TamilWeek, Dec 4 - 10, 2005
Detour to Tamil Eelam via the Presidential Poll
Boycott?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

There are many contradictions in the results of the November 17 Presidential
elections viewed from both the nationally aspired peace with unity and
development goals. Even the much touted ‘honourable peace’ of the newly
elected President Mahinda Rajapakse seems very conceptual in the prevailing
conditions in Sri Lanka. There are many basic requirements for achieving
‘honourable peace’. And these are not in sight and unlikely to appear given the
insufficient emphasis being given by political leaders and peace advocates to the
basics. The lack of complete understanding of the nature of the conflict in Sri
Lanka is delaying peace and prosperity and threatening the territorial integrity of
the island. The hopeful declarations and messages deceive the gullible masses
and diehard extremists in different ways. As quite rightly pointed out by V. S.
Sambandan, the Colombo based correspondent of ‘The Hindu’ newspaper in one
of his recent pre-election reports, Sri Lanka is facing twin conflicts, the long-
standing ethnic conflict and the relatively new separatist conflict that escalated to
a full-scale war between the LTTE rebels and the Sri Lankan government forces
after 1983. The two are not Siamese twins born at the same time, but are very
closely connected.

This distinction is important in gauging the chances of achieving ‘honourable
peace’, especially when the separatists are more concerned about their political
goal than peace of whatever label. Ethnic conflict is relatively amenable to
negotiated political settlement than the separatist conflict when separation is an
article of faith to the diehard believers. In fact, the separatist conflict gets life
support from the ethnic conflict and it is in the interest of the separatists to ensure
the continuation of all the factors that led to the ethnic conflict. These include the
alienation of the minority Tamils under the unitary structure, which the newly
elected President Mahinda Rajapakse has vowed to sustain. The international
community has continuously been urging both sides to the conflict to negotiate for
a political settlement in the mistaken belief that it is simply concerned about
existing inequitable control of power. The suggestion to seek a suitable power
sharing arrangement in undivided Sri Lanka also gives great importance to the
ethnic conflict, which is not the main concern of the LTTE.

The new approach of President Mahinda Rajapakse towards the peace process
indicated in his first policy statement in the Parliament on November 25 also
ignores this reality. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga realized the
distinction between the ethnic and separatist conflicts only at the tail end of her
term. This was somewhat evident from her address to the Asia Society at its Park
Avenue, New York Headquarters on 14 September 2005. President Kumaratunga
spoke on the theme "For Larger Freedom: Pursuit of Peace in Sri Lanka."

The above basic facts are useful for grasping the significance of the recent
developments in Sri Lanka, which lend support to the LTTE for advancing along
the newly found route to Tamil Eelam. All sensible persons will know that durable
peace can only be achieved by uniting the divided country and not by establishing
two separate states in Sri Lanka. To talk of ‘honourable peace’ without finding
ways to unite the country is meaningless. Apparently, both sides intend to take
different roads to their political goals. Anyone with some acumen will know that
these will not take them to the peace goal. What seems more likely is the ultimate
division of the country, paradoxically aided by those determined to preserve the
unitary structure. Those who claim victory for unitary at the November 17 poll are
oblivious of further polarisation of the society between and within ethnic groups as
a result of this inconclusive contest. A climate of confusion, disharmony, instability
and uncertainty is ideal for the ultimate break-up of the nation state.

Planned boycott

As intended, the confusing statements of LTTE spokesmen before the November
17 Presidential elections misled many interested parties within and outside Sri
Lanka. The same tactic was used to refute the allegation of forced boycott of the
November 17 Presidential elections. The LTTE political wing leader, S. P.
Thamilselvan told the TamilNet November 22, “The boycott by the Tamil people
last week was a reflection of prevailing Tamil sentiments towards Sri Lankan
leaders, based on their bitter experiences of the past. The near total boycott by
Tamil voters took place despite the oppressive presence of thousands of Sri
Lankan troops and Army-backed paramilitaries in Jaffna and other parts of the
Northeast”. He asserted, the LTTE had not ordered Tamils to boycott the
elections. "The reality was that the Tamil people, faced with intimidation by the all
pervasive presence of Sri Lankan troops, Army-backed paramilitary cadres and
intelligence operatives delivered a message against intimidation by the military,"
he said. He also “questioned how the allegation of intimidation could be levelled
against the LTTE when the voters in question were living under the guns of the
occupying Sri Lankan forces.” His remarks should not be taken solely in the
context of the results of the November 17 Presidential poll, but as part of the
overall strategy to prove the existence of two separate states in Sri Lanka. The
results too are to the liking of the LTTE, notwithstanding the delight of the Sinhala-
Buddhist nationalists in the south.

