- Budget does not present way out of economic crisis
- Will support if Prez is serious about resolving national question
- Can’t be blamed for scepticism over President’s statement
- No election should be postponed, no compromise on it
- Land grab issue in north needs immediate attention
The Budget does not present any way out of this economic crisis and moreover still allocates heavily towards the defence sector, due to which the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is opposed to the Budget, said TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran.
However, the party refrained from voting against the Budget because President Ranil Wickremesinghe has indicated he is willing to resolve the longstanding national question.
“The President has stretched out his hand and said that he is willing to resolve the longstanding national question. We are not voting against the Budget to give a signal that we are willing to work alongside him and resolve the issue immediately. Although we are highly sceptical, on our part we want to keep the doors open. Therefore, for that reason alone, we decided not to vote against the Budget,” Sumanthiran explained, in an interview with The Sunday Morning.
In terms of resolution, Sumanthiran asserted that all the Tamil parties wanted a meaningful power-sharing arrangement on a federal basis, which was in line with what the President had said before.
How do you view the President’s assurance on resolving longstanding issues faced by the Tamil people? Has an appointment been given to commence discussions? Has there been any progress beyond this statement?
Nothing beyond the statement. He made this statement two weeks ago in Parliament and last week on Monday (14) he said ‘next week I will meet them’ so last week when I asked him, he said, ‘I am coming to Jaffna in January’. Then I said ‘That’s okay, but you wanted to meet us this week; when are you fixing the meeting?’ He replied, ‘If you want we can meet this week also’. It didn’t seem likely that he had any intention of meeting any time early.
But the President has even set a timeline for resolving these longstanding issues – before the country’s 75th Independence Day next year?
Yes, he repeated that in Vavuniya. I was there. When I spoke before him, I said that he proposed a federal solution in 2005. Unfortunately, the north didn’t vote and he didn’t win the election at that time.
All the Tamil parties agree on a meaningful power-sharing arrangement on a federal basis, in line with what he had said before. This must be resolved and we will cooperate with him in the resolution of this.
He didn’t directly respond to that but when he spoke he said “this issue has been referred to as the northern issue, some call it an ethnic issue, others call it a national issue; whatever it is, we must resolve it before the 75th anniversary of independence”.
Is that practical? Does the Government have the will to see this through?
Will is another matter, but whether it can be done, yes of course it can be done. The President himself submitted to Parliament the draft of the new constitution in January 2019. During that time he was chairman of the steering committee and the constitutional assembly process was taken forward and we cooperated fully in that. R. Sampanthan and I were members of the steering committee.
The draft itself was presented and it had wide consensus in Parliament; even the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) agreed to the power-sharing arrangements that were put in there. To take that, update it, and take it forward doesn’t take too long; if the intention is there, that rhetoric can actually be realised.
What are the key issues that the TNA has identified as requiring immediate attention?
Immediate attention is needed for the land grab issue. That is primary because it is happening at the moment. It is actively happening in various places and we have highlighted it. We have brought it to the attention of this President and the former President, but all that still goes on unabated. That is crucial, it must be halted and then reversed.
The others of course are a few more political prisoners to be released and then the issues of accountability and reconciliation. On that the Government has been dragging its feet. It even went back on the resolution it co-sponsored in 2015.
However, President Wickremesinghe seems to have taken some steps. He has spoken to the South Africans. Their President Cyril Ramaphosa was here and the President went and celebrated his birthday that day and then issued a statement saying the South Africans were willing to support the reconciliation process fully.
Now this happened when Mahinda Rajapaksa was president also. When former South African President Jacob Zuma came here, President Rajapaksa asked him for help and then Zuma spoke to us and agreed and appointed Ramaphosa, who is now President, as Special Envoy.
We have been to South Africa three or four times; we met him there, then he came here and met us, several Government delegations went to South Africa and studied the system – all of that happened, but nothing came out of it.
We can’t be blamed if we are sceptical about what the President is saying now. However, on our part, we have said ‘if you are serious, if you will actually do it, you will have our total support’.
In terms of the TNA’s proposals, have they been agreed on by other Tamil parties represented in Parliament?
All are in agreement that it must be a meaningful power-sharing arrangement in the north and east on a federal basis. All are in agreement with that formulation.
Does this include the upcountry Tamils and political parties as well?
No, it is only the north and east.
Will the discussions with the President also include the upcountry Tamils and parties?
Well, it can include them as well, but this issue is with regard to the north and east. Devolution has been sought by the people in the north and east, they have been voting for a federal solution since 1956.
Do you think that a solution can be reached within the existing framework or do we need a new constitution?
We need a new constitution, absolutely.
What is the TNA’s stance on Local Government (LG) Elections and is the report of the Delimitation Commission required for the holding of LG Polls early next year?
No, it is not required. Our position is that the election must not be postponed at all. No election should be postponed. I was also part of the delegation that met the Election Commissioner the other day and we pressed them to hold the elections on time. Their response is that they will do that. They have to start the process in early December.
They were a little confused with regard to the appointment of this Delimitation Commission. What we submitted to them was that the Delimitation Commission can do its work; that’s not a reason why the election should be postponed.
If Parliament’s life comes to an end and if at that time there is some discussion about changing election laws, that doesn’t mean that you have to wait until it is actually changed for elections to be held. Elections must be held in due time. There can be no compromise on that. If there are discussions going on about delimitation or the electoral system, they can happen and if there is consensus, they can take effect. But that’s no excuse for postponing the elections.
How does the TNA view the Budget?
The Budget does not present any way forward out of this economic crisis. Moreover, it is a budget that still allocates heavily towards the defence sector and that is wholly unwarranted, so we are opposed to the Budget.
However, we refrained from voting against the Budget due to the fact that the President has stretched out his hand and said that he is willing to resolve the longstanding national question. It is not because we trust that, but we are not voting against the Budget to give a signal that we are willing to work alongside him and resolve the issue immediately if he takes those meaningful steps.
We don’t want to be in a situation where we are accused of opposing the Government when the Government wants to do something. Although we are highly sceptical, on our part we want to keep the doors open. Therefore, for that reason alone, we decided not to vote against the Budget.