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TNA political demands, the UNF and the national interest

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 6 December 2018 00:00


TNA Leader R. Sampanthan

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) appears to have emerged as the kingmaker which can resolve the current political crisis. It has been reported that they have put forward some demands (reported as five demands), for them to support Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNF to provide them the crucial votes needed to demonstrate their majority in the Parliament.

If this were true, it is important for the country to know what these demands are as they may not be in the national interest to accede to demands which ultimately may create more problems than solving them. 

If they could advance the reconciliation process and contribute to ushering peace and harmony between all communities, then it would be fitting for the TNA to present the same demands to the Sirisena/Rajapaksa Government as well considering this issue is or should be above party politics. 

If the demands are seen to be detrimental to the national interest, then, even at the loss of government, the President and the Prime Minister should reject them and place them before the people at the earliest opportunity. The same argument must hold for the UNF as well.

The landscape of Tamil political representation has changed considerably since the general election of August 2015. The local government elections in February 2018 showed that the TNA no longer commands majority support amongst the Tamil community in the north. They received only around 45% of the vote and other political parties emerged demonstrating that the hold the TNA had in the north had waned.

This may or may not necessarily be a good thing as the emergence of other Tamil political parties in the north could signal a further shift to the right of the centre in northern Tamil politics, and perhaps greater political stridency. In this context, if this were to be ground situation, it would be strategic for both political combines, the UPFA and the UNF, to strengthen TNA’s hand. 

The TNA needs to know that they too need the support of the central government of whichever political persuasion, as much as the central government needs theirs. The TNA demands could be interpreted as blackmail if they do not demonstrate that their approach is non-partisan and in the national interest.

What might be the national interest vis-à-vis any TNA demands? A unitary State is in the national interest. Any tinkering of this by way of constitutional cloak and dagger approaches would not be in the national interest. At this stage, political devolution beyond the 13th Amendment would not be in the national interest although a revision of the three lists, the responsibilities of the central government, the provincial government and the concurrent responsibilities may be opportune. 

The recent event in Batticaloa where two policemen were murdered has raised the spectre of renewed extremist activity, and with this, whether the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe Government’s policy of scaling down intelligence activities in the north and the east had been in the national interest. 

Rather than a large-scale armed forces presence, what is needed is an efficient and effective intelligence operation which could pre warn and help to pre-empt any violent extreme activity. A UPFA or a UNF government could discuss the scaling down of the armed forces presence in the north, but they should not agree to any initiative that impacts on intelligence activity. 

Remaining occupation of private land holdings in the north and the east should end, and as soon as possible. Such an occupation will breed anger and hatred against the central government which many Tamils see as Sinhala/Buddhist governments and the hatred is directed towards Sinhala/Buddhist community. 

Holding political prisoners is an anathema in a good democracy. The war ended nearly 10 years ago, and the central government has had enough time to gather any evidence against those who are yet to face trial. They need to be released or charged in a court of law for whatever crimes they may have committed. This needs to happen within an agreed timeframe.

Until the TNA demands that reportedly have been put forward to the UNF, and which have been agreed to by the UNF, become public knowledge, there will be intense and even inaccurate speculation. This itself will not be in the national interest as it would create further chasms between the Sinhala and Tamil communities.  

As mentioned earlier, support for the TNA is not what it was in 2015. Strengthening a weaker TNA may even strengthen other fringe Tamil political parties if they view the TNA demands themselves as weak and inadequate to address their grievances. In this context, one is entitled to wonder whether TNA support for the UNF should have been on a matter of principle pertaining to democracy, parliamentary traditions and in the context of constitutional provisions, rather than on any demands and a quid pro quo horse trading exercise.

No doubt, it is political opportunism to grab such offers when a political combine is fighting to regain power they feel they lost by stealth rather than by democratic means. However, if by “democratic means”, it means adherence to a set of principles, then linking TNA demands for support in the Parliament is not on a matter of democratic principles, but simply, political opportunism.

Of course in an environment where principles and votes are for sale to the highest bidder, resorting to political opportunism to address Tamil grievances cannot be classed in the same category as the vote buying Dutch auctions. After all the TNA demands are about grievances of Tamil people in the north and the east whereas the Dutch auctions are about individual financial largesse driven by greed.   

Having said all this, whatever is meant by the “national interest” cannot and should not be confused with the interests of the Sinhala people and more specifically, Sinhala Buddhist people. The interest of all communities is what the national interest should be. In this context, no community should project their interest above that of other communities and this must be equally applicable to the Sinhala and Tamil communities, and all other communities in the country. 

The security of all communities must be assured and there must be recognition that the Tamil community, more than others, have not had this assurance having been subject to repeated attacks, murder, pillage destruction of property and at times, like in 1983, at the instigation of sections of the then government. The State failed to protect some of their citizens.

Issues facing the Tamil community cannot be and should not be addressed in a partisan manner. In this context, if the TNA has put forward some demands to the UNF and they have agreed to them for the sake of their vote in support of the UNF, such a deal could come to haunt them and the Tamil community. The TNA could offer their support on a matter of principle if they feel the actions of the President in dismissing the UNF Government was against democratic principles.

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