Tuesday, 8 September 2015

TNA reigns supreme




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Now that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader, R. Sampanthan (Trincomalee District MP), had been named the Leader of the Opposition in the eighth parliament, it would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which the four-party grouping succeeded the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), once the dominant minority party.

The project wouldn’t have succeeded without the LTTE’s direct support.

The TULF emerged as the minority party, with the largest block of seats, in parliament at the 2000 general election. The group secured 5 seats.

In the following year, the TULF gained ground in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts due to the then president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga calling for fresh parliamentary polls in the wake of a major political crisis, caused by a group of senior PA members, including Prof. G.L. Peiris and S. B. Dissanayake, switching their allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP emerged victorious with 109 seats, including 13 National List slots. The People’s Alliance (PA) managed to secure 77 seats, including 11 National List slots. The TULF secured 15 seats, including one National List slot. However, the JVP gained the third position with 16 seats, including three National List slots.

Although the major Tamil outfit, contested under the TULF symbol, the TNA had been the public face of the Eelam movement.

In the run-up to the parliamentary polls, on Dec 5, 2001, the TNA comprising the TULF, TELO, ACTC and EPRLF (Suresh Premachandran faction), publicly identified with the LTTE. The TNA declared that its support for the UNP, or the PA, would entirely depend on immediate de-proscription of the LTTE. TULF heavyweight, and the then Batticaloa District candidate, Joseph Pararajasingham, told the writer that the TULF/TNA would cooperate with the party that accepted its conditions, namely (1) de-proscription of the LTTE, immediate ceasefire and resumption of the Norway-led peace initiative. Pararajasingham insisted that their conditions wouldn’t be negotiable, under any circumstances (TNA to support party that de-proscribes LTTE with strap line Tamil Alliance endorses Prabhakaran’s stance-The Island, Nov 30, 2001). Of course, Pararajasingham wouldn’t have made that particular statement unless authorized by the LTTE. During the period, between the 2000 and 2001 parliamentary polls, the LTTE transformed the TULF/TNA into its mouthpiece. The Tamil political leadership simply followed directives issued from the LTTE. The LTTE carried out attacks, in support of the TULF/TNA, contesting the Dec 5, 2001, general election. Suspected LTTE gunmen killed 48-year-old retired Chief Inspector of Police, Thambirasa Jayakumar, close to Onnachimadam junction, in the Kalawanchikudy police area, in Nov., 2001. Jayakumar’s crime was joining the fray, in Batticaloa, on the UNP ticket. The TULF/TNA remained silent. The LTTE strategy had been clear. Having decimated the once proud TULF leadership, as well as those members of Indian-trained Tamil terrorist groups, who could have challenged them, the LTTE brought the entire Tamil political leadership into its knees. The LTTE forced the TULF, and one-time terrorist groups, to join hands for its ultimate objective, a separate North-eastern Province, under its domination.

Responding to the writer, the then TULF General Secretary, R. Sampanthan, and Joseph Pararajasingham, declared that they had the backing of the LTTE. They went on to justify their efforts, explaining that the LTTE would back the TULF/TNA bid to resolve the national issue. They were in the fray in all five northern and eastern electoral districts, as well as Colombo. TULF candidates led the grouping in all districts, except the Vanni, where Selvam Addaikalanathan was in command. Addaikalanathan, of the TELO, had been involved in terrorism. Addaikalanathan is now the Deputy Chairman of Committee in the eighth parliament. But, perhaps the most important message, given by Messrs Sampanthan and Pararajasingham, was nothing but the LTTE would speak on behalf of the Tamil speaking people. It was a frightening situation. The international community didn’t take notice of what was happening in Sri Lanka. They turned a blind eye. (LTTE will talk for Tamils, says Alliance-The Island, Nov 11, 2001).

TULF great, V. Anandasangaree, too, had been involved in the LTTE-TULF/TNA deal. There had never been such a political arrangement, in Sri Lanka, with the LTTE seeking to have its representatives in parliament. The LTTE’s move made a mockery of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, introduced by the then President J. R. Jayawardene, to thwart possible attempts by a section of the parliament to undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Having successfully contested the Dec., 2001, general election, Anandasangaree soon realized that he could no longer continue to deceive himself. Anandasangaree clashed with Sampanthan, over TULF/TNA policies leading to them parting company. Anandasangaree, on numerous occasions, in conversation with the writer, regretted the failure, on the part of the Tamil political leadership, to resist the LTTE. Anandasangree once confided that he felt the need to oppose the LTTE, especially the day the LTTE assassinated Pon Sivapalan, the TULF Legal Secretary, on Sept., 11, 1998. Sivapalan earned the wrath of the LTTE for filling the vacancy, created by the assassination of Sarojini Yogeswaran, the then Mayoress of Jaffna, The Jaffna Mayoress was gunned down by a gunman who called at her home on the morning of May 17, 1998.

