Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

What options now for the TNA and Douglas? – An unambiguous message from Jaffna

There is no getting away from it; the scale of abstention in theJaffna Municipal Council (JMC) elections has sent an unambiguous message. The people of Jaffna have rejected the UPFA controlled Sinhala State and its procedures and practices, have rebuffed the war victory, and distanced themselves from the jubilation in the South. The offer of reconstruction and investment, the peace dividend, as an alternative to the recognition of Tamil identity and crafting of a political solution to the national question, has been rejected. No Sir; there ARE majorities and minorities in this country. Calculating from election department figures, 78% of the electors spurned the JMC election and if we add the 8% who voted for the erstwhile LTTE proxy, the TNA, then there has been an overwhelming expression of dissent against the State; Vavuniya consolidates this conclusion.

These two percentages, which use the total number on names on the electoral roll as the base, are misleading and we have to make a correction. The apparent abstentions were so high because about 40,000 of the 100,000 registered electors are no longer in Jaffna, having come south, been driven out by the LTTE, gone abroad, or gone to heaven a few maybe to the other place. This however is irrelevant because had they been present their behaviour would have followed the same statistical pattern as a correct computation will confirm. The total votes cast (22,000) is 37% and by implication the abstentions are 63% of the 60,000 currently remaining registrants (CRR). The TNA poll of 8,000 is 13% of the CRR. The last two percentages add to 76%; as astonishing rate of rejection of the State’s credentials by the people of Jaffna. And Jaffna, warts, caste, moral fortitude, education, conservatism and all, is the heart and repository of Tamil political culture.

Political implications
The difference between the behaviour of the Sinhalese and Tamil electorates is astounding, it is as if they were living on two different planets. The UPFA scored a 72% landslide in the Uva, in all previous PC elections in non-Tamil provinces it won handsomely, and a landslide is looming in the Southern Province. The next presidential election will be a cake walk for Rajapakse; the UPFA is also on track to win the general elections. Palpably then, the war and the concentration camps have polarised the communities just as we who opposed the war, remained consistent to this position, and demanded a negotiated political settlement, had predicted all along. Yes, the LTTE has been destroyed; no, nothing has been resolved and nation building remains a far fetched mirage, still mired in a chauvinist miasma.

I see the JMC and Vavuniya outcomes as the first stirrings of Tamil nationalism after its catastrophic defeat earlier this year, and since at this moment, there is no plausible left alternative, there will be further deterioration in the relationship between the Sate and the Tamils. Tamil hardliners argue that this is a rejection of the one-country concept by Jaffna, the cultural and historical heart of the Tamils; but that is too far reaching an inference to draw so quickly. Things have not yet gone that far, but they could, say five years down the road, unless a more democratic and pluralist government takes the place of the UPFA in its present incarnation. And this is not to imply that the UNP in its current avatar is any better so far as the national question is concerned.

Douglas Devananda summed up his disappointment rather well in The Island 10 August and implicitly and unintentionally answered an important question. He said the ruling coalition had implemented a range of measures to alleviate the suffering of the people in the districts. People should have been grateful to the UPFA for liberating them from LTTE terrorism, instead they backed the TNA in Vavuniya and abstained en masse in Jaffna. His perplexity is understandable, but he needs to do some rethinking because unwittingly he has answered the following question: To what extent are the Tamils prepared to give up political demands and recognition of their identity in exchange for the benefits of a putative peace dividend? I am not a Tamil nationalist and care not a whit for any nationalism, but to settle the national question you need to deal with the Tamils, not with me!

The TNA’s paralysis and Douglas’ dilemma
One would have thought that the TNA would have been able to recognise the stirrings of independent Tamil political activity, come out of its stupor, move in on the ground floor and campaign aggressively. Not so, it played dead during the campaign. Having lain down and spread itself for the LTTE it is taking a while to stand up, shake off the dust and adjust its clothing. Nevertheless it will be the natural beneficiary of the return of the Tamil community to political life. It is now poised to win the Northern Province (NP) PC elections if only it can sprout a backbone, but precisely for this reason the government will not hold the poll.