The message conveyed through local and foreign media by the LTTE leadership
before the November 17 poll was that they were "not at all concerned about the
election."

In the interview with the TIME magazine (12 November 2005), S. P. Thamilselvan
said: “We are not at all concerned about the election. Our experience of both
parties is that if at all they speak of the Tamil national question, it is only because
they want votes. Their performances after the elections are very dismal. A sense
of apathy prevails. People are not bothered by the election or the outcome. They
do not see any difference between the candidates”. He also told TIME: “The
danger signs are very explicit with Mahinda. But you call Ranil conciliatory,
whereas our experience is that he had ample opportunity to go ahead with a
resolution of the Tamil national problem and he does not keep his promises. If
anyone is responsible for pushing the Tamil people to the fringe of frustration, it's
unambiguously Ranil, because nothing was implemented."

LTTE has been pointing out that its stand on every subject relating to the
continuing struggle reflects the feelings and views of the Tamil people.
Accordingly, this was conveyed in his response to the observation: “There are
those that would say that you're raising the specter of something awful to try to
influence the vote”. Thamilselvan replied: “That's wrong. Go to any part of the
Tamil homeland and you'll find people are not concerned with the election. They
don't see anything new, any new horizon or dawn”. The majority of Tamils in Sri
Lanka (not those expatriates who want the anxious Tamils in the motherland to
face the ‘enemy’ directly than a cunning unpredictable one) preferred a President
whom they thought would not push towards another round of war. To the
unfortunate Tamils, though the ‘no-war-no-peace’ state was not the ideal, it was
better than the resumption of full-scale war. In their judgment, the war risk was
less with Ranil than with Mahinda, who had embraced the Sinhala majoritarian
nationalist policies of the JVP and JHU.

Before the November 17 poll, it was the LTTE’s front organizations like the “People’
s Force” and various students bodies that openly called for the boycott. The
former asked all Tamil public servants to ignore election duty and to observe the
day as mourning. Boycott posters were also seen in public places throughout the
Jaffna district. The appeal said, “Tamils should show to the international
community and Sinhala leaders of the south that they are not interested in the
forthcoming presidential election. It is the duty of Tamil people and Tamil public
servants to boycott the presidential poll”. Tamil Students Consortium in the
Trincomalee and Amparai districts appealed to Tamil people to boycott the
presidential poll to demonstrate that they are not interested in the power struggle
between the Sinhala political leadership in the south. In statements released in
Trincomalee and Amparai November 13, the consortiums stated “it is time for the
Tamil people in the northeast to tell the international community and Sinhala
people in the south that they are not prepared to be deceived by leaders of
Sinhala chauvinist political parties any more.” The statement said: “The successful
boycott of the election would be a victory for Tamil people who have been
deceived by Sinhala political leaders since Sri Lanka gained political
independence".

On November 16 TamilNet reported that the LTTE has said, “There is no change
in their position on Thursday’s (November 17) Presidential election from that taken
last Friday”. Denying newspaper reports that the LTTE was now actively
encouraging people to vote in the Presidential elections, head of the LTTE’s
Peace Secretariat, S. Pulidevan said, "the issue was discussed at length by the
LTTE and the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) last week and the conclusion was the
Tamils cannot place our trust on either of the parties or their candidates". On the
poll eve, the TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan also issued a press
release regarding the position of the Alliance. It stated that the position of the
Tamil National Alliance (Ilankai Thamiarasu Kadchchi) enunciated to the Media at
the conclusion of the meeting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at
Kilinochchi on Thursday 10th November 2005 had not changed.

