Elections, Jaffna, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Exploring the Myth that the Tamil vote will be the decider at the Presidential Elections

Aachcharya writing from Jaffna

Two Tamil Dailies Thinakkural and Uthayan (Jaffna) carried yesterday a headline report of retired Supreme Court Justice C.V. Wigneswaran’s opinion on whom the Tamils should vote for at Presidential elections. (Justice C. V Wigneswaran is a highly respected member of the Tamil intelligentsia and while on the Supreme Court was known to be extremely independent and forthright in his views. He was named by TNA as their nominee for membership in the Constitutional Council)

Though the report is filed in a manner as if though the newspapers contacted Justice Wigneswaran to get his response regarding rumours that some sections of the diaspora had contacted him about contesting at the presidential elections, the two reports are verbatim similar which probably means that Justice Wigneswaran himself wrote and sent the interview to be published to both these newspapers, on his own volition or possibly responding to a request from the TNA leadership.

In the interview he has said that certain individuals’ self centric actions (probably referring to Shivajilingam, Srikantha) have led to confusion among the Tamils. The following are translated excerpts from the ‘interview’:

“There is no point in voting for a Tamil candidate. Even if all Tamils vote for him we will achieve nothing. It is one of the two mainstream candidates who will win the elections. It will be the same if we boycott the elections. This will only display the desperate state of our politics or that we haven’t come to realise our democratic rights. So far Tamils have either voted for a Tamil candidate or boycotted presidential elections. This was to display the distinctiveness of the Tamil people’s politics. But now after the armed struggle has fallen silent this trend has to change. We have to be strategic. We have to see what we can get out of these two mainstream candidates. I am happy that the TNA is doing this. The TNA engaging in discussions with both candidates is productive. Tamil people should listen to the TNA leadership on this issue. The 22 parliamentarians speaking in different voices is no good. The TNA leadership should let the Tamil
people know of their decision soon. One thing is for sure if we vote for a Tamil candidate or boycott the election it would either mean alienating our democratic rights or supporting someone else [probably meaning voting for Shivajilingam being voting for MR]”.

He also refers in the interview to how the Upcountry Tamil leadership and the Muslims have used the ballot effectively in the past. Tamils have no option now but to take up this weapon he says. He also says that if the Tamils stand united we can decide which way the majority goes in the parliament at the next general election. He concludes: “Our differences will aid them. Our unity will aid us”

The Jaffna Uthayan which has for now long supported a vote for SF has written an editorial overjoyed with Wigneswaran’s public stance on the issue and have insisted other community leaders also come out publicly with a similar stance.

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress met in Jaffna yesterday to decide on whom to support and on Kajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s insistence they have voted on a resolution to boycott the elections. Former MP Vinyagamoorthy who is the President of the ACTC is not happy with the decision (he wants to use the vote to de-seat MR) but has gone with the resolution not wanting to challenge Ponnambalam. 4 MPs attached to the TNA are supposedly favouring a boycott – Kajendrakumar, Pathmini Sithamaparanathan, Solaman Cyril, and Kajendran, all being Jaffna MPs. They all are in Jaffna these days. They met with the Jaffna Bishop yesterday.

Earlier Shivajilingam also claimed support from seven TNA MPs for a Tamil candidate. One is not sure how many of these TNA MPs will support Shivajilingam as the Tamil candidate though. MP Shivashkthi Ananthan has come out accusing Shivajilingam of receiving money from Mahinda Rajapaksha to contest the elections.

I suspect that the TNA leadership (R. Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan) might come out and ask the Tamil people to vote for “regime change” without naming Sarath Fonseka. In short the call will be for Tamils to cast a silent vote in favour of SF. One will have to wait and see how many Tamils feel like voting. I suspect that the voting numbers in the North will be small – small that they will not be able to influence the national vote significantly. The way Eastern Tamils vote is also very unclear. Pillayan is unlikely to come out strongly for MR or to inspire people to vote for SF. Karuna’s influence (unless he stuffs ballot boxes) is also not clear. For the Tamils to be the deciders in the election (like they could have been in the last) they have to vote as a whole to one candidate and the Sinhala votes to both candidates should be almost equal. I doubt whether the challenger to the incumbent can muster that many Sinhala votes to equal the incumbent’s or that the Tamils will vote significantly to one candidate despite their being a disguised call from the TNA to vote for Sarath Fonseka.

And finally what can a vote for SF achieve at all for the Tamil people? Tamil people’s ‘active engagement in national politics’- what will it lead to? Will SF devolve powers, dismantle the High Security Zones, repeal the PTA, revoke Emergency, resettle IDPs in places of their choice? Has he promised any of these? Or has MR promised any of these concretely? (Dayan Jayatilleka might say all of these are stupid/unintelligent demands. For him there is only one thing that will be intelligent for the Tamil people to do: Vote for MR.). Both candidates know well that making concrete promises on any of these will mean betraying the Sinhala nation. The TNA knows very well that none of them would even promise any of these or might just pay lip service to some of them. Hence my prediction that they will call for a silent vote.

Justice Wigneswaran is deeply anxious and nervous in his call for unity. It is going to be very difficult to bring TNA under one umbrella again. And that’s why, like the state of Muslims politics today, Tamils can never be King or Queen makers. The days of Ashroff and Thondaman are gone. And unless there is a change in the way South does politics even if you are a King maker, the Tamils will be disappointed once again as they were when their King maker Chelvanayagam was disappointed when the B-C and D-C pact were dishonoured.