The EPDP with 10,600 votes, that is 10.6% of the electoral register or 17% of the CRR, technically won the JMC elections and politically lost it. The pro-government camp was routed in Vavuniya where Vanni Tamil fury about the concentration camps must be running high. I think Douglas did pull all the votes he could; hence my inference is that it is impossible for a UPFA-EPDP to win a NP-PC election. Some lame excuse will be trotted out for deferring it. The Vannie Tamils and the people in the camps will turn against the government with fury if they are allowed to vote.

Nevertheless it is interesting to speculate about how the politics of Douglas and the EPDP should evolve if they are to have any future in the post-LTTE scenario. Let us do this by speculating about the following scenario: How will the politics of the EPDP evolve if it wins the NP-PC? I asked a friend who gave me the following conventional answer.

“While I do not discount that Douglas and the EPDP have over the years gained a following among the Tamil-speaking people, their ability to be politically dominant among the Tamils is dependent on government patronage. Firstly it is thanks to MR that Douglas will have funds, jobs, houses, boats, loans, and land to dispense to the Tamils. More, it is the support of the police and army that enables the EPDP to use force to weaken other parties and dissuade Tamils from supporting them”.

I am not sure this is the only option open to Douglas. As Tamil political activity revives Douglas will have his eye on filling the post-LTTE leadership vacuum. He can’t afford to let the opportunity slip again; this is his last chance. He covets the mantle of leader of the Tamil people, successor to Chelvanayagam and Prabaharan. I think it was Nehru who said “success goes to those who dare and act, it seldom goes to the timid” and Douglas has that kind of personality. If he wants to go for glory he has to change his role; this to me is the root of his perplexity. Has he realised that if he wants to grow he cannot remain forever in the shadows, a mere Rajapakse suckling? The JMC and Vavuniya elections have spelt out that leadership of the Tamils is not open to Rajapakse quislings.

There are quislings and quislings; Karuna is in it just for the trips and the perks, he is a political nobody; Pilleyan is a gun trotting cowboy, not an experienced politician. Douglas, however, is an accomplished political street fighter with plenty of cabinet and insider experience. He is skilled but in a trap inside the UPFA. For example, for how much longer can the EPDP continue to duck the camp issue? A concentration camp for 300,000 Tamils, run by the Sinhala State, is something no Tamil party seeking leadership of the community can ignore any longer.

Pushing my thoughts a little further; what about the relationship between the EPDP and the Tamil diaspora? Fence mending can bring political and economic benefits. With the new-LTTE renouncing terrorism and putting secession on the backburner, there could have been room for dialogue, though the removal of KP from the scene has played into the hands of hardliners and I suspect there will be a hardening in the diaspora. Gothabahaya’s pledge to go after overseas LTTE activists throws down the gauntlet. All this makes dialogue between a presumed more independent EPDP and a potential new-LTTE, or at least the diaspora at large, problematic. The TNA knows it cannot ignore the diaspora or the new-LTTE fractured though it is. If Douglas wants to count for anything among the Tamils he has to find ways to mend his fences with the near million strong overseas Tamil communities.

This is all speculative, but speculation yields insights.

  • aadhavan

    Excellent piece. Hits the nail on the head.

  • Dayan Jayatilleka

    Interesting piece, thought provoking, good analysis, on target in many places …though it ignores a possible scenario, namely an EPDP-PLOT-EPRLF bloc with Douglas as the leading figure but having “pressed the re-set button” on his relationship with the UPFA, though not turned wholly adversarial towards it.

  • Agnos

    Kumar David is right on many things. But he is going nowhere with the concluding thought: ” If Douglas wants to count for anything among the Tamils he has to find ways to mend his fences with the near million strong overseas Tamil communities.”

    Mr. Devananda has been a quisling for more than 2 decades. He cannot reinvent himself suddenly as a champion of Tamil rights. It is a non-starter. It might become possible in another two decades, but that is a long time in violence-soaked Sri Lanka for a violent politician like him to survive.