TamilNet reported on 10 November 2005, “LTTE-TNA conference concludes:
Tamil people have no interest in SL Presidential elections". It said, “emerging from
the three and a half hour meeting with the Political Wing of the LTTE R.
Sampanthan, Leader of the TNA Parliamentarians, categorically declared to the
media, nothing worthwhile would be achieved by supporting either of the two
leading candidates in the Sri Lankan Presidential election." He told the press in
Kilinochchi, that Tamil People are "not at all interested in the forthcoming
Presidential election."

The veteran Tamil leader from Trincomalee had said further, “both Sinhala parties
have been in the government before and after periods of war in the NorthEast. If
we carefully examine the conduct of these Governments towards Tamil people we
are forced to conclude that we cannot place our trust on either of the parties or
their candidates. We are convinced that Tamil people will not benefit by showing
any interest in the forthcoming Sri Lanka Presidential elections. … It is not
surprising that the Tamil people have lost all interest in the forthcoming Sri Lankan
presidential elections. The experience the Tamils have had over five decades, has
taught them neither to trust the leading Sinhala political parties nor to have faith in
their leadership.”

His positive statement on the democratic rights of the people is worth mentioning.
He stated: "Neither the TNA nor the LTTE will advise people not to vote. We will
not be in their way, blocking them from exercising their democratic right. But all
signs are that the decision not to show interest in the Presidential election is
gathering momentum among the Tamils. That is what we could gather from our
political experience and interaction with the people." What happened on
November 17 especially in the North contradicts his finding. Perhaps, he too was
unaware of the boycott plan.

Election results

The victory margin of Mahinda Rajapakse was the narrowest in Sri Lanka’s 23-
year Presidential election history — about 180,000. In the Jaffna district, only
8,524, just over one percent (1.21%), out of 701,938 registered voters exercised
their democratic right. About 5,500 opted for Ranil Wickremesinghe and almost
2,000 for Mahinda Rajapakse. From Kilinochchi only 1 person out of 66,596
voters voted and the solitary vote was for Wickremesinghe. The voter paid a
heavy price for venturing to vote as his hand was chopped off later. The Jaffna
electorate comprises Kayts, Vaddukoddai, Kankesanthurai, Manipay, Kopay,
Udupiddy, Point Pedro, Chavakacheri, Nallur, Jaffna and Kilinochchi towns. In
Vanni, comprising Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya, 85,874 of 250,386 voted
(34.3%). Wickremesinghe took 65,798 against Rajapakse’s 17,197.

In Trincomalee, where eligible voters are split 34.3%, 32.7% 26.4% into Tamils,
Muslims and Sinhalese, 154,000 of almost 239,000 cast their ballot, just over
92,000 for Wickremesinghe and almost 55,700 for Rajapakse. The Trincomalee
electorate comprises Mutur, Trincomalee and Seruwila. 63.8% of registered voters
had voted in Trincomalee electoral district.

In Batticaloa electorate, comprising Kalkudah, Pattiruppu and Batticaloa, 154,615
of the 318,728 eligible voters cast their ballots (48.5%) – 121,514 for
Wickremesinghe and 28,836 for Rajapakse. Of the eligible voters in the
electorate, 76.4%, 23.5% and 0.25% are Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese.

In the Digamadulla electorate, comprising Amparai, Sammanthurai, Kalmunai and
Pottuvil, 288,208 of 396,453 eligible voters cast their ballots (72.7%) – 159,198
for Wickremesinghe and 122,329 for Rajapakse. Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils
comprise 41.7%, 39.3% and 18.8% respectively of the eligible voters in the
electorate.

