Second post-war prez poll:
SPECIAL REPORT : Part 56
by Shamindra Ferdinando
The then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga authorized the closure of five entry/exit points, manned by the army, in the Batticaloa and Vavuniya electoral districts, on Dec 5, 2001.
Kumaratunga issued the directive on Dec 4, the day before the countrywide parliamentary elections. Acting at the behest of President Kumaratunga, the then Army Chief, Lt. General Lionel Balagalle, closed the entry/exit points at Piramanalankulam (Vavuniya) and Chenkaladi, Kiran, Vaunathivu and Mankerni (Batticaloa). That deprived those living in areas under LTTE control from exercising their franchise at the parliamentary election. The presidential directive was meant to prevent voters from crossing entry/exit point to cast their votes at cluster polling booths established in villages situated close to the front lines.
The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) accused the People’s Alliance government of depriving the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) of thousands of votes. The TNA, comprising four political parties, namely the TULF, TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF, contested on the TULF ticket.
Interestingly, two entry/exit points, in the Batticaloa electoral district, manned by the elite Special Task Force (STF) remained opened for several hours. By the time the government had ordered them closed, at 1.30 pm, as many as 20,000 crossed the lines to exercise their franchise. The then Batticaloa Government Agent, Sinnathamby Shanmugam, confirmed that voters had been denied an opportunity to exercise their franchise at a crucial election. Shanmugam asserted that of some 50,000 registered voters, living in areas under LTTE control about half were able to cast their votes due to a lapse on the part of the government to also direct the STF, to close down entry/exit points under its control. The then Vavuniya Government Agent, K. Ganesh, revealed that about 17,000 registered voters, in the Vanni, and about 10,000, in the Mannar electoral district, couldn’t cast their votes. (Government closes some north-east entry points: 50,000 prevented from voting-The Island, Dec 6, 2001).
SLA on closure of entry/exit points
Army Headquarters claim that entry/exit points had to be closed to prevent LTTE cadres infiltrating government-held areas, in the guise of voters. The then Army spokesman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne, declared that it was the best course of action, in the wake of intelligence reports pertaining to LTTE taking advantage of the situation. The TULF rejected Brigadier Karunaratne’s claim. The Army never explained the failure, on its part, to direct the STF to close the entry/exit points under its control.
A recent statement issued by the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), as regards the forthcoming presidential election, should be examined in the backdrop of having national level elections in war-time Sri Lanka. Twice President Kumaratunga is spearheading Opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena’s campaign.
GTF spokesman, Suren Surendiran, urged the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise at the second post-war presidential poll carefully. The GTF official said that Tamils living in all parts of the country should participate in the 2015 presidential poll.
Surendiran said: "Tamil people have a long history of voting, based on principled considerations. The upcoming Presidential election is no different."
"GTF is fully aware that in the post-independent Sri Lanka, Tamil people have continuously lost their rights under a flawed majoritarian electoral system. Their desire to have a degree of control in the Tamil majority areas was never granted, despite repeated democratic expressions of their wishes through all available electoral means."
"Nevertheless, from our perspective, whether Sri Lanka should continue in the same path or whether change should be taken at this juncture, to stop and reverse this trajectory, is the fundamental question facing the electorate."
Sri Lankan Tamils living abroad formed the GTF in the wake of the LTTE’s battlefield defeat, in May 2009.
The government ignored the then Election Commissioner Dayananda Disanayake’s request to re-open all entry/exit points. Interestingly, the polls chief had raised the issue with Chandrananda Silva, who, after having relinquished duties as Commissioner of Elections, received an appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.
EU on CBK’s more
Mrs. Kumaratunga’s government earned the condemnation of the European Union. The EU strongly condemned the denial of voting rights to a section of the Tamil speaking voters and, thereby denying them the opportunity to exercise their franchise. Head of the EU monitoring mission, John Cushnahan, said: "There is no justification for closing these entry points. This is to prevent people living in uncleared areas from coming to vote at cluster polling stations. Outspoken Cushnahan emphasized that the Sri Lankan government’s move was totally unacceptable and it would have a significant impact on the outcome of the results in the Vanni and Batticaloa electoral districts.