    Tamils simply need new leadership, period. Sampanthan is OK, but he is old and somewhat sclerotic. Sangaree can keep writing his letters nobody cares to read anymore. He has been a quisling of sorts as well. The GoSL has eliminated potentially good leaders like N. Raviraj. Mano Ganeshan has been good, but his constituency is outside the North-East and may not be able carry much weight with North-East Tamils at this time, though he appears to have a good future nationally.

    A young, educated and dynamic leader, untainted by mindless violence or quisling past, has to arise from among the Tamils in Sri Lanka; such a leader may look to Sampanthan for political expertise and advice, but has to be his own man and make the necessary tactical and strategic decisions to lead Tamils, especially the IDPs in internment camps, toward a better future in SL.. It will help if such a leader is able to persuade China about the need to address Tamil plight without giving undue importance to–and without antagonizing–India.

  • aadhavan

    Thanks Sanjana. I have seen those articles. I think this one captures Douglas’s dilemma perfectly. From what I gather, post LTTE, Tamils by and large want the Tamil parties to get together and fight on a common front. Not pro-govt obviously, but perhaps with some brand of ‘Tamil nationalism-lite’, by calling for autonomy beyond 13+, continuing to harness world opinion against the State as it exists now, having a plan for development and restoration of the North and East, and giving the Tamils some hope they can believe in. The party that manages to combine the deep desire among Tamils for justice with an urgent sense of do-it-ism is going to emerge as primary Tamil political front, assuming the political process is not distorted completely by the government. The TNA has got the justice part down, but have to prove they have the street smarts to get the job done. Douglas thought he could get the job done, but evidently his intended constituents don’t like the job he’s trying to do. That’s why if he is to be something more than a mere stooge, he will have to correct course soon.

    • Dear Addhavan,

      It may not be just Douglas who needs course correction. Dr. Saravanamuttu’s submission, published minutes ago, notes that “The first indications of post –war opinion in the north have been received. They need to be heeded if the country is to be healed.”

  • aadhavan

    Yes Sanjana, I largely agree with Dr Saravanamuttu’s article. I don’t think the TNA has to correct course as much as they have to get off their hinds and start moving faster. The TNA have pulled a couple of neat tricks out of the bag though. First, they have announced that they will be presenting a political solution before India, the government and the public. One expects this document to be one that is federal in nature if not in name, and one that would be very hard for other Tamil politcal parties to critique. By doing this, the TNA will assert itself and reinforce their position as numero uno Tamil political party. Secondly, of all the Tamil parties, they have gone the furthest in trying to repair tensions with the Muslim community. The ITAK-SLMC tie up in Vavuniya will be a clever move, if it comes through. The TNA will have to work hard at trying to unify the Tamil parties. Douglas will never re-enter the fold, but Sangaree, PLOTE, EPRLF and the TMVP might possibly decide to work with the TNA. Whether the TNA can make these possibilities a reality is the million dollar question.

  • Kumar’s analysis is accurate. I am less hopeful on Douglas being able to transform his image to stake claim to the leadership.

    EPDP as Kumar points out cannot do well in the North without the Government because they rely on the provision of govt handouts for electoral prospects. (explains why he grudgingly gave up the Veena for the betel leaf). Similarly the UPFA cannot poll votes in the North without Douglas. Why the UPFA did badly in Vavuniya (in addition to the IDP internment issue) is because there is no strong face like Devananda in Vavuniya. Sri TELO has proved to be a complete bluff. The Vavuniya figure is probably Sidharthan (more so Linganathan i think. Sidharthan is from Jaffna) who was adamant on contesting separately and has done really well.

    Douglas is highly annoyed by the fact that he is not able to do much within this govt. His request for a proper A9 bus service for example has not been granted. He can make the requests but he knows very well that they wont be immediately granted. He’s not even on the task force dealing with IDP issues which Dayan Jayatilleka has consistently pointed out as a mistake. If he can’t get what he wants from the govt on development matters his electoral prospects are further diminished. Can EPDP then campaign from a more vigorous Tamil rights platform? That’s the tough question for Devananda. Why would the people vote for EPDP on that question and not the TNA or the DTNA? Can he turn it around? How will he erase the image that his party has been involved in many a killing in Jaffna as a paramilitary group attached to the Govt? He needs to do something dramatic to convince the people.

