(TNA Parliamentary team)
◾Drawing The Battle Line For The Hustings.
As the politicians have fiercely entered their political campaigns ahead of the upcoming general election, some seem to have changed their stance merely based on party politics neglecting the interests of the country. After a series of internal discussions and plotting, everybody is determined to play the best trump with less in mind for people. While the two main political parties are targeting to form the next government in whichever way they possibly can, the minor parties are determined to secure more seats in parliament in order to gain more power. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, several political party members, including the UNP, SLFP, JVP and TNA expressed their views on the upcoming election and showed confidence to face the election.
During the last presidential election, votes from the North and East made a huge difference and played a decisive role in defeating the Rajapaksa regime. However, Tamils have expressed their disappointment as the interim government has also been unable to meet the aspirations of the Tamils. Among those who backed the 100-day programme, many including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have expressed their disappointment on the progress made during the interim period. Former TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran observes that much more could have been done during the interim period, and as the country is now heading towards the next parliamentary election, he also insists that people should make a conscious decision to reject those who have been involved in corruption and robbing the country.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Do you think people in the North and East are ready for an election right now? How do you think they would respond to the upcoming general election?
A: Yes, they are ready. In January this year they participated in the presidential election most enthusiastically to change the regime. At that point they clearly understood the need for the change and they also understood that it is not the end or ultimate solution to their issues but the necessary first step that they had to weigh in to get the rest of their matters addressed. At that time, we also told the people, that restoring democracy is a necessary first step that they must contribute to. They did that and they know that their votes counted. Now they are eager to move towards the next step in the process. That can be done at the parliamentary election where they will be able to articulate their unique aspirations which were not possible to be brought into discussion at the presidential election.
Q: Do you think the government has managed to address the aspirations of the Tamil people within the 100 days?
A: Not fully. Well, the restoration of democracy is also part of what Tamil people wanted. But what is unique to them with regard to the national question was not articulated in the 100-day programme. Therefore, without further delay, people are eager to demonstrate their position with regard to the Tamil national issue and how it should be resolved.
Q: Even though the war ended six years back, many issues that are specific to Tamils such as issues on the disappeared, Tamil political prisoners, resettlement and land have remained without being properly addressed. The TNA was part of the National Executive Council. How far did you manage to get the attention of the government to these issues? Do you see any progress in addressing those issues?
A: We placed those concerns before the President and brought them to his notice right at the beginning. Few steps were taken in the months of January and February but thereafter nothing happened and we could not see a progress.
However, in May, 818 acres of land in Sampur were released by the government. I do not say that there was no progress at all. There was some progress. Some progress was made particularity with reference to the land issue. Last Wednesday, we had a meeting at the Mullaitivu Government Agent’s Office along with military and the representatives of the Resettlement Ministry. We found that about 1,000 acres of paddy land have been released to people for agricultural activities. We can see progress in that area. Nevertheless, it is way too slow for our liking. We should acknowledge that it is taking the right direction.
But on the other hand, with regard to the issue of missing persons and the release of political prisoners, nothing has happened. Some moves were made to look into these issues, for example getting the list of names and separating them under categories, etc. But beyond that nothing else has happened. There are 273 Tamil political prisoners who are held in prisons for a very long time and we have asked the government to expedite the process. We are only hopeful that it will be addressed very soon.
With regard to missing persons, we spoke to the President about that during our last meeting with him. We insisted that a proper mechanism should be set up to look at that issue. We were given assurances that there will be a proper process in place but we do not know whether that will be done before the election or not. People are rather ambivalent about that. Some people believe that there has been some progress but many people believe that there could have been lot more done during the interim period.
Q: One of the main elements in the 100-day programme was to bring about electoral reforms and minor parties have been pushing for it initially. People also looked forward to the reforms. However towards the end, minor and minority parties were unable to reach a consensus and parliament had to be dissolved without bringing about the promised reforms. How do you respond?
A: Electoral reforms were never something that we thought was necessary. We think that the present system is the most democratic system and even with reference to preferential voting, we have had no problem. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that country wide people did not want the PR system and they were keen to have an MP for their area and to accommodate that we were willing to support electoral reforms to bring in those elements provided that the new system is at least as democratic as it is now or more democratic.
We were not for something that is less democratic than the present system merely to accommodate those concerns. We did try. We put our heads together to bring in a new system to achieve those purposes. But at the same time it was compromised on true representative democracy. Most of the suggestions that were made did not fulfill that fundamental principle of democracy. So we had differences of opinion whenever particular propositions were made. We criticized it. Eventually there was no consensus. The electoral system should be changed at a beginning of a term. Then there may be some level of objectivity.
Q: Is the TNA happy with the level of investigations done related to allegations on corruption?
A: I am also part of the anti-corruption committee that was set up under the Prime Minister. So I am sort of privy to those discussions. I am also of the opinion that a lot more could have been done. But having said that, a lot of the cases on fraud needed detailed investigations and that needs time because they need to record statements and lots of other things need to be looked at in terms of transactions, accounts, etc. You cannot get that in a snapshot. That is probably why some of the things that emerged were very trivial ones – those investigations could be done without taking too much time. Everything has to go through a particular process and a careful array.
Q: In recent times, we have seen differences of opinion among the TNA parties. Do you think there is a split in the party and will it be a disadvantage at the upcoming election?
A: We always have differences of opinion. In any party, there must be differences of opinion and that must be democratically dealt with. This is not just one political party. In the TNA we have four political parties in our alliance. So we are bound to have differences of opinion in many matters. But with regard to our common objective, there is no difference of opinion. For instance we are of the same view when it comes to what the political solution should be. When it comes to essential matters, there are no divisions. As long as that is the case, that will not affect our performances at the election.
Q: What preparations have you made ahead of the general election? How many seats do you expect to secure in parliament?
A: We expect around 20 seats. That is also due to the reduction of the Jaffna electoral district – else we would have been able to get about 25 seats. We are very confident of doing well at the election. We won both the Northern and Eastern provincial council elections – therefore we are very confident of getting a significant number of seats. Discussions are also continuing with people. People are also aware of the issues. As it is, we can be quite confident.
With regard to the country’s upcoming election, I think people of the country at this particular juncture should make a conscious decision to reject people who have been involved in mass scale corruption, fraud, etc. Even in the last parliament, we saw that people who should never have been elected, had involvement in various activities, occupying those seats. The change brought upon in January was the same in terms of that kind of culture. There seems to be some threat of reversal in the parliamentary election. People of the entire country should consciously reject people who rob the county, use violence and violate laws and violate the minds of the young generation and those politicians should be kept out of parliament.
By Waruni Karunarathne