The TULF expected the LTTE to leave Sarojini Yogeswaran alone. If the TULF leadership thought the LTTE would not assassinate both husband and wife, the LTTE proved what it was capable of. Her husband, Vettivelu, was gunned down by LTTE gunmen on July 13, 1989, at TULF leader A. Amirthalingam’s Colombo 7 residence. This was shortly after Sarojini served refreshments to the would-be assassins. They also killed TULF leader Amirthalingham before his bodyguards gunned them down. They were subsequently identified as Vishu and Aloysius. Before police reacted, former Udupiddy MP M. Sivasiththamparam too received gunshot injuries. Later, it was transpired that the assassins had been airlifted from the Vanni jungles to Colombo by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) at the behest of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who had no sense of the despicable LTTE strategy.

In the run-up to the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls, the TULF/TNA had been under total control of the LTTE. The TULF/TNA had no option but to continue with the LTTE project or face the consequences. The LTTE threw its full weight behind the TULF/TNA. The LTTE desired the grouping should represent its position publicly, therefore those opposed to its strategy had no option but to leave the outfit. Anandasangaree was unceremoniously pushed aside as the TULF/TNA secured the LTTE approval for its nominations for the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls.

In the run-up to the polls, the LTTE in no uncertain terms revealed its intention to facilitate the TULF/TNA victory. The LTTE stepped up pressure on political parties, especially the UNP. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Colombo District UNP MP, T. Maheswaran, on the night of March 27, 2004. The attempt was made in Colombo. The former Hindu Affairs Minister, who had entered parliament from the Jaffna electoral district, at the Dec. 5, 2001, general election, moved to Colombo, following LTTE threats. The LTTE warned the Tamil electorate of dire consequences if they voted for either the UNP or UPFA at the general election. In spite of Jaffna town and major civilian centers, in the Jaffna electoral district, under military control, the two major parties decided against joining the fray in Jaffna. Although the UNP had been under heavy LTTE pressure, the then UNP General Secretary, Senarath Kapukotuwa, and Minister Karunasena, declined to blame the LTTE for the assassination attempt on Maheswaran, though the writer pushed them for a direct answer. The hastily arranged press conference, at the Cambridge Terrace, on the morning of March 28, 2004, exposed the UNP’s plight. When pressed for an answer, Kapukotuwa claimed that the UNP would take it up with the LTTE, if the police could establish the group’s responsibility. The UNP spokesmen also declined to comment on the Kalawanchikudy killing (UNP to confront LTTE if it is responsible for shootings-The Island, March 29, 2004). Instead, the UNP accused the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of jeopardizing candidates’ security. However, the EU Election Observation Mission condemned the LTTE in no uncertain terms.

With the LTTE’s backing, the TNA gained 22 seats, including two National List slots, at the April 2, 2004, polls. In the run-up to the polls, the renegade Karuna faction ordered those contesting Batticaloa and Digamadulla electoral districts not to endorse the Vanni faction. In spite of threats, the LTTE managed to ensure that its nominees had the required electoral support to gain access to parliament. The emergence of the TNA, as the third, with the third largest block of seats, in parliament, greatly strengthened the LTTE. The LTTE had a proxy capable of pursuing its agenda in parliament. The TNA faithfully worked for the LTTE. The TNA remained committed to the LTTE’s strategy as long as it felt Prabhakaran had the wherewithal to achieve Eelam, regardless of consequences. The TNA remained confident, until the army liberated Kilinochchi, during the first week of January, 2009.

The TNA parliamentary backed W.J.M. Lokubandara for the post of the Speaker. The vote took place in the wake of the LTTE calling the entire TNA parliamentary group for a meeting, in the Vanni. Following their return, Batticaloa District elect, Kingsley Rasanayagam, quit, claiming personal reasons. But it was no secret that the LTTE wanted Rasanayagam out due to his close relationship with Karuna.

