War on terror revisited: Part 22July 22, 2012, 8:39 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
For the first time in electoral history, LTTE cadres entered government-held areas to exercise their universal franchise at parliamentary polls on April 2, 2004. The LTTE’s move surprised all political parties except the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which contested the polls on the ITAK (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi) ticket. The LTTE’s decision to throw its weight behind the TNA at the crucial general election was part of its strategy to strengthen itself in parliament.
In spite of a one-time LTTE field commander causing a split in the organisation exactly a month before, thousands of cadres, both men and women, crossed entry/exit points manned by GoSL personnel to cast their votes at cluster polling stations.
However, about 16,000 officers and men of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were deprived of an opportunity to cast their votes. This was due to the then Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake’s failure to decide whether those men were qualified for postal voting (Troops deprived of franchise-––The Island of April 3, 2004).
Failure of Polls Chief
The then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, told The Island that Dayananda had failed to settle the issue in spite of his writing to the polls chief. Of those officers and men who had sought postal voting rights, only about 30,000 were allowed to cast their votes, while about 6,600 applications were rejected, due to administrative reasons (such as errors in their applications). But, some 16,000 were deprived of exercising franchise, regardless of Lt. Gen. Balagalle’s efforts.
According to army headquarters, altogether 52,985 officers and men deployed in operational areas applied for the postal voting. Of them 29,995 were given the opportunity, while 6,555 were rejected. The Election Department never consider 16,435 applications (Defenders of the nation have no vote?––The Island of March 26 2004).
Interestingly, no political party took up the issue either in or outside Parliament.
The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) needed to regain power to pursue the Norwegian-led peace initiative, whereas the UPFA believed it could reverse the process if it secured power in Parliament. The UPFA repeatedly assured the electorate that it wouldn’t allow the LTTE to take advantage of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), while reiterating its commitment for a negotiated settlement.
After the TNA had bagged the most number of seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, its leader, R. Sampanthan, said that the party intended to use the election results as a tool to win their legitimate rights.
The TNA emerged as the third largest force in Parliament by securing 22 seats at the polls, whereas it had only 15 at the Dec 5, 2001 general election. The UPFA obtained 105 seats, including 13 National List slots. The UNF won only 82 seats, including 11 National List slots.
Calls for resumption of talks
MP Sampanthan and TULF Vice President Joseph Pararajasingham (Batticaloa District MP) stressed that the resumption of talks between the LTTE and the government would solely depend on the latter’s readiness to accept an LTTE proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) and continuation of the CFA (TNA seeks ‘legitimate rights’––The Island of April 4, 2004).
The LTTE submitted its ISGA proposal in Oct 2003 to the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe in response to the UNP’s call for a power sharing plan on July 17, 2003 following theLTTE’s pull out from negotiations in April 2003.
Pararajasingham, who led the Batticaloa District TNA list, insisted that the TNA would extend its support to any party that accepted the LTTE’s proposals. "Make no mistake, we will not dilute the proposals," Pararajasingham said (TNA seeks ‘legitimate rights’––The Island of April 4, 2004).
In the run-up to the Dec 2001 parliamentary polls, the TNA declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. As the TNA is not a registered political party, it had no option but to contest on the ITAK ticket and it still continues to do so. The TNA will contest the forthcoming election to the Eastern Provincial Council on the ITAK ticket.
The LTTE realised the pivotal importance of helping the TNA bolster its influence not only in the Northern and Eastern Province (the Eastern Province was de-merged from the North in Oct 2006), but in the South as well.
The LTTE carried out political assassinations, threatened political activists and in some instances went to the extent of voting for selected candidates to help its proxies. The Tamil politicians who were considered a challenge to TNA candidates in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts were ordered to quit the contest. The UNP, too, came under heavy LTTE pressure, particularly in the Northern Province, but it chose to remain silent. The UNP leadership felt that the LTTE wouldn’t harm its candidates, though they had been threatened with death.
Attempt to kill UNP MP
The LTTE made an attempt to assassinate former Hindu Affairs Minister, T. Maheswaran in Colombo on the night of March 27th, 2004. The UNP declined to comment on the LTTE attempt on Maheswaran’s life, in spite of The Island repeatedly asking the then UNP General Secretary, Senarath Kapukotuwa and Minister Karunasena Kodituwakku, whether the party believed the LTTE had made that attempt. The UNP said that it would take up the issue with the LTTE only if police investigations revealed the LTTE’s complicity. The Norwegian-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission said that it hadn’t received a complaint regarding the attempt on the UNP’s life. (UNP to confront LTTE if it’s responsible for shootings; President accused of jeopardising candidates’ security––The Island of March 29, 2004).
Instead, the UNP held the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga responsible for not only the assassination attempt on Maheswaran but also the killing of a UNP candidate contesting the Batticaloa District also at the April 2, 2004 poll.
The Centre for Monitoring Elections (CMEV), an organ of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), unreservedly condemned the assassination bid on Maheswaran and several other incidents, including attacks on the then Batticaloa GA Monaguruswamy and EPDP National List nominee Kandiah Sangaran. The CMEV asserted that the breakaway LTTE faction led by Karuna, too, could be responsible for some of the attacks. CMEV said: "We unequivocally condemn these incidents and see them as an attempt to seriously frustrate, even prevent the exercise of the franchise in the North-East Province. We also call upon the LTTE and Karuna and his supporters to demonstrate their declared commitment to free and fair exercise of the franchise." The CMEV stressed that the power struggle between the LTTE and the breakaway faction shouldn’t jeopardise elections.
