by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Chairman & 2 Ministers – TNA; Chief Minister & 1 minister – SLMC ; 1 Minister – UNP
The Tamil National Alliance(TNA)which contested the Eastern Provincial Council elections under the House symbol of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK) has initiated moves to form the Eastern provincial administration despite the party coming second in the hustings with eleven seats in the thirty-seven member council.
The United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) with twelve seats edged out the TNA by one seat to become the party with the most number of seats in the Eastern council. Coming first entitled the UPFA to additional bonus seats of two thus taking its total to fourteen.
The single seat won by the National Freedom Front(NFF) in Trincomalee district has enabled the UPFA to notch fifteen seats in a council of 37 members inclusive of the two bonus seats.The NFF is a constituent of the Govt although it contested separately due to differences in seat allocation.
Likewise the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress(SLMC) also contested separately in all three Eastern districts despite being a Govt constituent. The SLMC has obtained seven seats in the newly elected council.
Since the SLMC remains part of the UPFA led Govt the 7 seats won by it are also regarded by some as part of the overall tally won by the Govt. Substantial sections of the SLMC however do not subscribe to that position. These sections opine that they are a distinctly separate entity that contested in opposition to the Govt and campaigned on that platform. Therefore the SLMC has declared that a final decision of regarding the party position will be taken in the next few days.
This stance has provided the TNA a window of opportunity that the premier Sri Lankan Tamil political formation has been quick to seize upon.
TNA leader and Trincomalee district MP Rajavarothayam Sampanthan has telephoned SLMC leader and Justice minister Rauf Hakeem and invited the Muslim Congress to stand with the opposition and form a joint Eastern Provincial administration together with the TNA and United National Party (UNP).
The TNA has said the chief minister of the envisaged provincial administration can be a Muslim leader from the Muslim Congress.
Some other TNA representatives have also contacted SLMC representatives and made similar offers.
It is learnt that Rauf Hakeem while thanking Sampanthan for his offer has kept the SLMC position open without accepting or declining the offer. Hakeem has reportedly assured Sampanthan that the SLMC would decide on its stance after inner party consultations within the next few days.
Meanwhile the TNA also had discussions with the UNP and obtained its support to form an administration. UNP and opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe agreed to lend support to the TNA to form an administration after talks with Sampanthan.
Thereafter UNP general secretary Tissa Attanayake has officially written a letter pledging support to the TNA to form an administration.
Since the UNP has won four seats in the elections the combined tally of TNA(11) and UNP(4) is also fifteen thus equaling the UPFA-NFF total.Both the UPFA-NFF as well as TNA –UNP do not have the necessary minimum of nineteen in the council of thirty – seven.
In this “hung” council situation the SLMC with seven seats is in the position of king maker as Muslim Congress support is essential for either formation to acquire the necessary majority to form an administration.
Since the UPFA with 14 seats is the single largest party in the council the Eastern Province Governor Rear Admiral (retd)Mohan Wijeywickrama is expected to invite that party to form an administration with the required viable majority. If the UPFA is unable to procure a majority then the Governor has the option of inviting the TNA with the second highest number of seats to prove its majority and form an administration.
The TNA however has taken the initiative to write to the Governor beforehand stating that it is in a position to form the administration.
Senior MP from Jaffna Somasuntharam Senathirajah alias “Mavai” Senathirajah in his capacity as ITAK General secretary has already sent an official letter to Governor Wijewickrama outlining the TNA position. He has also enclosed a copy of the official UNP pledging support to the TNA.
Senathirajah has pointed out that with the support of the UNP the TNA now has fifteen seats in the council and is on par with the UPFA.This entitles the TNA to be treated by the Governor as being equal to the UPFA in forming an administration. Senathirajah has also emphasized that the seats won by parties other than the UPFA amount to twenty-two (TNA -11,UNP -04 and SLMC-07)and therefore comprise the majority.
On that basis the party has requested the Governor to invite the TNA to form the administration and stated that it was confident of forming a viable administration with the required majority.