In spite of government interference, the TNA polled 41,950 votes in the Vanni electoral district to secure three seats, the UNP obtained 26,575 votes to win two seats, while the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF) secured one seat. The DPLF polled 9,614 votes. In Batticaloa, the TNA polled 86,284 votes to win three seats, while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) obtained 26,725 votes to secure one seat. The PA managed to win one seat by polling 25,705 votes.
The UNP-led United National Front emerged victorious by winning 109 seats, whereas the PA managed 77 seats. The TULF won 15 seats.
Having won the parliamentary election, newly elected Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe swiftly moved to reach an agreement with the LTTE. Norway finalized a Ceasefire Agreement, on February 21, 2002.
Administration loyal to
New Delhi installed
In the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001, parliamentary election, the TNA endorsed the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. The TNA acknowledged that the LTTE would represent the Tamil speaking people at all future elections. Having lost several key leaders, including A. Amirthalingham and Vettivelu Yogeswaran, the Tamil political leadership had no option but to accept the LTTE’s leadership or face the consequences. The LTTE remained in charge of the Tamils’ destiny for a decade, until the Sri Lankan military eradicated the LTTE in May, 2009. The three-year long combined security forces operation paved the way for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to conduct the Northern Provincial Council election in September, 2013. The ITAK-led TNA emerged victorious at the poll. Unfortunately, the TNA had conveniently forgotten that the Northern Provincial Council election couldn’t be conducted, even through the Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged in September, 1988, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord of July, 1987. The merger was to pave the way for elections in November, 1988. The Indian Army deployed here (July 1987 to March 1990) under Indo-Lanka Accord rigged the election in the Northern Province to ensure victory for two terrorist groups – The Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Organization (EPRLF) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF). They secured all 36 seats in the Northern Province uncontested. However, elections was held in the Eastern Province, where the EPRLF and ENDLF won 12 and 5 seats, respectively, though the SLMC emerged victories with 17 seats. The UNP managed to secure one seat. The Indian Army threw its weight behind the EPRLF and ENDLF in the Eastern Province. The Indian Army was carrying out directives, issued from New Delhi.
Those demanding free and fair election never even bothered to issue a statement condemning India for rigging an important election. The JRJ administration couldn’t interfere with the Indian strategy, meant to ensure an administration, in Sri Lanka’s North-East, loyal to New Delhi. Having installed the EPRLF-led administration, India created the Tamil National Army (TNA) to protect the outfit. The TNA undermined the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government.
The Dec, 1988, presidential and the Feb, 1989, parliamentary elections were also conducted in the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, under the supervision of the Indian Army. At the presidential elections, the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike in a close race, marred by violence. Premadasa was sworn in as JRJ’s successor, on Jan 2, 1989. In February, Premadasa led the UNP to a comfortable victory in the parliamentary polling, capturing 125 of the 225 seats under a new proportional voting system. Both presidential and parliamentary polls took place before Premadasa reached an understanding, in May, 1989 to pave the way for talks with the LTTE. The Premadasa-LTTE talks collapsed in June, 1990.
Sri Lanka’s failure
There had never been an inquiry into the conduct of the Indian Army, and other personnel, during their deployment here. The rigging of the North-Eastern Provincial Council poll had far reaching consequences with President Premadasa having to join hands with the LTTE to oust the provincial administration, installed by India. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for the Indian folly. Sri Lanka’s failure to conduct a proper investigation, into Indian intervention here is inexcusable and strange in the backdrop of Western powers launching an investigation in accordance with the resolution adopted at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at the March, 2014, sessions.
Whether President Rajapaksa liked it or not regardless of the outcome of the January 8, 2015, presidential election, Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented situation in Geneva. With the UNHRC expected to receive a comprehensive report on Sri Lanka, in March, 2015, the stage is now set for a major diplomatic issue within weeks after the next presidential poll. The UNP-led Opposition, on Dec 21, 2015, declared that a victory for Opposition presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, at the January 8, 2015, poll would help settle accountability issues/war crimes charges raised by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Addressing the media, at the Opposition Leader’s Office, at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, UNP strategist, MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, stressed that as re-election of incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a third term would be inimical to Sri Lanka’s interests, people should vote for Maithripala Sirisena.
