In conversation with M.A. Sumanthiran, TNA National List MP

M.A.Sumanthiran, is a National List Member of Parliament from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Groundviews has carried in the past the Minister’s submissions to Parliament against the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, for which he faced the most outrageous heckling and insults within the legislature itself, and from fellow MPs from Government. With this and other media reports in mind, we begin the conversation on the obvious question – whether he thought it was worth it, in hindsight, to become a Member of Parliament instead of just sticking to his law practice. He noted that while the heckling and verbal violence is something he expected, the irrelevant nature of most debates came as a surprise.

We then talk about the elections for the Northern Province, promised by the President to be held in September 2013. The TNA dismissed government concerns about the election being conducted sooner. As noted in the media, TNA spokesman and Jaffna District MP Suresh Premachandran asked,

“What is the problem in the government having an election in the Northern Province at this stage now, when it had a Presidential election, a Parliamentary election and a Local government election in the North”

Sumanthiran clarifies the position of the TNA further, and says that the only reason to postpone the elections is political. He goes on to note that the results of the 2011 elections prove that the Government would lose the elections quite badly, noting that only between 2010 and 2011, the TNA had doubled and in some placed trebled its vote base. Another reason he mentions is that a defeat at the elections would show to the world the government had failed to win over the Tamil people three years after the end of the war.

Referring to the general media reportage of TNA – government relations, the MP is asked as to whether the antagonism that usually defines the relationship is useful and helpful moving into the future. Sumanthiran stresses the relationship they wanted with the government sought cooperation and engagement, not antagonism, but that despite an open call to government, it had not been accommodated in this respect.

We then talk about the TNA’s rather damning critique of the LLRC’s Final Report, and in particular, the monitoring of certain key issues related to land, demilitarisation and the freedom of expression, for example. Given the TNA’s monitoring, the MP is asked whether there is any cause for optimism over the implementation of the LLRC’s recommendations.

We then talk about the Parliamentary Select Committee set up to look into a negotiated political settlement, which the TNA has consistently dismissed. As Sumanasiri Liyanage writing to the Colombo Telegraph avers (and referring to an interview published in The Hindu with the President),

‘Mr. Rajapaksa made it clear that the creation of a Senate and the fleshing out of a solution needed to come from Parliament. “This is [where] the Parliamentary Select Committee is important,” he said.’ The implication is that the Northern PC election will not be held until the PSC comes up with a solution that is acceptable to the members of the PSC and the majority in the Parliament.

The MP is asked as to how he sees the TNA can best navigate this political impasse. His response goes into the history of the PSC, and the sequence of events that he submits comprehensively debunks the submission by government that it is the TNA which is holding up progress.

We then move on to a statement made by the MP in an interview conducted with a senior journalist Namini Wijedasa recently, where he noted,

So, if Sri Lanka should remain as one country, and we think it should remain as one country, then to preserve it as one country you must grant that right to self-determination and have it exercised in an arrangement within one country. That must be given, that must be recognised. It’s not at the wish of the majority that it’s given. That is as a matter of right in international law that our people are entitled to… to have a measure of autonomy.

I ask the MP to clarify what exactly he meant, noting that his statement had raised serious concern in some quarters that what he and by extension the TNA were recommending, even post-war, was in fact the right to secede. After responding to this question, he is asked whether – if it is perceived that the right to internal self-determination isn’t met – calls for secession will increase. He answers in the affirmative, though insisting that it won’t be the TNA who will make such a demand and that it will come from outside the country. The MP is then asked whether this in fact means a descent back into war.

Noting what Sumanthiran says in response to these questions, we talk about the relationship TNA shares with the Tamil diaspora – for example, with bodies like the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). Noting that diaspora groups campaigned against the TNA initially, the MP notes that after the party’s election victory, they had changed their stance, and that the TNA was now in contact with groups like the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The MP also notes that the TNA has made it clear that if the party were to accept a solution proposed by and negotiated with government, though not all, a large number of the Tamil diaspora would also be with them.

We end our conversation with the MP noting how important it is for the TNA to engage with the Sinhalese in the South and what their key messages are to the Southern constituency.

  • John

    TNA, the democratically elected party of Ceylon Tamils has forgotten one thing , leave alone they were only mouth piece of LTTE before May 2009 due to reasons better known to MAS, in which country after a deadly war lasted 30 years the party represented (with or without their own will) defeated terrorists was allowed to to do politics ?
    They would have been decimated as good as terrorists or at best allowed to be in prison for life or banned for good & a reformist party which openly opposed terrorists & sided with victorious govt. would be allowed to do politics in affected areas.
    In Sri Lanka TNA is fortunate to do politics as usual as any body did in 1980 or before. Doesn’t a tribute from TNA due to GOSL ? , since they got what they never had during the war of 30 years due to certain death at the hands of terrorists ?
    It’s time that TNA made good gestures to GOSL for the future good of people they claim to represent, Ceylon Tamils, if they sincerely believe they should live among Sinhalese & Muslims , at least for next 500 years or for ever in Sri Lanka.