The proportion voted in Digamadulla is close to the national average of around
75%. The majority of the votes cast both in the East and North was for Ranil
Wickremesinghe, who advocated openly a federal solution to the ethnic problem.
The very low proportion who voted in the North compared with the three electoral
districts in the East – 63.8% in Trinco, 48.5% in Batti and 72.7% in Digamadulla
shows the North-East divide in political perceptions. This is not surprising because
of the diverse ethnic features with the East having a mixed population. Besides
this difference, many Tamils in the East have exercised their democratic right.
Despite the call of former Batticaloa-Amparai LTTE special commander Karuna to
vote for Mahinda Rajapakse, the majority of voters in the East have voted for
Ranil Wickremesinghe. Evidently, LTTE’s influence in the East amongst the Tamils
is not as strong as in the North.

The postal votes were cast without direct intimidation and fear of any reprisal. In
Jaffna of the 2,326 postal votes 1,405 were for Ranil (60.4%) and 327 for Mahinda
(14.1%). In Vanni of the 3,717 postal votes 2234 were for Ranil (60.1%) and 1,356
for Mahinda (36.5%). In Batticaloa of the 4,609 postal votes 3,489 were for Ranil
(75.7%) and 1,028 for Mahinda (22.3%). The majority of postal votes in
Trincomalee and Digamadulla were for Mahinda. Interestingly, the majority of the
refugees in Jaffna and Vanni had voted for Ranil. He received 2,548 votes in
Jaffna and 9,176 votes in Vanni, while Mahinda got 979 and 5,212 votes of the
refugees in the two respective districts.

The separate findings of independent poll monitors - the Centre for Monitoring
Election Violence (CMEV), People’s Action for Free a Fair Elections (PAFFREL)
and European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) indicate that
organized acts of violence and intimidation in the North and East disrupted the
vote significantly. Low voter turnout in the northeast was stated by all independent
election monitors to be partly the result of grenade attacks, roadblocks and
intimidation that prevented many Tamils from voting. The European Union (EU)
and many foreign governments notably US, Japan, Canada and Australia have all
condemned strongly the denial of the voting right of the Tamils in the North-East.

The EU Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner while
regretting the LTTE’s action on election day November 17 in her statement said: “I
have seen with a lot of concern the various reports on the actions taken by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to prevent people from exercising their
right to vote in some parts of the North and East. We deeply regret the attitude of
the LTTE on Election Day. This is in complete contradiction with our repeated calls
that they should allow for greater pluralism and democracy in the North and East
of Sri Lanka."

Why the boycott?

Ameen Izzadeen a senior journalist in Colombo in his article on the results of the
Presidential poll – ‘How Rajapakse lost people’s mandate but won election’
published in Khaleej Times (Online) of 23 November 2005 noted: “Theories
abound as to why the LTTE wanted Rajapakse — whom the Tigers described as a
cobra which stings with a hiss — to win and engineered the defeat of
Wickremesinghe — whom the Tigers described as a viper which stings without a
hiss. I would buy the theory which says the LTTE feared Wickremesinghe’s two-
pronged peace-making strategy — winning the hearts of the war-weary Tamils
whom the Tigers rule at gun point and luring the rebels into a peace trap with the
help of the international community. The Tigers did not want the world to interpret
the overwhelming Tamil support for Wickremesinghe as an acceptance of his
federal solution”.

Some others have considered the boycott to be LTTE’s attempt to "try out a new
man at the bargaining table". A free Tamil vote would have also exposed the
different political views of the society to the outside world casting doubts about the
influence of the LTTE. The claim that the LTTE are the ‘sole representatives of
the Tamils’ must not appear moot. From the perspective of two separate nations,
the contest was solely between Sinhalese leaders. Tamils were not electing a
leader to look after their interests. In the 2004 general elections the LTTE urged
the people to vote for the TNA candidates because they were to be their voice in
Colombo within and outside the Parliament – sort of diplomats serving in a foreign
country. LTTE was also seeking some credence to the existence of two nations –
the Sinhala Nation and Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka by the boycott of the Tamil voters
in the North-East. President Mahinda Rajapakse is now accepted by the LTTE as
the Executive President of the Sinhala nation. Had Ranil won the Presidential poll
with the help of Tamil votes in the North-East and which was a real possibility, it
would have contradicted with the concept of two political systems, one for the
Sinhala and the other for the Tamil nation. LTTE has also reminded the world that
there is already a separate de facto government in a segment of North-East.