    As Kumar points out TNA probably has woken up to the fact that people are still prepared to vote for them in huge numbers. Vavuniya was an actual shocker for me. They have to start building a profile for a CM candidate soon for the NP elections. I think it should be Suresh Premachandran or Mavai Senthairajah. I agree with Kumar though. The TNA’s prospects of doing well means that the NP elections wont be anytime soon.

  • It is quite normal that the citizens are not interested to vote not only
    in the north of Sri Lanka it is customery in all over the world ,as
    POLITICIANS do little for the common people and they themselves become FAT CATS.As in AUSTRALIA there should be a law to force the people to vote or to face fines.POLITICS is always HYPOCRICY.

  • Ram2009

    Tamil racism is alive and well, reading the above comments, one has to conclude.

  • My views are in line with that of Agnos on Tamil leadership. Please stop insulting Tamil people & their national pride by suggesting Douglas/Sangaree/Siddharthan or EPDP/PLOTE/EPRLF combo to fill the leadership vacuum. Let’s not forget that Dayan Jayatilake used to mention Karuna’s name in that category. These guys are quislings and Tamils will never forget their betrayal during the liberation struggle. If these quislings are really interested in Tamils’ welfare, they should just layoff and let new leaders to emerge.

    As for TNA, it has make extra efforts to prove itself worthy of listening to it; it needs to develop a strong political identity that could eclipse it past actions of pussyfooting to the LTTE. TNA under elder, respectable and low profile leader Sampanthan is short-term solution until new Tamil leaders emerge within community. I agree with Agnos, N Raviraj or Mano Ganesan types of leaders are more acceptable to Tamils than quislings Douglas/Siddharthan/Sangaree or other trash loads like Karuna. Unfortunately government death squad assassinated Raviraj and Mano Ganesan’s is constituency outside the Northeast. Still Mano Ganesan could play vital role in shaping up new leadership within Tamils.

    Primary objective of the new dynamic leadership to address the Tamil speaking people’s short term & longer issues and keep the Tamil Nationalist cause well alive. Tamil Diaspora will do it part keep the cause alive for many more generations and we will support the leaders who has the vision, courage and exceptional leadership to articulate the cause globally.

    If Sri Lankan state need any favors from Tamil Diaspora or it wants to do business with us, it can only do such kind of things through that kind of new Tamil leadership. Tamil Diaspora will not welcome Tamil quislings and trash loads.

  • Vichara

    The analysis in the main article and the comments on the results of the election is a typical illustration of the complexity of perception. Is the glass full or half full?
    Another conclusion one can draw is that the TNA(hardliners) have not been able to muster much support in spite of the horrible trauma that the Tamil community have gone through.

  • A group of people are subjected to severe oppression and then at an opportune moment for the oppressor a minor relaxation of such oppression is made for selfish reasons. If anyone would make a claim that ‘measures to alleviate the sufferings of the people’ have been taken, which gullible morons will accept it as a statement of fact? One need not be a ‘nationalist’ to see this common sense!

    Douglas has got steeped in servitude for the past two decades. It will be extremely hard for him to wear the garb of a redeemer all of a sudden.

    It is giong to be a dilemma for the present regime to decide whether to hold or not the PC elections in the North and that too with the internees in the detention camps continued to be incarcerated or let free. Both measures can cause problems for the government.

    What is possibly natural to happen now is the emergence of a rejuvenated TNA as there is no sign of any strong Left force surfacing in the South. There is no other alternative.

  • billy

    this clearly shows that we should not let out guard down for second as a country, tamils haven’t learned any thing from the past 30 years and seems they will never do, they will always stick to tier tribal and communal politics to get their lost privileges under the British. mean while state should keep the current security level as it is since the threat to the sovereignty of the country is still there!