    • Gotabaya Rajapakse

      1. This is clearly NOT who the name claims it is.
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      4. Read our guidelines. No matter how much we agree with the essential sentiment or thrust of the argument, comments than run counter to these guidelines will not be published.

  • nathan

    I can think of atleast one Sri Lankan diplomat who is jobless enough to respond to this video soon.

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Hey Nathan my man, its Summer, and anyway, I was writing far more often to GV and the newspapers when I was far busier in Geneva during the battles at the UNHRC :))

      • nathan

        No problemo buddy. I am looking forward to it anyway. Only that if you avoided repetition of “he didnt condemn ltte! he didnt swear on his mom that he loves united sri lanka! etc” it would be more interesting to read. :)

  • InSights

    It would have helped if Mr. Sumanthiran could have addressed the points raised by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke. The TNA as a party does not seem to reject secession as can be seen by the statements made by their leader and various members. It is not enough just asking the Sinhala people not to be suspicious. At present the TNA’s actions and associations smack of efforts at regime change and setting the scene for eventual secession.

  • Walter

    Dear John,
    What can the matter be.
    Sri Lanka is full of people who claim authority on each and every matter, whether they understand it or not.
    Full of unsubstantiated rhetoric.
    I am a Ceylon Tamil a Ceylonese by descent.
    In no way have the Ceylon Tamils supported the LTTE.
    However personally I understand the frustrations of the Jaffna and Batticaloa Tamils. My sympathies and concerns are with them.
    Unfortunately the Tamils of this Country that is The Ceylon Tamils,The Up Country Tamils The Jaffna and Batticaloa Tamils have never spoken with one voice. BUT THE DESCRIMINATORS AGAINST THEM SPOKE AND ACTED WITH ONE VOICE.
    If you say that fighting for ones survival, for ones lost dignity, fighting against religious and language impositions, is Terrorism then by that yardstick this World has produced innumerable amount of Terrorists many of them now called Freedom Fighters.
    You see my dear Mr.John The Sinhala Buddhist numbering nearly 71% and with them the other Sinhalese, some Tamils and Muslims totalling nearly 80% of this Country have captured the rest, the minorities, and now these minorities have been so much intimidated that even the strongest opposition be it the UNP or The TNA are “sugar coating” their sentiments.
    They know that breaking the Power of the Government is an impossible task.
    With the 18 th. amendment the politization of the entire Government Machinery even God Almighty cannot save Sri Lanka.
    I do not support Sarath Fonseka nor Sarath Silva but I see a glimmer of hope in them to restitute this Country
    NO ONE IN THIS COUNTRY MAY BE WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE JVP HAS THE COURAGE AND CONVICTION TO STAND UP AGAINST THIS DICTATORIAL RULE.

    • John

      My dear Walter,

      “In no way have the Ceylon Tamils supported the LTTE.”

      Then who supported LTTE ? Only NGO’s ?, after India withdrew the support? Pl. note, all Jaffna ,Batticaloa , Colombo Tamils are referred to as Ceylon Tamils ( other than Tamils of Indian origin–plantation)
      ____________________________________________
      “..If you say that fighting for ones survival, for ones lost dignity, fighting against religious and language impositions, is Terrorism..”

      Now Somebody had fought ? for something? earlier you said, no Any Ceylon Tamil supported this. Then LTTE , a foreign outfit ?, terrorized the country ?
      If you take survival, then more than 50% (& ever increasing) of Ceylon Tamils won’t live with Sinhalese in South. Hindu religion & Hindu Gods are highly respected by Sinhala Buddhists & Gods are kept inside the shrine room of all Buddhist temples & being worshiped along with Lord Buddha.
      ____________________________________________
      “..Unfortunately Tamils of this Country that is The Ceylon Tamils, The Up Country Tamils The Jaffna and Batticaloa Tamils have never spoken with one voice…”

      If true, then whose fault is it ? Sinahalese & Muslims? GOSL ?
      ______________________________________________
      “..The Sinhala Buddhist numbering nearly 71% and with them the other Sinhalese, some Tamils and Muslims totalling nearly 80% of this Country have captured the rest..”

