed, should have the freedom of movement, even in areas under the control of the Colombo regime. The political work it was doing was to round up its critics and get them exterminated. The freedom of movement also meant licence to abduct children with impunity and enroll them in its ranks. Hagrup Haukland, the Norwegian leader of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, instead of acting as an impartial umpire, chose to ignore the violations by the LTTE which only emboldened the militants to threaten Kadirgamar with death several times before the foul deed was committed.
The ceasefire agreement enabled the LTTE to swiftly establish itself as the sole representative of the Tamils. Groups opposed to the LTTE were forced to retreat as they were made to surrender their weapons under the agreement. The disarmed leaders of the rival groups became sitting ducks for the LTTE. Karuna, who rebelled against Pirapaharan’s leadership alleging discrimination of the eastern Tamils, heads the list of people targeted by the LTTE for liquidation.
In a sabre-rattling exercise, the LTTE on 1 September organised Tamil National Resurgence celebrations in Kilinochchi to which tens of thousands of people flocked. The entire township was decorated with felicitation arches and yellow and red bi-colour flags. “This event would inform the world that time is ripe for us to decide our own destiny,” declared M. Sivabalan, president of the Tamil National Resurgence Task Force. This has only strengthened the JVP’s stand that there should be no negotiations with the LTTE and that Rajapakse should not deviate from the unitary form of government.
The 2004 parliamentary election has thrown up one more party wedded to the unitary system — the Jathike Hela Urumaya of Buddhist monks. The JHU too has pledged its conditional support to Rajapakse. Athuruliye Rathana, a JHU MP, has said the coming presidential election was “not just to elect a President but a referendum on terrorism, separatism and federalism.” He said Rajapakse had promised to completely rewrite the 2002 ceasefire agreement with the LTTE and not to pursue any deal that would let the rebels share power in a federal government.
Kumaratunga has criticised Rajapakse for acquiescing to the JVP and the JHU demand not to revive the post-tsumani operational management structure and to protect the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan state. She claimed that she was in charge of the SLFP committee entrusted to draw up the party’s manifesto for the presidential election. The undertaking Rajapakse gave to the JVP and the JHU is contrary to the policies of the SLFP and the People’s Alliance it is heading. The disarray in the SLFP and the People’s Alliance has only sharpened the polarisation in Sri Lankan polity. Taking advantage of the situation, Wickremasinghe, the UNP candidate, has exposed his Sinhala mindset by promising to usher in a Prarakaramabahu era if voted President. Prarakaramabahu was a Sinhala king credited with unifying the country by the sword.
For the non-Sinhala, non-Buddhist people of Sri Lanka, the
choice is between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.