THE STRUGGLE for Tamil Eelam
Sri Lanka Presidential Election and the International
20 November 2005
"...A lot of effort
has gone into blaming ‘politicians’ for the quagmire
Sri Lanka is in, much of this effort by the media
and the peaceniks stationed in Colombo to explain
away election results and other such events.
‘Politicians do what the electorate wants’ and not
the other way around. What the Sinhala electorate in
Sri Lanka wants is a ‘unitary government’, where the
Sinhala-Buddhist majority rules all aspects of
everyone’s life in Sri Lanka all the time, and all
‘others’ have to put-up and shut-up. What I want to
ask the international community now is this. What
exactly do you want the Tamil people to do.."
Like all Sri Lankan Tamils, I too had
absolutely no interest in the hullabaloo of the latest
presidential election in Sri Lanka, for understandably
obvious reasons. Whether it was ‘Ravana or Rama who rules’,
as the Tamil saying goes, I really didn’t care as to who
won. But Mahinda Rajapakse, dubbed ‘hardliner’, winning the
Presidency of Sri Lanka is another matter.
Perverse as this may sound to some people, I would like to
say that there is a positive aspect to this result, not
merely the outcome of the election itself, but the entire
course of events that led to this result. The so called
international community has some significant lessons they
need to learn from this election, something incidentally the
Tamils already know by experience and by instinct.
The hand-wringing by the international community has already
begun and I am not surprised. It is an open secret that the
international community was hoping for a Ranil
Wickremasinghe victory, not because he was pro-peace, but
because his methods were more agreeable. That he lost
primarily because of the Tamil boycott is irritating to the
international community. What the international community
desires in Sri Lanka is ‘containment and management’ of the
Tamil insurgency, and doesn’t care much about the political
rights of the Tamil people. Tamils (and their claim to
rights) can go to pot and the LTTE is the problem.
Wickremasinghe would have served their interests well with
his ‘containment and management’ strategy. Of course they
Within hours of the election, Erik Solheim, the Norwegian
mediator had said, “The situation now is very difficult”
[The Independent, 19 November 2005]. The US State Department
said, “[the United States] regrets that Tamil voters in the
northern and eastern parts of the island did not vote in
significant numbers...” [AFP Nov 19, 2005]. Similar
sentiments are probably being passed around in the hallways
of the EU Parliament and in the offices of the interested
think-tanks at this moment.
All of them need to pause and think about what this election
actually means, if they truly mean business, because there
are significant lessons to be learnt from this election.
Firstly, the Tamil boycott of a major election is a notable
first in the post-independent Sri Lankan history. It is a
very significant event and what can actually be termed
‘epoch-making’. That the Tamil people no longer wish to be a
part of the body politic of the Sri Lankan state has been
clearly and unambiguously stated.
Despite the unconcern and desertion of the Tamils by the
departing colonial British rulers and the consequent
betrayal by the Sinhala people, the Tamils continued to
participate in the polls. This, they did against all odds of
gaining anything at all from a political setup left by the
British, as history has shown. Electing members to the
parliament to sit in the back-benches of the opposition,
with no real ability to help those whom they represent, is
not one would call democracy. Those who now want to
criticize the Tamils for the non-participation need to ask
themselves what they did, if anything, to help the Tamils
all these decades.
Now, after fifty-seven years of participating but not
benefiting from it, Tamils have finally said: ‘No More’. The
Tamil declaration at this election is strikingly
unambiguous, and the Tamil people couldn’t have said it any
better. This is indeed an epoch-making event.
The second lesson in this is in the person the Sinhala
people chose to be ‘their’ president. Considering the Tamil
boycott of the election, this is clearly a Sinhala people’s
choice, without any Tamil input. Tamils had no say in this
matter and it was purely a Sinhala choice.
Mahinda Rajapakse is a candidate who contested on a platform
to deny any and all political rights to the Tamils. Here is
a man who categorically rejected the existence of a Tamil
homeland (the people of this homeland have now shown him
that it does exist), and rejected their right to rule
themselves. He is on record opposing even meager
concessions, such as SIHRN, ISGA, PTOMS, etc. And, the
Sinhala people chose him over the other candidate who didn’t
express such extreme views.
The credentials of the other candidate, Ranil
Wickremasinghe, are even more significant. What is vital
here is that he was not the ‘opposite’ of Mahinda, and by
opposite I mean one who opposed Mahinda’s position on Tamil
He too subscribed to many of Mahinda’s ideas on Tamil
rights, except that he was more circumspect and less
explicit. His strategy was different, but nevertheless held
the same views as the winner. He lost only because he didn’t
state his views more clearly to the Sinhala electorate.
A crucial lesson for the international community here is
that the entire Sinhala electorate, nearly ninety-nine
percent, voted for the two candidates who held identical
views on the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka, albeit
differently shaded. The one who stated it more clearly to
the Sinhala electorate and took a firmer stand won.
Those who now want to criticize the Tamils for not voting
must admit the fact that the Tamils really didn’t have any
proper choice in this election. Talk about Hobson’s choice –
take the one nearest the door or none at all[i]. By not
voting because they didn’t have a choice, they also helped
with the clarity of the message that came out of this
If the Tamils had voted in this election Ranil
Wickremasinghe would be president today, but the message
wouldn’t have been so clear. The world would have understood
it as, the ‘pro-peace’ candidate won. He would have
continued with his strategy of ‘containment and management’
of the Tamil uprising, to the satisfaction of the
international community, but to the detriment of the Tamils.
Also noteworthy is that fact that in this election no
Sinhala candidate came forward to contest on a platform for
Tamil rights, not even one willing to meet the Tamil demands
half way. Of course there are Sinhala politicians who talk
for Tamil rights, but none contested because they knew they
A lot of effort has gone into blaming ‘politicians’ for the
quagmire Sri Lanka is in, much of this effort by the media
and the peaceniks stationed in Colombo to explain away
election results and other such events. ‘Politicians do what
the electorate wants’ and not the other way around. What the
Sinhala electorate in Sri Lanka wants is a ‘unitary
government’, where the Sinhala-Buddhist majority rules all
aspects of everyone’s life in Sri Lanka all the time, and
all ‘others’ have to put-up and shut-up.
What I want to ask the international community now is this.
What exactly do you want the Tamil people to do?
[i] The Hobson behind Hobson's Choice lived
in Cambridge, England during the late 16th and early 17th
centuries. Licensed to carry passengers, parcels, and mail
between Cambridge and London, Thomas Hobson kept a stable of
about forty high quality horses. As a sideline, he also
rented out his horses to university students. After students
began requesting particular horses again and again, the
liveryman realized certain horses were being overworked.
That inspired Hobson to come up with a new system of
rotating the horses for hire. Hobson gave customers looking
for horses the choice of taking the one nearest the stable
door or taking none at all. Not something what would call a