After the boycott - the calm before the storm

LTTE’s supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in his annual “Heroes’ Day” (27
November 2005) address revealed how he is going to play the ‘game’ with the new
leader President Mahinda Rajapakse, whose victory is widely acknowledged to be
due the boycott. The stated reasons for launching the peace process in 2002
jointly with the UNF government are very relevant for the analysis. He said: “Even
though we are deeply convinced that we cannot obtain justice from the Sinhala
political leadership, but rather have to fight and win our rights, we were compelled
by unprecedented historical circumstances to participate in peace talks with the
Sinhala state. We were compelled to engage in the negotiating process by the
intervention of the Indian regional superpower at a particular historical period and
by the pressure of the international community at a later period. There were other
reasons also that encouraged us to engage in the peace process. Constructive
engagement in the peace process is a viable means to secure legitimacy for our
liberation organisation as the representative organ of our people. We also wanted
to internationalise our struggle and win the support and sympathy of the
international community. Furthermore, there is a need to convince the world
community that we are not war-mongers addicted to armed violence, but rather,
firmly and sincerely committed to non-violent peace process. Finally and most
importantly, we wanted to demonstrate beyond doubt that the Sinhala racist ruling
elites would not accept the fundamental demands of the Tamils and offer a
reasonable political solution. It was with these objectives we participated in the
peace process”. Thus, the intention was not to seek a political settlement
acceptable to both sides but to show the world that there is no alternative to
separation. The participation in the peace process was a tactical move then and
there is no compelling reason to believe it will be different, if the LTTE decides to
participate in the renewed peace process as proposed by President Rajapakse.

Regarding the peace efforts of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the
Prime Minister of the then UNF government, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran said:
“Adopting delaying tactics, Ranil’s government was primarily focusing on setting
up an international safety net aiming at decommissioning our weapons. An
international aid conference was organised in Tokyo in June 2003 as an essential
element of this subversive scheme. Having realised the implications of the
international safety net we decided to boycott the Tokyo conference and
eventually to suspend the peace talks”. Thus, the peace process was considered
by the LTTE to be a trap to contain their struggle for separation. The new UPFA
government that succeeded Ranil’s government was condemned for refusing to
resume the peace talks on the basis of his ISGA proposals. The following
statement shows that the LTTE was ready to abandon the peace process and
resume the armed struggle at the end of last year. “We realised that the aim of the
Sinhala chauvinistic political leadership was to misdirect and undermine our
liberation struggle by entrapping us in the uncertainty of a political vacuum. Faced
with the meaningless absurdity of living in the illusion of peace we decided to
resume our national liberation struggle. It was at that conjuncture, during the latter
part of last year, when we were charting our action plan, the horrendous natural
disaster struck.” The Boxing Day Tsunami only delayed the implementation of the
‘action plan’ rather than sway both sides to speed up the peace efforts by settling
the differences amicably.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s commitment to a federal solution lacked conviction
because his government did not act on the ‘Oslo agreement’ and come up with a
draft federal constitution. On the other hand, the LTTE wanted a con-federal and
not a federal structure as a basis for political settlement. This was evident from
their ISGA proposals. The LTTE did not mind Mahinda Rajapakse becoming the
new President of Sri Lanka with the support of the extreme parties in the south
that want to retain the Sinhala majoritarian hegemony in the entire island.
Apparently, this switch is considered helpful for implementing their ‘action plan’.

The LTTE leader in his “Heroes’ Day” address said: “We have now reached a
significant historic turning point in our struggle for self-determination. The ruling
elites of southern Sri Lanka will never recognise our people’s right to self-
determination. The Tamil right to self-determination will never find space in the
entrenched majoritarian constitution and in the political system built on that
constitutional structure. Our people have, therefore, realised that they have no
alternative other than to fight and win their right to self-determination”.

