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.