  • Nadaraja

    Plenty of looser outside Sri Lanka,
    Has anyone notice all those areas any development from any individual million strong overseas Tamil communities?????
    But one see clearly other than North, many Diaspora individually develop their live hood and invest certain amount of earning for their return home.
    Unfortunately lot of Tamil Diaspora seems to be dreaming to retune to a land with luxuries that never will come unless you invest on your own land, all those political calculations will only help corrupt political elements to enjoy life longer.

  • De Silva

    People follow some body who promises them something but when the going is bad they leave him and comes to other side. Then again they are not satisfied with the other side and tried to go for the same thing that they escape from.I dont get it.

  • billy

    how come jafna tamils only refusing the the govt by boycotting , havnt they refused the ultra racists like kumar n his TNA goons as well?
    then how come they voted in vavuniya? n how come tna won it by just couple of thousand votes?

  • jayathilaka

    Kumar david is quite clearly pinpointed some fo the important facts in his article.Eventough his calculation is quite correct some of the his facts are to be rethought.elected governments including the present government since the independance have failed to understand the hearts and the minds of tamils.They were just being power -hungers who filled up their pockets(even the tamil leaders like douglas ) rather than giving any tought to solve the burning problems of not only tamils but a vast majority of sinhalse too.They thought that they cold win JMC and Vavunia too by giving some false election promises but their speculation this time was wrong.The low turnout of votes has clearly shown that the tamils have rejected even TNA with regards to selecting representaives for them.overnment has a long way to go i wining the hearts and minds of tamils rather than playing political games with them as they were used to do in the past.But it is doubtful that the present government have a vision with a solid plan to accoplish the goal of bringing lasting peace to sri lanka

  • jayathilaka

    one can not come to a conclusion that the tamils are seeking for a separte country or interim adminstration or 13th amendment implimented as (Dayan Jayathilaka preaches) by analysing the result of the result of election in north and east.if so even TNA has not bee able to secure his position in the election.What the tamils expect is an administration fair by all.


    The polity in the South thinks that defeating the LTTE ends everything and construction of roads, etc. contructing buildings and others will bring about a change in thinking of the people who has been subjected to various discrimination. The need will be to seriously address the issues that caused the conflict without resorting to methods which wil increase the furstration.

  • Ram Mohan

    As soon as the results were knwn, I asked some friends: Who was responsible for the boycott this time (implying this time there was no LTTE to blame)? There was no answer and the unknown force is Eelam. The biggest surprise to me was that the elections were more fair than I expected except for usual bribes of jobs and the like. I noted with surprise that the police did not allow thousands with army identity cards to vote. EPDP with government power had used enough thuggery in the earlier elections. Even the Elections in the East was according to the standard pattern. My guess is India used its power to ensure a fair election in the hope that its ally Sampanthan would emerge victorious. The Jaffna man has been very smart. In very broad terms, 10% to GOSL, 10% to India and 80% to Eelam. The dynamics of the SriLankan society of the last 60 years is not going to change and the figures are indicative of the future because GOSL is never going to read the writting on the wall. If it ever had the ability to read the writting on the wall. SL will not be in the present soup.

  • Samuthra

    Kumar David and Parkiyasothy Sarawanamuttu always provide in depth analysis of events and personalities without political bias. There are number of things that both authors fail to understand at the grass root level of Tamil feeling and thinking. Whatever, all pundits and commenters cry loud about LTTE and its mode of operation, every Tamil has got a soft spot for LTTE. This include Karuna, Douglas, Pillayan and ordinary Tamil people; in and out of Sri Lanka ( including Tamils of non Sri Lankan origin ). However much majority of tamils disapprove the methods and the conduct of LTTE, one overriding factor enforces this soft spot; that is LTTE symbolizes the resistance of majority rule without due regards to minority rights, respect and way of living. This doesn’t mean separatism or Tamil nationalisation. All the actions taken by the successive Govt. has pushed the Tamils to think, along the nationalistic and separation line.