MP Rajapakshe said that those struggling to make ends meet would have to face the consequences in case President Rajapaksa won the election. The MP mentioned the possibility of the country having to face economic sanctions unless the forthcoming presidential election brought an end to President Rajapaksa’s rule.
PC Rajapakshe said that only a new government could defeat foreign elements working against the country.
The Opposition spokesman assured that it would protect defeated President Rajapaksa from being hauled up before an international war crimes tribunal.
Al Jazeera interview
MP Rajapakshe echoed UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha. The MP expressed similar opinion at a live Al Jazeera programme ‘Inside story: clinging to power in Sri Lanka’, anchored by Jane Dutton, involving UNP MP Dr. Harsha De Silva and GTF spokesman Suren Surendiran, before Maithripala Sirisena declared his candidature at the presidential poll. However, Prof. Wijesinha, in response to war crimes allegation, said that the Sri Lankan military had fought a relatively clean war against the LTTE, when compared with others engaged in such operations.
Al Jazeera aired the programme the day before Maithripala Sirisena quit the government.
Surendiran’s recent call for the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise, carefully, at the forthcoming presidential poll, should be examined, having his declarations, during Al Jazeera programme, in mind.
Joining the programme from Dublin, Surendiran, the UK-based GTF’s Director of Strategic Initiative, predicted that the UNHRC would bring out a damning report in March, 2015, almost accusing the government of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The GTF official alleged Sri Lanka’s economy had been dwindling, foreign reserves sharply down with the IMF demanding the government to drastically reduce public expenditure. Surendiran alleged that people couldn’t even feed their own families in the wake of rising inflation. Surendiran said: "The security situation is poor and the judiciary politicized."
Calling Sri Lanka a nationalist state, Surendiran said that President Rajapaksa hadn’t addressed the Tamil grievances, even after the conclusion of the conflict. The GTF official said that both the international community and the Tamil speaking people wanted President Rajapaksa to provide a political solution to the national problem. Surendiran accused the government of causing racial hatred among communities while specifically identifying the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)as a government tool used against other communities.
Surendiran further alleged that Sri Lanka’s relationship with India was in an extremely bad position.
Responding to Prof. Wijesinha, an irate Surendiran said that President Rajapaksa had been accused of war crimes. Some had accused him of conducting a genocidal war against the Tamil speaking people. Surendiran warned that President Rajapaksa, too, would be hauled up before the International Criminal Court the way one-time Liberian President, Charles Taylor, and Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, had been. Surendiran queried Prof. Wijesinha the basis for his assumption that the Sri Lankan military fought a relatively a clean war, when over 140,000 civilians died at their hands. The GTF spokesman alleged that the military also executed surrendering LTTE cadres and civilians, killed an 11-year-old (possible reference to the killing of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s son) et al.
Would the five-party TNA be able to influence the Tamil electorate at the forthcoming poll? At the Nov. 1994, presidential poll, they contributed overwhelming for Mrs Kumaratunga’s victory. She wouldn’t have been able to poll a staggering 62.28 per cent of the total votes received, at that poll, if not for the Tamil electorate backing her, on the belief the LTTE assassinated UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake, to ensure her victory. At the Dec. 1999, presidential poll, the LTTE made a bid to assassinate her because the group felt it could reach a settlement in case UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe emerged victorious. The LTTE engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the Nov, 2005, presidential poll because it obviously believed a naive Rajapaksa could be militarily defeated. Consequent to the LTTE’s humiliating defeat, the TNA threw its lot with former army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, at the last presidential poll in January, 2010.
With the TNA now being divided over whom it should support, at the next presidential poll, what would be its official stance. In the backdrop of the TNA and GTF having close relations, would it be prudent to believe that the GTF statements reflected TNA the stand at the presidential poll?