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Presidential election - a comical circus: Tamil perspective

by K. T. Rajasingham

Whilst Sri Lankan government armed forces suffer the most humiliating debacle in the sprawling Wanni region located in the North of the country, a typical consensus is voluntarily unfolding amidst the Tamils of the North and Eastern provinces to democratically highlight their genuine grievances to the world, by boycotting the Presidential election, scheduled for voting on 21 December 1999, and the subsequent elections for the parliament. Earlier on 4 May 1931, during British colonial era, because of the unanimous resolution passed by the Jaffna Youth Congress, Tamils boycotted the election held for the first time to State council, a creature of the Dhonoughmore Commission recommendations. Lord Donoughmore by his uncompromising recommendation to abolish representation based on ethnic lines to that based on territorial electorates has to be held responsible posthumously for all the disorder, bloodletting and conflict prevailing in the country. Taking into account the precedent set in 1931, community leaders are seriously considering bringing about consciousness and consensus for a public announcement of a voluntarily boycott of all elections in the country, until such time their honour restored and unequivocally justice served. The country is at the cross roads of ethnic turbulence, protracted armed conflict, communal disharmony, decades-long instability, on top of it, now faced with a presidential election, which might prolong their miseries into the new millennium. Presidential election, according to the Tamils, is of no significance. They consider it a non-event. As their hopes already dashed, they feel that any event that would bring about a change in the top echelon of the administrative hierarchy would not in any way alleviate their sufferings, misery and humiliations. Tamils con-sider the election to changing of bedfellows. Already they are resigned to despondency and do not give to hoots whether being either ruled by Irama or Iravana.Tamils regret over everything that brought about uncertainty and humiliation upon themselves. Even the independence of Sri Lanka on 4 February 1948, viewed as something that came to be a misery generating step - and it had already indicated a direction and reflection of euphemism on their life and survival. Gradually, the Tamils have isolated themselves from the mainstream political activities by resigning to their fate. Their present attitudes developed due to their bitter experience of betrayal; the last hope and trust they placed on the last presidential election.Presidential election at the end of this millennium, treated as a political comical circus (Tamasha) on the eve of the new millennium, that would put the country, yet under the stranglehold of another executive president, fifth in the line, with far reaching executive powers. It is feared that, once a leader of the majority ethnic group, elected to the office, with the support of the Tamils, the elected one, without any hesitation or rancour, would unleash upon the Tamils the might of the armed forces to subdue them. This is what happened over the years.Earlier, at the general elections held on 16 August 1994, for a parliament of 225 members, Peoples Alliance (PA) led by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga managed to win 105 seats, polling 3,887,823 votes, which was 48.94% percent of total votes polled, whilst the main opposition United National party (UNP) won 94 seats with a total of 3,498,370 votes, which amounted to 44.04% percent. Subsequently, with the support of 7 members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and that of P.Chandrasekaran, the lone independent member, PA managed to form the government. Immediately Chandrika Kumaratunga initiated peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), for the first time on13 September 1994, for which the Tamil militants positively responded.When the election to the presidency announced, Chandrika Kumaratunga was the candidate of the People's Alliance. As she was a fresh face and a newcomer to national politics, hailed as a candidate with vision, also an apostle of peace, she managed to win the election with popular support. Tamils in the North and Eastern provinces overwhelmingly supported her, hoping that she might bring about peace and stability. At the presidential election held on 9 November 1994, the PA leader was elected as the fourth executive president. She polled 4,709,205 votes, that amounted to 62.28% of 7,713,232 total votes polled in that election.After winning the Presidential Election, it should have dawned on her that it would be impossible to have her legislative agenda through in the parliament with a razor thin majority of one vote. Therefore, it would have been expedient on her part, if she would have considered to dissolve the parliament, held a general election to the parliament and obtained the necessary endorsement for her agenda, instead of clinging on to power for the last five long years. It was