    So, military defeat of LTTE is not going to chance this thinking over night and importantly, the military defeat of LTTE is a physiological and dent in the pride of each and every Tamil speaking people ( Sri Lankan or otherwise ). In this context, the result of the Jaffna and Vavuniya is not a surprise and expected. Tamils simply wanted to register their protect to the manner in which LTTE was militarily defeated and all those who are aligned to the Govt. who are complicit in this. Majority of the Tamils will not be taken up by the promises and perks thrown at them for votes. The sentiment is very deep and will take a long while to change even if a 180 degree course correction is done by the Govt.

    Every time they have go thro a check point, queue to obtain a pass from the security person, deny access to see their a relative in another part is a reminder of the state occupation. Tamils are very hardworking, self reliant and pride people. They are not expecting any state handout or favour. What they are asking is: let us go back to our land/places to rebuild our lives and manage our own affairs, without micro control from the centre. As long as the Govt. and it allies are not prepared to listen to this cry, Tamils will continue to reject them.

    Let me introduce another aspect in all this analysis which I think is important. Recently, there is a report that the President and his senior advisors were shocked of the results in Jaffna and Vavuniya. This shows how remote these people in the centre of power and have no fell for the pulse of the people. How can they be, when they appoint the Task force to mange the IDP and its affaires is all Singhalese without a single Tamil member. If this would have been an the other way round, they would got the pulse of the people in the camp and outside before they made the decision to go to the poll. This show how remote and the lack of understanding of the leadership in Colombo of the Tamils feeling, aspiration needs and desires. This is far from what they are believing; Tamils are overjoyed by the military defeat of LTTE; this further from the truth. For the ordinary Tamils, LTTE is not an issue. LTTE is Tamils creation and Tamils feels they are all part of it and guilty of letting it grow into what it was before the military defeat. Unless, the people in power understand this, there is no hope for reconciliation and peace.

  • DP Hut

    Doglass, is collaborator , who never spoke out against any violations of rights by the government. Tamils do expect anything new from him.

  • Ravi

    If I were you, I won’t comment on the recent election of Jaffna and Vavuniya. For the reason of the sorry state of the country let alone Tamil areas (Piradesam). We are as a nation still relying on handouts. Some people when they write they do not realise the fact that they live in country on dole ( getting benifits from social security or charities).

  • Das

    Jaffna people are living under an Army of Occupation,assisted by EPDP cadres.The state tried to intimidate them into voting for the UPFA by threat of cancellation of the right of fishing, by attacks on the local media, by arbitary arrests, by ignoring ‘disappearances’, by unnecessary checks on civilians amounting to harassment and unnecessary curfews during which murders and robberies occured which are never investigated. They grieve over their kith and kin in the internment camps.Therefore they decided to stay at home rather than vote under coercion. The independent monitors have exposed the malpractices of the UPFA – only a fraction of what happened, as they could not cover all polling booths – as feared by the people.
    This was an election NOT free and fair as the people suspected,would occur.

  • Ram Mohan

    I agree with what Samuthra said. I was half surprised when, out of all the people, Karuna said: “Nobody could have arrested KP if VP is alive”. Every Tamil gets that feeling when some injustice happens to another Tamil. As Samuthra said LTTE represents the resistance spirit of the Tamils and that resistance spirit can never be killed. In fact every Tamil knows that if not for the LTTE, Tamils would have been pushed out of Sri Lanka long ago. It is the resistance spirit that ensures the victory of the oppressed people in the final round. This resistance spirit is omnipresent in all living and non living. But what is strange is that some who value their own resistance spirit do not recognise the resistance spirit in others and this ignorance and prejudice ends up in the refusal to recognise the right of self determination of Nations. So let all those governments, intellectuals and even “Marxists” who could not utter a sentence against injustice of any form without prefacing with a condemnation of LTTE remember that what they have destroyed or rather recycled is some amount of matter but the resistance spirit of the oppressed will be omnipresent for ever till the oppressed give up.