Ousted Anandasangaree hit back hard at the TNA, in the wake of the EU alleging a direct nexus between the LTTE and the TNA. In its final observations, on the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls, the EU asserted that the LTTE had directed violence, at political rivals, to enable the TNA to secure the lions share of seats in the northern and eastern electoral districts. The EU alleged that the LTTE’s overall objective was to legitimize its claim that it represented the Tamils. In a brief interview with the writer, Anandasangaree said that the Elections Secretariat, and the international community, failed to stop the LTTE project (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy-The Island, June 23, 2004).

Strangely, the government, Elections Secretariat, and the international community, ignored the EU report. The TNA never discussed the EU report. The Colombo-based Western diplomats turned a blind eye. In fact, they actively encouraged the TNA, hence strengthening the LTTE’s overall strategy. The TNA tacitly endorsed child recruitment by participating in passing out parades during the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Strangely, none of those, who had been demanding accountability, on the part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration, for taking on the LTTE, never once questioned the TNA’s culpability in war. The TNA never bothered, at least to express regret, in or outside, parliament. Instead, TNA chief Sampanthan again called for division of the country, on ethnic lines, in his first speech, after receiving the Opposition Leader’s post. Sampanthan’s utterance is evidence that their mindset remained the same though thanks to the previous Rajapaksa administration Prabhakaran and his loyalists, as well as their conventional military power, were stilled.

President Rajapaksa brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. The non-stop offensive lasted two years and 10 months.

The TNA suffered a setback at the first general election, after the LTTE’s defeat. At the April, 2010, general election, the TNA could secure only 14 seats, including one National List slot. Under war-winning President Rajapaksa’s leadership, the SLFP-led UPFA secured a staggering 144 seats, including 17 National List slots. Undoubtedly, the Rajapaksa’s victory was the biggest achieved by a political party, under the present proportional representation system.

The UPFA registered the massive general election victory, a few months after the TNA backed war-winning army commander, the then General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature, at the presidential polls. The TNA joined hands with the UNP and the JVP to challenge President Rajapaksa. The TNA’s revealed its duplicity. Its much touted demand for international war crimes probe seemed hollow in the wake of its alliance with General Fonseka.

It would be pertinent to mention that at the Nov., 2005, presidential polls, the TNA/LTTE combination ordered Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise. The TNA/LTTE move was meant to deprive UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote, particularly in the Northern Province. The LTTE envisaged that it could military deal with Rajapaksa much more easier than Wickremesinghe. The strategy was proved wrong within President Rajapaksa’s first term.

The TNA engaged in some silly games, on behalf of the LTTE, both here and overseas. The TNA leadership, until the very end of the murderous LTTE, demanded international intervention but never requested the LTTE to release the Vanni population. The TNA steadfastly refused, at least to appeal on behalf of children, though it knew they were being used as cannon fodder. The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) in March, 2011, revealed children being forcibly recruited, as late as February, 2009, as the army relentlessly advanced on LTTE territory.

The TNA never acknowledged that it captured the Northern Provincial Council at the September, 2013, PC polls, thanks to President Rajapaksa liberating the entire LTTE-held area. The existence of TNA reminds us of Indian destabilization project here. The TNA today comprises four parties. In addition to the main constituent, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF were originally raised by the government of India in the 80s. Indian trained PLOTE terrorists mounted a sea-borne raid to seize Male, in Nov. 1988. The operation went awry due to the raiding party’s failure to execute the operation swiftly. Had they succeeded, the then Maldivian President Gayoom would have been killed.

At the January, 2015 presidential polls, the TNA backed the longstanding SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, one of those top SLFP politician, once high on the LTTE hit list.

At the recently concluded general elections, the TNA won 16 seats, including two National slots. The once powerful TULF failed to secure a single seat with its leader Anandasangaree suffering a humiliating defeat in Colombo. The TNA received two key positions in the present parliament, namely the post of Opposition Leader and Deputy Chairman of Committees. The TNA refused to field a single ex-LTTE cadre, though it once worked very closely with the group.

A genuine post-war national reconciliation process would largely depend on the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe national government and the TNA, as well as Tamil Diaspora organizations, working in unison. The success will largely depend on the readiness of both sides to compromise on key issues, though unitary status shouldn’t be among them, under any circumstances.

It would be interesting to examine TNA’s options in the face of sharp differences with Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, whose affiliation with hardliners was causing trouble for the party leadership.