“An exception was the boycott of the 2005 Presidential Election by Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces which heavily influenced the result of the election and served as a milestone in the ethnic conflict of the country.”
A novel turn of events this time is a proposal floating among the Tamil political parties in the north on a common Tamil Presidential candidate towards which the enthusiasm in the north seems to be mounting with Tamil media making hype over it. Although Tamil politicians such as Kumar Ponnambalam and M.K. Sivajilingam had contested at Presidential polls in the past, they were not considered nor did they claim to be common Tamil candidates. In the recent past the Tamil parties voted almost en-masse to a south based Sinhalese candidate.
An exception was the boycott of the 2005 Presidential Election by Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces which heavily influenced the result of the election and served as a milestone in the ethnic conflict of the country. UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe who was strongly tipped to be the winner in that election was defeated and the boycott was said to be the result of an agreement between the winner of the election Mahinda Rajapaksa and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabakaran. A video is being circulating still on YouTube in which a prominent politician was claiming that the LTTE was paid for organizing the boycott.
“At the 2010 Presidential Election, they voted for General Sarath Fonseka – the man who spearheaded the military campaign against the LTTE – to protest against Mahinda Rajapaksa who provided the political leadership to the war against the Tamil rebels. “
The northern and eastern Tamils’ voting for south based Sinhalese candidates has been mostly protest votes, meaning they in fact did not want the candidate they voted for to win, but they were prompted to do so in order to defeat the other main candidate. This urge for the protest vote in them has been such that within months after the end of the separatist war in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, at the 2010 Presidential Election, they voted for General Sarath Fonseka – the man who spearheaded the military campaign against the LTTE – to protest against Mahinda Rajapaksa who provided the political leadership to the war against the Tamil rebels.
Similarly, it was Maithripala Sirisena who rode on the strength of the UNP who was the Tamils’ choice at the 2015 Presidential Election – again a protest vote against Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“Three proposals have been floated among the Tamils in the north in respect of the upcoming Presidential polls. All three proposals suggest a common stand on the part of the Tamil political parties on the matter”
However, current dialogue among the Tamil parties on the common Tamil candidate is not aimed at protesting or supporting any specific south based candidate, but in order to showcase the strength and value of Tamils’ votes while also showing the protest and frustration against the south based political parties.
Three proposals have been floated among the Tamils in the north in respect of the upcoming Presidential polls. All three proposals suggest a common stand on the part of the Tamil political parties on the matter. Individuals close to the government are of the opinion that Tamil parties must collectively approach the candidate most evident to be the winner and present their case. This group rejects the notion of a common Tamil candidate, on the grounds that it would alienate the Tamils from the winner, without burdening any obligation on him or her towards the Tamils.
Pressing the main candidates to negotiate with Tamil leaders and commit themselves to the Tamil demands by fielding a common Tamil candidate who has the collective support of all groups of Tamils is another proposal. A third proposal suggests boycotting the Presidential Election to show the world that Tamils are no longer prepared to be hoodwinked by the Sinhalese leaders.
“The constituent parties of the TNA except the ITAK have left the alliance and three of them, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) have formed a new alliance”
However, Ilangai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the main Tamil party with the largest support base in the north observes that it was too early to decide a course of action on the Presidential Election. The leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), R. Sampanthan had told that this was a decision that has to be taken when the situation on the ground is clearly known.
State Minister, S. Viyalenthiran who promotes the idea to support the possible winner in the Presidential Election is of the view that Tamil people have long been supporting unsuccessful candidates after which they find it difficult to approach the winner to get anything done.
The constituent parties of the TNA except the ITAK have left the alliance and three of them, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) have formed a new alliance called Democratic Tamil National Front (DTNF) with the Tamil Democratic Party (TDP) and the Democratic Militants Party (DMP) which is a grouping of former LTTE cadres. They are the proponents of the common Tamil candidate.
EPRLF leader, Suresh Premachandran recently argued in a statement that no candidate in the south would be able to get the mandated 50 percent of valid votes this time which would press them to seek the assistance of the minorities. He contends that the Tamil leaders against this backdrop must use the more than six hundred thousand Tamil votes as a unified tool to get the Tamil demands met. This would also help show the world that Tamils do not accept any Sinhalese candidate. Tamil leaders must bring the Sinhalese candidates into their agenda with the strength of the unified voice of the Tamil people. However, he did not explain as to how they could bring the Sinhalese candidates into their agenda by voting en-block to a Tamil candidate.
“Parliamentarian Shanakiyan Rasamanickam of the ITAK views a conspiracy in the moves to put forward a Tamil candidate. His contention is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was behind the move”
Parliamentarian and the former Chief Minister of the Northern Province C.V. Wigneswaran addressing media on December 21 welcomed the common candidate move and expressed his willingness to contest if all Tamil parties endorse his candidature.
It is the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) – formerly the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam that vehemently promotes the idea of boycotting the Presidential Election. He told media in Batticaloa on December 27 that no Sinhalese politician would resolve problems faced by Tamils and hence Tamils must show the world that they are no longer prepared to be hoodwinked.
It is ironic that one Tamil leader wants to field a common Tamil candidate to show the world their resolve not to be hoodwinked while another wants to boycott the election to show the same.
“Despite some Sinhalese leaders showing courage to promise to implement certain controversial issues, they never materialize.”
Although the ITAK is undecided on the matter, Parliamentarian Shanakiyan Rasamanickam of the party views a conspiracy in the moves to put forward a Tamil candidate. His contention is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was behind the move since there is not even a remote possibility of Wickremesinghe winning and thus he wants to prevent Tamil votes ending up in the hands of any of his rivals.
However, the allegation by Tamil parties that Sinhalese leaders are not prepared to accept their demands is a fact. The latter feel meeting primary Tamil political demands such as remerging of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, creating a federal form of governance while renouncing the unitary nature of the country and investigating into human rights violations allegedly committed by the armed forces during the war would be politically suicidal for them, in spite of the merits or demerits of those demands.
Despite some Sinhalese leaders showing courage to promise to implement certain controversial issues, they never materialize. The best case in point was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pledge to implement his famous “Thirteen Plus” formula in 2019. It was during the Presidential Election campaign of his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa that twice President Rajapaksa gave that promise to a group of Tamil party leaders. However, within the first fortnight into his Presidency the younger Rajapaksa declared his aversion even to the very concept of devolution, leaving the Tamil leaders who supported him to have egg on their faces.
A major issue that prevents both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders to arrive at an agreement on the ethnic issue is that both groups take advantage of the conflict and disagreements in the backdrop of rivalries within both communities.