The tactic to keep the opponent guessing is apparent from the concluding
statements. The LTTE leader said: “We have now reached the critical time to
decide on our approach to achieve the objective of our struggle. At this crucial
historical turning point a new government under a new leader has assumed power
in the Sinhala nation. This new government is extending its hand of friendship
towards us and is calling our organisation for peace talks. It claims that it is going
to adopt a new approach towards the peace process. Having carefully examined
his policy statement in depth, we have come to a conclusion that President
Rajapakse has not grasped the fundamentals, the basic concepts underlying the
Tamil national question. In terms of policy, the distance between him and us is
vast. However, President Rajapakse is considered a realist committed to
pragmatic politics, we wish to find out, first of all, how he is going to handle the
peace process and whether he will offer justice to our people. We have, therefore,
decided to wait and observe, for sometime, his political manoeuvres and actions.
………… The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable
political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This
is our urgent and final appeal. If the new government rejects our urgent appeal,
we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-
determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in
our homeland”.

The Indian daily ‘The Hindu’ (30 November 2005) in its editorial said: "The 2005
Heroes' Day address by the LTTE supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, might have
nothing dramatic to communicate to Sri Lanka and the world, such as a decision to
go to war or a unilateral declaration of Tamil Eelam. However, it offers fresh
insights into a mindset that is uncompromising in its rejection of any `final' solution
within the framework of a united and sovereign Sri Lanka ……”

Surely, the Government leaders and advisers cannot be unaware of the above
conclusion. President Rajapakse’s response to the “Heroes’ Day” speech has also
to be regarded as a tactical move to put the ball back in Prabhakaran’s court. He
welcomed LTTE leader’s “Heroes’ Day” sweet comments, about his pragmatic
approach and his invitation to talks as extending the hand of friendship. This has
signaled the start of the game to be played between the two teams led by
Prabhakaran and Rajapakse. The newly elected President told the diplomatic
community in Colombo at a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat on
November 28, “I reiterate my invitation to Mr. Prabhakaran for talks. We can
resume work immediately on reviewing the operation of the ceasefire, whilst we
prepare ourselves for eventual substantive talks leading to a lasting solution.
These processes can work in parallel and not necessarily sequentially.” He also
said: "We can resume work immediately on reviewing the operation of the
ceasefire, whilst we prepare ourselves for eventual substantive talks leading to a
lasting solution - these processes can work in parallel, and not necessarily
sequentially”. The talks as before will be central to the game, if played at the
invitation of the captain from the South.

The shift from his earlier stand to amend the Cease-Fire Agreement to review its
operation and in addition reaffirming Government’s commitment to continue the
ceasefire has projected the new President as a leader not antagonistic to LTTE
like the JVP and JHU. He has also reaffirmed his commitment to political settlement
and lasting peace. The appeal for “a reasonable political framework that will
satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people” by the LTTE leader has been
viewed simplistically to mean a basis for resolving the ethnic and not the separatist
conflict. The distinction between the two conflicts was emphasized earlier. The
ethnic conflict is the vehicle needed to reach the separatist goal. If the real
meaning attached to the phrase ‘political aspirations of the Tamil people’ is
considered, then the political goal of the LTTE cannot fit into any framework that
the President might visualize as in the ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’. Nothing short of an
independent homeland for the Tamils is the fixed goal of the LTTE.

The comments made by LTTE’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham in London on
November 27 at a “Heroes’ Day” meeting reveal the real stand of the LTTE on the
‘Tamil National Issue’. He is reported to have said, the movement would support
Mr. Rajapakse to create a unitary state in the south with the JVP and JHU while the
Tamil speaking people have their own unitary state in the North-East. From LTTE’
s standpoint, talks are useful for ensuring the peaceful co-existence of two states
in the island. This revelation also confirms the reason mentioned earlier for the
LTTE to abandon Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The game that will be played during the coming weeks and months will be watched
anxiously within and outside Sri Lanka, until the LTTE decides to end it at an
opportune time. This could be the time for war or unilateral declaration of Tamil
Eelam. The planned detour to Tamil Eelam can also fail not because of obstacles
placed by Sri Lankan government but due to external factors. In this event, the
future of Tamils will become more precarious than it has been any time since the
beginning of the ‘liberation struggle’. All depends on how the game will be played
and brought to a finish with or without a result.
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