ridiculous to have expected the opposition to endorse any of the government's political agenda. Instead, Chandrika Kumaratunga manipulated by coercing and forcefully dragging parliamentarians representing the minority Tamils for her support, to continue to remain in power. Today, the President and her coterie keep on blaming the opposition for the impasse on their political agenda for the lack of two-thirds majority in the parliament for the necessary constitutional changes.On 6 January 1995, in her policy statement at the opening of the new parliament, she stressed that her government was committed to :1. the abolition of the Executive Presidency,2. bring about a sustainable peace for ethnic issue -but she failed to accomplish her assurances.Her peace overtures were short lived. On 8 January 1995, the Government and the Tamil militants signed an agreement to end hostilities. Government held four rounds of talks, up to 11 April 1995, with the Tigers (LTTE). Nearly 35 letters were exchanged between Chandrika Kumaratunga, the President and the V. Prabakaran, the Tiger Supremo. Once the negotiations broke off, both parties accused each other for the failure to reach consensus. They mutually alleged reneging the cessation of hostilities, with the view to gaining extra political mileage.To be earnest, LTTE is a militant organization right from the beginning they believe in military solution to the ethnic conflict. According to government's political parlance, the Tigers are the most ruthless terrorist organization that advocates violence and terror. Knowing well the thinking of the Tamil separatists, Chandrika Kumaratunga initiated peace overtures, followed by talks with the Tigers, and it was the defining movement in her bid for presidency. Chandrika Kumaratunga assumed the office with a clear mandate from the people to end the military operations and to search for a lasting settlement to the ethnic conflict. Unfortunately, PA government failed in it's bid to persuade the Tigers to lay down their arms for a sustainable peace. This failure exhibited the hollowness of the PA government's sincerity towards the noble and just causes. Subsequently, the President, unhesitatingly turned out to be an advocate of war and gave the civilian government a military face and outlook. When the President failed in her endeavour to find lasting peace, she resorted to war efforts. Since then, she put the country on a war footing and the war ravages on, despite appeal by several international leaders to engage in peace initiatives through political dialogue with the concerned parties. Initial military success molded the PA government to adopt parochial, narrow, intransigent and uncompromising view on the negotiated political settlement. Government continued incessantly with the military manoeuver, whilst declaring to the world through its propaganda machinery, that they were working towards finding a political settlement to the ethnic conflict. President counted on the strong military advances before the polls to show that she could subdue the Tamil militants into negotiation, unfortunately it backfired on her. Earlier, Prabakaran, the Tiger leader, announced on November 27, 1998, that the LTTE was ready for a negotiated settlement, if talks mediated by a third party. In his address to mark the anniversary of the "Maveerar Naal" (Heroes Days), he declared," We have not closed the doors for peace. We are open to the civilized method of resolving conflicts through rational dialogue. We favor third party mediation for political negotiations. We are suggesting the creation of a climate of peace and goodwill to hold peace talks, a congenial environment. We are prepared to engage in initial talks to discuss the removal of such pressures and to work out a basic framework for political negotiations."Prabakaran's overture was considered a welcome sign to end the protracted ethnic conflict, restore normalcy and peace. Political analysts, who studied Prabakaran's speech, expressed hope for a future politically negotiated resolution. Unfortunately, by being intransigents in her approach, Chandrika Kumaratunga spurned an opportunity for a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict. Her muted silence and hesitation to seize the olive branch offered by the LTTE, amounted to her focus on a chauvinistic agenda, which believes in procrastination, to subdue the Tamils, rather than a political manifestation in the interest of the country at large. This view received automatic confirmation, when recently she withdrew the Equal Opportunity Bill in the Parliament.The Peoples Alliance Government felt that, LTTE checkmated them by the offer for peace. The facade built around this government that went internationally with the devolution package and its loud cry of fighting only the terrorist elements in the midst of the Tamils has begun to crumble, when hesitant to accept the peace offer became a reality. War drums continue to deafen ears, when military campaign changes indefinitely from "Sure Victory" (Jeya Sukuru) to "Lightning Force" (Rivi Bala), heralding another bloodied