      What the democracy is all about ? Ceylon practiced universal franchise from 1932 & West Minister form of Govt. from 1948 on wards, what do you expect SL to do ? Ignore 80% of people & allow balance 20% to r run the country ?
      Further Pl. note GOSL in 1978, introduced preferential representation (PR) for elections which dramatically increased Minority representation & Presidential elections taken whole country as one constituency which had given minorities a bigger say.
      ______________________________________________
      “..UNP or The TNA are “sugar coating” their sentiments. They know that breaking the Power of the Government is an impossible task…”
      So what ? Who wants to break govt.? Not thepeople of SL. For the first time in history under PR system present Govt. was returned to Parliament with 2/3 majority by the people of Sri Lanka, & no wonder UNP & TNA cannot think of “breaking Power” .

      Dear Walter, I’m afraid , if you are bit confused, ( no offence , if so, my apology)

      Of course TNA has a recourse ,i.e. to join hands with GOSL & work for the people they claim to represent , the way how CWC did from 1977 to date , 35 years in power & continuing , perhaps no any political party ever had this luxury & most importantly working for the people they represent with all Govt.’s of Sri Lanka.

  • R.M.B Senanayake

    We have to realize that the incumbent President has all the powers to be an autocrat after the 18th amendment. Whether he chooses to act autocratically or not is his personal choice now. He is deterred from exercising his full powers only because of the criticism of the International Community. If such international pressure eases then he would perhaps not hesitate to govern autocratically. Only god can help restore democracy in Sri Lanka.

  • Raj Swamipillai

    what a lousy interview. you would have seen the controversy and debate around the stand of the TNA on this website alone, yet you chose not to really challenge Mr sumanthiran and/or address those points.

    dayan might not have a lot of admirers here but to his credit he is unambiguous in his ideas and thoughts at least. i recall on a comments section of an artical, you wrote that you would contact dayan to follow up on various comments addressed to him and while sumanthiran might not be an active contributor you didnt request a follow-up from him re one of dayans rejoinders.

    fair enough he might not be active enough of a contributor or known personally to you to be able to do that, BUT you could have done that in the interview. a golden opportunity squandered. we thamizh could at least then decide which horse to back, but we can’t because there is too much ambiguity around the TNA.

    can’t help but think that there are other agendas at play here.

    • Raj Swamipillai

      Yet again, reading DBSJ website today we see Sumanthiran making veiled threats towards secessionism. he pretty much says that:

      1. singalese/gosl MUST grant the right to self determination to the Tamils in order to preserve the territorial integrity of SL.

      2. If the right to self determination is not given, per international law the tamils in SL in any case have the right to self determination anyway AND the right to secession/split srilanka (citing east timor etc).

      Why isnt anyone pulling him up on these backwards regressive ideologies? If somehow the TNA were successful in ’2′, there would be untold amount of misery on the island.

      It’s actually reasonably easy to outsmart the GOSL and sinhala thugs if you needed to, while maintaining a principled and progressive stance – this would open the doors to and build a bridge with the moderate progressive sinhalese and have a better chance of bringing about lasting peace, but these guys appear to be tigers in disguise to me….

      and we all know what misery the tigers brought us all…. the TNA stance is so headbangingly frustrating.

      • Raj Swamipillai

        ignore me – i see this is addressed; I previously scrubbed through the video, connviently past this key point (!)

        The TNA are clearly in cohorts with the Tamil Diaspora – how can he be so sure that the call for secession will come from the outside? does he have people on standby ready to do this from the LTTE supporting tamil diaspora? Trust me those are a vocal bunch but there are quite a few of us tamils who dont have our heads buried in the sand, unfortunately when we raise our voice in ‘tamil circles’, we get threatened! I can only imagine how bad an ltte-run tamil state would be (and let’s be real the ltte is still alive, thats what we get told daily here in the west!)

  • Anpu

    Dear commentators,
    Please read http://groundviews.org/2012/07/31/ganesan-nimalaruban-a-damning-murder-funeral-and-silence/
    and make comments
    Many thanks
    Anpu

  • N. Ethirveerasingam

    A great Groundviews interview as ususal. Mr.Sumanthiran’s position is formed by his and TNA’s interactions with Tamils in and out of Sri Lanka. In my experience with the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Tamil Diaspora over the years I find that Mr Sumanthiran is reflecting the wish of a substantial majority of the Tamils. I trust he will continue to bring about a greater consensus among the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims.

