LTTE-TNA Impose boycott of poll on Tamil People
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The presidential election campaign of Ranil Wickremasinghe has been dealt a terrific
jolt by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization and its appendage the Tamil
In one decisive stroke the LTTE and TNA have dispelled the notion that they were
extending tacit support to the United National Party candidate and Opposition Leader.
Earlier most analysts and media had been of the mindset that the tigers were backing
Wickremasinghe. The mainspring of his rival Mahinda Rajapakse's campaign had
been on these lines.
There was a general impression gaining ground that Rajapakse would get more
majority community votes and Wickremasinghe the bulk of minority community votes.
The UNP alliance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Ceylon Workers Congress
ensured the majority of Muslim and Plantation Tamil votes. The LTTE and TNA were
expected to deliver the Sri Lankan vote through covert and overt means respectively.
Now the LTTE - TNA says that the Tamils will be "neutral" in the election. There is no
direct appeal to the Tamils asking them to vote against Wickremasinghe or vote for a
candidate other than Ranil but a great emphasis is laid on the "useless" nature of the
poll. There is no direct call for a Tamil boycott so far but indirectly it is being projected
that Tamil voters would prefer to stay away.
A decision was reached after a three hour conclave at Kilinochchi between the LTTE
and TNA. The TNA has no mind of its own but faithfully echoes the diktat laid down by
its political master the LTTE. 21 of 22 TNA Parliamentarians attended the meeting
presided over by Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan the tiger political commissar. Only
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam away in USA was absent.
Addressing the media was senior Tamil leader and Trincomalee district MP
Rajavarothayam Sambandan. Though present at the media meet Thamilselvan
remained pointedly silent.
"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, 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," the veteran politician from Trincomalee observed.
"Tamil residents in NorthEast are fully aware of the conduct of the two major Sinhala
parties. They have been through and suffered through periods under these parties'
governance. We know and understand Tamil peoples' frame of mind. We have no
doubt that they are in full agreement with our thinking," Sampanthan told the media.
"We discussed in depth and exchanged our views on the situation related to the
elections and what historical significance our participation in the elections is going to
be for the future of our people.
"There was no doubt in any of the participants' mind that the Presidential election will
not produce any positive shift in the Southern Polity's thinking and approach that will
in anyway result in any progressive advance towards resolving the Tamil question.
"That is why we decided that it is a futile exercise to show any interest in the
elections," Sampanthan told the media.
Later Thamilselvan spoke over the Tamil Eelam National Television where he
reiterated the stance outlined by Sambandan. "Our people are well - experienced in
politics and politically mature. The view gathering strength among them is that they
should keep away from the poll. That is their decision. We will be supportive of them in
this decision" said Thamilselvan.
Despite the assertions that the Tamil people have made their choice and that the
LTTE - TNA are simply being supportive the reality is that the tigers want a boycott of
the election. It is a decision imposed from above on the people and not one
emanating upward from grass root level.
" We know and understand Tamil peoples' frame of mind. We have no doubt that they
are in full agreement with our thinking," was how LTTE mouthpiece "Tamilnet"
reported Sambandan's comment. Saying the Tamil people were "in full agreement with
our thinking" was a Freudian slip made by him in this regard.
Though the LTTE and TNA say that they will not stand in the way of Tamils desiring to
vote developments on ground indicate otherwise. Various front organizations of the
LTTE have been issuing statements, distributing leaflets and putting up posters in
Jaffna asking people to boycott the election. The LTTE also officially disowned a
leaflet issued in its name calling for voting.
When postal voting commenced in Jaffna a tiger backed student organization began
an active campaign urging a boycott. This resulted in only about 40% of those eligible
voting from Jaffna. The tiger controlled Kilinochchi registered a zero count.
Earlier when the media queried about people voting from tiger controlled areas SP
Thamilselvan replied that no special arrangements will be made to transport them to
the cluster booths in Government controlled areas. He also said that no special
concession would be given those going out to vote and that they would face normal
security checks and searches. The menacing threat was clear. People venturing to
vote will be "identified" and "sanctioned".
The important question now is whether the LTTE will merely encourage a boycott
indirectly or take direct measures to enforce a strict and widespread boycott of votes.
If the tigers decide on flexing muscle to bring about a massive boycott then a string of
related acts of omission and commission could be expected .
Even if the number of voters boycotting the poll as a result of direct and indirect LTTE
pressure cannot be quantified one thing is clear. The loser in this is going to be Ranil
Wickremasinghe. The votes that he would have obtained under normal
circumstances will now decrease.
Few Tamil votes will go to Rajapakse but a boycott is certainly favourable to him. In
the event that Rajapakse and Wickremasinghe are neck to neck on the basis of votes
from the rest the Sri Lankan Tamil vote could have clinched victory for
At Kilinochchi R. Sambandan did not refer disparagingly to Rajapakse or
Wickremasinghe. He emphasised a general apathy on the part of Tamils as opposed
to antipathy towards particular candidates.
Other tiger media in Sri Lanka and abroad have not been so discreet. They have
begun over the past few days an intensive onslaught. The bulk of criticism is levelled
not against Rajapakse the Sinhala "hawk" but against Wickremasinghe the perceived
Mahinda Rajapakse and the SLFP - JVP - JHU alliance is depicted as the known devil.
The Tamils know their stance and so know where they stand with Rajapakse. Ranil
Wickremasinghe and his party are now painted not as the unknown angel but an
unknown devil. Wickremasinghe;s stance is ambiguous and so more dangerous it is
Rajapakse is the strident cobra but Wickremasinghe is a silent viper. One is the
"seerikkadikkum Naham" (the naya that hisses and strikes). The other is the
"seeraamal kadikkum pidaian" (the polonga that bites without hissing). The latter is
deadlier than the former.