phase in the war of attrition.Government's war efforts wasted in vain the Tax-payers money, energy, lives and resources. In 1977, the defence budget allocation was a pittance of Sri Lankan Rupees (Rs.) 750 million. In 1986, it rose to Rs. 5.84 billion, and from thence onward military expenditures began to rise steadily. PA government increased the defence spending astronomically. In 1995, the allocation was Rs. 24 billion, but the actual amount spent was Rs. 34 billion. In 1996, it was Rs. 34 billion, but the recorded expenditure was nearly Rs. 46 billion. Similarly, in 1997, allocation was Rs. 44 billion, whereas the total expenditure rose to Rs. 46.6 billion, and in1998, the allocation was Rs. 44 billion, but the expended money exceeded Rs. 56.2 billion. Government set aside Rs. 47 billion for the fiscal year 1999. These amounts do not reflect the money collected for defence expenditures under the government's defence levy.Even after the announcement of the Presidential election and peace overtures by the President, the government has set aside Rs. 18.33 billion (US $ 225 million) for the first four months of the year 2000, to continue the war with the Tamil Tigers.On 20 October 1999, Chandrika Kumaratunga took the nation by surprise by announcing the election to the presidency, 16 months ahead of the schedule. The calculation to hold the election was to cash in on her earlier military success, also to take the unprepared UNP, which is still in disarray, by surprise. After the official announcement of the election, Prabakaran began to loom larger and larger by holding the key to the success in the bid for presidency by the Sinhalese leadership.But Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose election hopes are in jeopardy by the debacles in the military fronts, she has susceptibly engaged in a wordy-duel with Ranil Wickremasinghe, the UNP presidential candidate and the Leader of the Opposition, who recently survived an attempt on his life. In her latest communication to the Leader of the UNP, she wrote "I intend to initiate discussion with the LTTE as soon as it is practically possible to do so." Political analysts responded to this statement as a futile attempt of benediction of the Sun after the impairment of one's vision.Simultaneously, Ranil Wickremasinghe, a former prime minister and a presidential candidate, in an interview to local print media said that if the UNP wins the Presidential election next month, he would, without any delay, commence open-ended talks with the LTTE with third party mediation. It is further reported that LTTE would be temporarily allowed to administer the Tamil dominated North East province for two years, prior to the election held for the amalgamated provincial council. (Even though the authenticity of this interview is being contested, but up to date print media has not received any official denial.)Political analysts ungrudgingly and dispassionately agree that, these are most compelling political announcements forthcoming from Chandrika Kumaratunga, the incumbent president and Ranil Wickremasinghe, the opposing presidential candidate, goes to conclude that their political fate hinges on the nod of Prabakaran, the Tiger leader whether to accept the offer for negotiation, with one or another would be the most defining factor in determining their political victory .In the meantime, it is learnt that, several editors and special correspondents representing international print and electronic media are frantically contacting various Tamil sources to enable them to have exclusive interview with the Tiger Supremo. According to news emerging from reliable sources, this writer learnt that, Prabakaran has already turned down numerous coveted attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America for a special interview. It is said that, LTTE intelligence agency is of the view that, a stern refusal for such exclusive interviews is absolutely necessary at present, as a preventive measure to avoid any contacts with the American Intelligence Agency. Meanwhile, according to reports, Prabakaran is personally directing the Operation Unceasing Wave III, against the government forces in the Wanni region where the Tigers have regained a large proportion of the land taken by the army during its 19-month offensive - Operation Jayasikuru, or Victory Assured - which was abandoned last December 1998. Therefore, it is said that the chances of the Tigers accepting the offer for negotiation with either of the two contestants is very bleak. Anyhow, according to news emanating from reliable sources Tigers may welcome the voluntary boycott of the election as a respectable mode of public protest. The LTTE is fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka since 1972. Up to now it is estimated that more than 90,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the ongoing ethnic conflict. Unfortunately the war ravages on without an end in sight.

 

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K.T.Rajasingham, House No: 8/6, Muban Amoronpan Nakorn, Sukapibal Road 2, Suan Siam, Bangok 10230, Thailand.