    It will be beneficial if this interview can have a voice transcript overlay in Sinhala and Tamil.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    It would have been better had Sanjana not runcated the qute from Suma’s interview given to Namini Wijedasa and asked his assertion that:

    “…You have to ask the Tamil people whether they want to stay in the country or be separate. Everywhere it’s like that…A distinct people in international law have certain rights called self-determination. The right to self determination international law now says must be exercised internally in the first instance. But if that is consistently denied, then according to the Canadian Supreme Court judgment on Quebec, they might even become entitled to a unilateral secession. So, if Sri Lanka should remain as one country, and we think it should remain as one country, then to preserve it as one country you must grant that right to self-determination and have it exercised in an arrangement within one country. That must be given, that must be recognized. It’s not at the wish of the majority that it’s given. That is as a matter of right in international law…” (Sunday Lakbimanews, Feb 5th 2012)

  • InSights

    Self determination is not a dirty word and let’s not be distracted by claims that’accountability’having become one.

    Let’s instead ask what sort of government the TNA can provide for the North and East. Can it be ‘effective government’ seeing that its leaders keep contradicting one another as to the party’s goal.

    The TNA keeps making demands accompanied by barely veiled threats of foreign interference, civil disobedience and so on. Do the people of the North and East realize that the TNA has not put out a credible economic plan for the Provinces; should they achive their desired goal?

    Is the TNA exploiting the vulnerable state in which the people of the North and East find themselves to entice them with wild promises, just as the TULF and LTTE did, to undergo more tribulations?

    • Anpu

      I am sure TNA is capable of doing better than murderous successive Srilankan govts. War ended 3 years ago. What has MR done? building budhist temples, more killings …. and says 50% of LLRC is completed. Any evidence for this??????

      • InSights

        The people of Germany also were sure that Mr.Hitler was going to do better, by freeing the country from the economic and military restrictions imposed on them after WW1. Those who saw the pitfalls were very few.

  • http://www.hotmail.co.uk cyril

    Dr Jayatilleka

    Mr Sumanthiran is reiterating the International Law in relation to the right of self-determination and it’s the legitimate right of the Tamil people. If, as you say, Sri Lanka is a mature democracy then the people should be given an opportunity to exercise their legitimate right in a referendum and both the TNA and the UPFA government could campaign for what they think is good for the people and the country. This is how a mature democracy should deal with this issue.

  • Walter

    Mr.John
    You see in the 1930 up to about 50 the Jaffna Tamils did not want to support the Batticaloa Tamils, they had a lot of mistrust between themselves. In Colombo the Batticaloa and Trincomalee Tamils were identified together.
    The Jaffna Tamils did not support the Estate Tamils, in their struggles. The Jaffna man was basically a selfish man.
    The Ceylon Tamils were classed into “any other” category.
    Only recently The Colombo Chetties and The Bharatha’s who are all Tamil speaking were given their own identities.
    John you may be more knowledgeable and have time for research but you are certainly not able to De-Code the motivations and the Mentality of the Sinhala Buddhist in whose hands the Custody of Ceylon now Sri Lanka was given because as you say a “Democratic Function”
    You see since 1948 there was a simmering concern and dissent by the Sinhala Buddhist Community.
    They brought in all sorts of Constitutional reforms to break the arm of the Tamils, of course by Democratic means.
    Just two examples (A) Why did they burn the Jaffna Library.
    (B) why did JR delay for several days before enforcing “Curfew”
    The majority had a fear may be justified I don’t know.
    The TNA and other Tamil parties are “Sugar Coating” their opposition they are frightened that they and their people will be Pulvarised by the Sinhala Forces if they turn right instead of left.
    This forum is insufficient to lay all my thinking and experience of all what has happened in this Country.
    Your interpreting and extracting my sentences seems ok under normal ordinary standards, some adjudicator may say you are right.
    Well to me that seems to be the Targets set by The Sinhala Buddhist politicians and now 71 to 80% of this Country seemed to have swallowed this line of thinking Hook, Line and Sinker.
    Regretably you are just one those.
    I do not blame you because you are following what has been set before you.
    Had you the experience and age it might have been different. Thanks

  • Strike One

    I really like the point that Mr. Sumanthiran makes that now in Sri Lanka words like ‘good governance’ and ‘transparency’ have also become bad words. If we go on like this, who knows, soon words like ‘democracy’, ‘elections’ and ‘parliament’ might also make the list…

  • Punitham

    Sanjana

    Please let the readers see the very clear, simple and logical argumentation:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv5HDHyl5Xc
    Dr Jayampathy Wickremaratne on LLRC, 8 March 2012

    http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-31-03/politics-a-social-issues/2-13th-amendment-is-irredeemable
    ’13th Amendment is irredeemable’ – Constitutional expert, 17 June 2012

  • walter

    Thank you for comments Mr.Sumantiran