TNA circles are confident of securing the necessary majority with UNP and SLMC support. It is planning to offer the chief ministership and a ministerial post to the SLMC and one ministerial post to the UNP. The TNA contesting under the ITAK symbol hopes to retain the chairman and two ministerial posts.
The Tamil National Alliance has once again proved through the elections that it is the premier political formation of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The TNA has won three out of ten seats in Trincomalee, Six out of Eleven in Batticaloa and two out of fourteen in Amparai.
The TNA with 193,827 votes was a close second to the UPFA with 200,044 votes in the Eastern province.The total votes received by the TNA for Eastern province in the 2010 Parliamentary elections was 126,398.
Despite increasing its vote bank by more than 50% from 2010 the TNA failed to become the single largest party in the Eastern council mainly due to voter apathy. The polling was comparatively low in the Tamil majority areas this time. More than 120,000 Tamils did not vote in Batticaloa district.
The TNA had hopes of winning three seats in Amparai, four seats in Trincomalee and eight seats in Batticaloa.Had this happened the TNA would have gotfifteen thus making it the party with most number of seats in the Eastern provincial council. This would have entitled it to two more bonus seats increasing its tally to seventeen. In such a situation the TNA could have formed the administration with UNP support alone.
This however did not happen and the UPFA which got only 7,000 votes more than the TNA came first.
The three TNA candidates who got elected from Trincomalee and their preference votes are – S.Thandayuthapani -20,850;Kumarasamy Nageswaran -10,910:Jegatheesan Janarthanan -8,560.
The Six TNA candidates who got elected from Batticaloa district are R. Thurairatnam -29,148;K.Thurairajasingham -27,719;G.Krishnapillai alias Vellimalai -20,200;P.Indrakumar -17,304;M.Nadarajah -16,681;K.Karunakaran alias Jana -16,536.
The two TNA candidates who got elected from Amparai district are T.Kalaiarasan -12,122;I.Murugesu -10,812:
Eleven of the Twelve Tamils elected to the Eastern Provincial Council are from the TNA. The only non – TNA Tamil candidate elected is former Eastern Provincial council chief minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan.Chandrakanthan the leader of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaipp Puligal(TMVP) contested on the UPFA betel symbol in Batticaloa district and obtained 22,338 preference votes.
While the TNA has already obtained UNP support and is rather optimistic about securing SLMC support the cooperation of the chief Muslim party is hardly a foregone conclusion observers say.
With the SLMC being a Govt constituent still the party is undecided and divided on the question of extending support it is pointed out. Opinion within party ranks is rather uncertain at the moment upon the course to be adopted.
While TNA leader Sampanthan has already invited Hakeem to join forces President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also extended an invitation to SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem for discussions to decide on the issue of support. The invitation was conveyed to Hakeem by Galle district MP and Presidential confidante Sajin de Vass Gunawardena.
Although influential sections of the party want the SLMC to form a joint administration along with opposition parties such as the TNA and UNP there is also a school of thought within the party that wants the Muslim Congress to throw in its lot with the Govt.
These sections want the SLMC to support the Govt at the Eastern provincial council and extract a greater share of ministerial and deputy ministerial posts in the Government. If the SLMC does not support the Govt then some of these sections may break away and join the Govt thus splitting the party.
Another prickly issue would be the Minsterial position currently held by Rauf Hakeem in the Government. It would be extremely difficult for the SLMC to remain as part of the Govt in Colombo on the one hand and be in opposition to the UPFA in Trincomalee on the other, it is pointed out.
Observers also say that the SLMC being well aware of the power it enjoys now as “king maker” is likely to hold out for a while without committing either way and utilize that time and space to negotiate with the Govt and extract greater concessions.
The SLMC has demonstrated that it is the premier political party of the Muslims in Amparai and Trincomalee districts by coming out on top in the Muslim majority electoral divisions of Pottuvil, Sammanthurai,Kalmunai and Muthur. The SLMC has four councillors from Amparai district,two councillors from Trincomalee and one from Batticaloa district
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org