The immediate target of the proposed boycott therefore is Wickremasinghe. If the
status quo is transformed as a consequence of the boycott he stands to lose greatly.
The objective of the entire LTTE - TNA exercise seems to be exactly that. The greater
the boycott the lesser Wickremasinghe's chances of victory
The comments made by Ranil Wickremasinghe at Palaly, the purported speech made
by Naveen Dissanayake at Ginigathena and the interview given by Milinda Moragoda
to an English daily are now being used to justify the anti - Ranil boycott.
What is being glossed over in this is the frontal onslaught launched against
Wickremasinghe by former Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS) leader
Balakumaran now a trusted deputy of Pirapakaran.It was that "lecture" over "Voice of
Tigers" radio that opened the floodgates of anti - Ranil sentiment.
Basically the LTTE is disillusioned and disappointed with Wickremasinghe. It must be
understood that the manifesto and conduct of Wickremasinghe's campaign was not
enough for the LTTE to support it openly without losing credibility in the eyes of the
Tamils. But if the TNA was allowed by the LTTE to negotiate with the UNP the situation
may have been different.I
t is however a moot point whether the call for a boycott - direct or indirect - will help
the LTTE in the long run. It is possible that a Wickremasinghe defeat made possible
through a tiger boycott would strengthen the victor Rajapakse in an unimaginable
The match however is not over for Wickremasinghe. The LTTE has not called for an
open boycott. It is highly unlikely that such a boycott will be successful in the Norh -
East. Apart from the Sinhala and Muslim voters even the Tamil voter cannot be
controlled easily. If he or she felt it was necessary to vote then it would be difficult to
impose restrictions without terror and violence. Doing so would undermine LTTE
image further. This is why the LTTE is not calling for a public boycott. If voters keep
away in large numbers it would claim success. But if people vote in large numbers it
would say the decision was that of the people.
Let us also not forget that the people were getting ready to vote in large numbers
when the LTTE made its intervention. This is a decision imposed from the top. As for
the people there were many valid reasons to vote. This is no ordinary election. The
Sinhala supremacist alliance of Rajapakse seeks to undermine the minorities and
reverse the road to a solution. Whatever Wickremasinghe's faults he will not espouse
the policies outlined by Rajapakse. As the Catholic Bishops have appealed it is
necessary for the people to vote and vote wisely.
As for the LTTE and TNA the attempt to encourage a Tamil boycott is one more
exercise in political futility. Once again the Tamils are to be driven into bleak
wilderness. The Presidential election is one opportunity for the minorities to exercise
their clout. The Muslims and Plantation Tamils are grasping that eagerly but Sri
Lankan Tamils are being asked to forgo that chance.It is imperative that the racial and
religious minorities should stand together against the Sinhala - Buddhist juggernaut
threatening to crush them. The LTTE - TNA call for a boycott is nothing but a betrayal
in that context.
With only a few days to go for the election it is unclear about what lies ahead. Will the
Tamils defy the LTTE and vote in large numbers? Will the LTTE realise its blunder
and ease up on its stance? Will the UNP change tactics and pander to Sinhala
hardline sentiments at this late stage? One does not know.
But what one knows is that a victory for Sinhala hawks due to a Tamil boycott is a
tragic development indeed. Wickremasinghe has lost support among Sinhala voters
due to his perceived sympathy for the tigers. Let it not be forgotten that it was he who
de - proscribed the LTTE and signed a ceasefire agreement. For the Tamils to go
against him at this late stage would amount to a betrayal. The only "sin" he has
committed is taking the Tamils for granted. The LTTE does not hold a monopoly on
political wisdom. The people defied the LTTE and stayed back in Jaffna during
Riviresa in 1995. That is how Jaffna remains a Tamil region still. If the people followed
the LTTE blindly it would have been a disaster.
Likewise the situation requires a peoples initiative. The Tamils should vote to
safeguard their interests. It is one thing for Rajapakse to win despite Tamils voting.
But it is entirely another matter for him to win due to a Tamil boycott. Besides a
boycott means the motley crew of Tamils supporting Mahinda can rig polls with ease.
The Tamil people and all right thinking Sri Lankans must realise that despite
Wickremasinghe's shortcomings the chances of war under his presidency are less
than that of Rajapakse. It is the Tamils who bear the brunt of war. Let them not be
indirectly responsible for inviting war upon themselves through boycotting polls.
Even the LTTE must realise that a boycott is like cutting the nose off to spite the face.
Also the LTTE case will be strengthened greatly if it supported voting at an election
and the Sinhala hardliners won despite it. On the other hand a Rajapakse victory due
to a tiger inspired boycott will not be helpful to the LTTE internationally. It will be seen
as a tiger engineered victory to ensure outbreak of war. Such a perception will be
harmful to the LTTE in the long run.
Hope springs eternal. Let us hope then that what has happened is only a tempest in a
tea cup and all parties concerned act quickly to prevent more damage. Too much is at
stake in this election. The forces of chauvinism have to be opposed not through bullet
but by the ballot. The Tamil people should not relegate themselves or allow
themselves to be relegated to the sidelines as spectators. They cannot remain
isolated as the consequences of the election will definitely affect them too.
The Tigers, TNA and Tamils must realise that any realistic solution cannot be worked
out by the "Sinhala" side alone. It requires the cooperation and participation of all
particularly the LTTE. Likewise the Tamils cannot boycott a Presidential election and
imagine themselves to be immune from the fall - out. Whatever the result its
consequences will certainly affect them. It is better therefore to try and influence the
verdict to some extent at least in a manner favourable to them. For this the Tamils
must vote regardless of any call for a boycott.