Maheswaran, who survived the LTTE assassination attempt, polled 57,978 preference votes in the Jaffna electoral district.
Having helped the TNA to secure the majority of seats in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts, the LTTE launched a major amphibious assault on the breakaway faction. The Sea Tigers ferried hundreds of men from the Vanni to the east within a week after the April 2, 2004 polls to take on the breakaway faction, which had retreated within hours, leaving the Kilinochchi faction to take control of the situation, though they launched a guerrilla campaign against the invaders shortly afterwards. (The issue was dealt extensively in previous articles).
It would be necessary to examine the situation in the run-up to the April 2, 2004 General Election. In spite of the split caused by Karuna, the LTTE remained strong. The LTTE leadership had the support of the international community as well as various civil society organisations which unwittingly treated the LTTE and the TNA, alike.
Crisis in the TULF
A major crisis erupted in the TULF soon after nominations were announced for the April 2, 2004 General Election. TULF seniors clashed over an LTTE attempt to pick the TNA’s candidates. TULF leader, V. Anandasangaree, strongly opposed party General Secretary R. Sampanthan having discussions with the LTTE as regards the selection of candidates. Anandasangaree took up the position that the LTTE should contest the polls on its own instead of seeking control over the TNA. (TULF faces split––The Island of Feb 15, 2004).
Anandasangaree strongly opposed the LTTE being recognised as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The veteran politicians said the TULF’s sole purpose of being would be lost if the LTTE was to be recognised as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. He spoke to The Island on the condition of anonymity at that time due to LTTE threats (TULF faces split––The Island of Feb 15, 2004).
In a hard-hitting two-page letter addressed to R. Sampanthan, the TULF great stressed that the party should contest the General Election under its own symbol (Rising Sun) and all contestants should be members of the party. Anandasangaree stressed that the TULF "being the only Tamil moderate party with an unblemished political history and good track record should contest the Northern and Eastern electoral districts under the party symbol." The TULF leader insisted that Sampanthan had no right to discuss political alliance with the LTTE or any other party at the expense of the TULF (TULF leader warns Gen. Secy––The Island of Feb 15, 2004).
Sampanthan had no alternative but to ignore Anandasangaree’s warning. Any attempt to deviate from the LTTE plans for the April 2, 2004 General Election would have meant the end of his own political career. He wouldn’t have survived a day if he had gone against the LTTE’s wishes. Anandasangaree, who was high on the LTTE hit list realised Sampanthan’s plight, however, continued to pressure his colleague not to adhere with the LTTE’s strategy.
Sangaree goes it alone
Anandasangaree decided to go it alone after his senior colleagues aligned themselves with the LTTE.
The LTTE pushed for polling booths in its territory. The UNF, the TNA as well as the SLMC, too, agreed with the LTTE proposal. Both the UNF and the TNA said that the LTTE wouldn’t interfere in the electoral process. However, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda strongly opposed the move. Devananda warned Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake that polling booths in LTTE-held territory should never be allowed as Prabhakaran would rig the polls in support of TNA candidates. (Polling booths in Tiger areas disputed––The Island of Feb 15, 2004)
Although some political parties felt that the Scandinavian truce monitoring mission, too, could play a role in election monitoring, the five-nation grouping said that it wouldn’t deviate from its mandate. The mission insisted that there wouldn’t be any change in monitoring procedures in the run-up to the elections and the day of the poll (Truce monitors rule out polls monitoring––The Island of Feb 15, 2004).
In spite of repeated calls for polling booths in the LTTE-held areas, Polls Chief Dissanayake rejected the idea. Dissanayake made his position clear when a high level military delegation comprising then Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda, Director of Naval Operations, Jayantha Perera and Air Commodore Ariya Dhanapala met him to discuss security arrangements. Dissanayake quite rightly stressed that polling booths couldn’t be set up in any area inaccessible to the military and police (Polls Chief rules out polling in Tiger–held areas––The Island of Feb 16, 2004).
In spite of the Norwegian-arranged CFA, underwritten by the US, EU and Japan allowing the LTTE to engage in ‘political work’ in areas under government control, it didn’t permit other Tamil parties to campaign in areas under LTTE control. Except for the EPDP, other political parties didn’t take up this issue forcefully. In an obvious bid to embarrass the government and peace facilitator, EPDP leader Devananda requested the then IGP, Indra De Silva, to provide adequate security to his party as he intended to campaign in LTTE-held areas (Police in dilemma over EPDP demand––The Island of Feb 27, 2004).
Those contesting the Jaffna electoral district under the leadership of Anandasangaree were ordered to quit or face the consequences. The EPDP brought this to the notice of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, though the international community didn’t take any tangible action (Candidates under LTTE pressure to quit––The Island of Feb 29, 2004).
Having ruled out polling booths in Tiger territory, the Elections Department ordered relevant authorities to make arrangements to set up cluster polling booths in areas under government control. The LTTE reacted to the polls chief’s move by making representations to the truce monitors, election monitoring groups and Chief Returning Officers of respective districts as regards the need to set up polling booths in areas under their control. The LTTE sent a delegation to Colombo to pressure the government, though the polls chief held his ground (Tigers in Colombo push for polls booths-The Island of Feb 29, 2004).