by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillaiyan” is likely to be appointed as Chief Minister of the Eastern Province for the second time if the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance(UPFA)forms the Eastern Provincial Council Administration again.
Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan is the head of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaigap Puligal(TMVP)which is a faction that broke away from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in 2004.
The TMVP contested as part of the UPFA under the betel symbol at the Eastern Provincial council elections of 2008. Pillaiyan was appointed chief minister of the council despite protests from some Muslim members because the Govt at that point of time wanted an Eastern province Tamil to become the first chief minister of the Eastern province.
According to Informed sources the 37 year old former child soldier of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) widely known by his nom de guerre “Pillaiyan” is very likely to be re-appointed as chief minister for a minimum period of one year for the Eastern province if and when the UPFA forms the provincial administration.
This is chiefly due to the fact that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had reportedly given an assurance to that effect to Pillaiyan in order to make him comply with the decision to dissolve the Eastern province council a year before its term of office ended formally.
According to these sources President Rajapaksa has told Pillaiyan that he could be chief minister for a minimum of one year till Elections to the Northern province council are held in September 2013.
Thereafter Pillaiyan will step down from his chief minister position and become chairman of the Eastern council. A Muslim councilor would be appointed as Chief minister in place of Pillaiyan. A convention of rotating the Eastern chief ministership between Tamil and Muslim candidates is likely to be established.
Although elections to the Eastern council was due in 2013 only,President Rajapaksa decided to dissolve it early and hold fresh elections for it along with North Central and Sabaragamuwa Province elections.
Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan was very unhappy over this reported decision as it would have deprived him of another year of being in the chief minister’s chair. There was also pressure on the erstwhile chief minister by fellow council members to resist the premature dissolution of the council until its full term expired.
According to legal provisions the Governor of a Province can dissolve the council if and when the chief minister makes a recommendation for dissolution. Chandrakanthan was urged by councilors not to make such request for dissolution until the term of office duly ended.
Chandrakanthan therefore met President Rajapaksa and registered his protests and also conveyed the views of council members about proposed early dissolution.
President Rajapaksa however persuaded Pillaiyan to agree to an early dissolution by assuring him that he would be made chief minister again and could serve as CM for at least one year so that he (Pillaiyan) would not lose a year of being in office as chief minister.
Satisfied by the President’s assurance Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan willingly gave his consent to the early dissolution and duly wrote officially to Eastern Governor Rear Admiral(retd)Mohan Wijewickrama recommending the dissolution of the provincial council.
When the eastern election campaign got underway there was much campaigning among Muslims from both sides of the political divide that the chief minister post should be awarded to a Muslim this time.
Despite these expectations the TMVP campaign spearheaded by Pillaiyan under UPFA auspices focused on the fact that he would once again become chief minister if the UPFA won the polls. Pillaiyan also attacked the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) saying that the party led by Northern Tamils was trying to defeat him and deprive the Eastern province from getting a Tamil chief minister.
The Pillaiyan campaign of stating a Tamil would be Eastern chief minister gathered momentum to the point where his former chief Vinayagamurthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna started disputing it. Karuna who is a deputy minister in the UPFA govt ridiculed Pillaiyan and asserted that it would be his sister who would be made chief minister and not Chandrakanthan.
Though Pillaiyan and Karuna were close at one point deep differences had set in later. Karuna’s sister Rudramalar Gnanabaskaran a former school principal was also contesting provincial polls as an Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) nominee on the UPFA ticket.Subsequently she fared poorly in the polls.
The situation reminded many of the 2008 scenario where the Govt had the Tamils and Muslims contesting on the UPFA symbol to compete with each other in garnering votes. Both communities were promised the chief ministership if candidates of their community got the most number of votes and candidates.
Although the Muslim candidates performed comparatively better than the Tamil candidates in 2008 the Govt decided to appoint a Tamil as chief minister for political purposes.
The war with the LTTE was going on at that time and the Govt felt Pillaiyan would make a greater “showpiece” as an erstwhile LTTE childsoldier now “reformed” and working with the Govt.
Also the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces were now separated and it was felt that a Tamil should become the first chief minister of the East as the Tamil ethnicity was regarded as the single largest community in the province.
Although this decision led to heartburn among prospective Muslim Chief ministerial aspirants like M.Hizbullah, these ruffled feelings were soon smoothened.Hizbullah was made provincial minister with a lot of portfolios. Another Muslim Uduma Lebbe was also made minister.Later Hizbullah contested the Parliamentary polls in 2010,won ,and was made deputy minister.He was replaced by Zubair as provincial minister.
The current situation appears to be one where a Tamil would be made chief minister temporarily although the UPFA failed to get large numbers of votes in Tamil areas.Seven Muslims were elected on the UPFA ticket while only one Tamil , Pillaiyan, won under the betel symbol.If the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) joins the Govt – as it is most likely to do so – the Muslim councilors in Govt ranks would be fourteen as the SLMC also has seven elected councilors.
Despite this Pillaiyan the solitary Tamil winner from UPFA folds is very likely to be made chief minister. Pillaiyan who contested from Batticaloa district obtained 22, 380 preference votes at the final count and topped the UPFA list for the district.
There are however some misgivings about Pillaiyan’s performance as he is said to have romped home the winner after a mysterious late “surge” in counting after trailing behind for a considerable period of time. Pillaiyan got most of his votes when ballot boxes from the areas of Vakarai, Kathiraweli, Valaichenai, Pethalai,Nasivantheevu,Mankerni,Panichankerni,Kokkaticholai and Aayithiyamalai were counted.
Despite these “doubts” the chances of Pillaiyan being appointed again as Eastern chief minister appears rather high due to political reasons. Apart from President Rajapaksa’s assurance to him there are other factors too which weigh heavily in favour of Pillaiyan getting another lease as chief minister.
The Rajapaksa Government is being assailed on many fronts as being oppressive of Sri Lankan Tamils. Pillaiyan was the only Tamil chief minister so far. If he is replaced by a Sinhalese or Muslim these charges could get invigorated further.
The Northern Province elections if and when held in 2013 would result in a Tamil becoming chief minister as the North is predominantly Tamil (more than 90%)Until that happens the Govt would prefer the East to have a Tamil chief minister. Thereafter Pillaiyan could be made council chairman and be replaced by a Muslim Chief Minister.
One reason for President Rajapaksa to hold elections to provincial councils is to demonstrate that the Sri Lankan people are strongly backing the regime despite international setbacks like the UNHRC resolution in Geneva. It is also necessary to prove that not only the Sinhala majority but also the Tamil and Muslim minorities are endorsing him. In that respect the multi-ethnic Eastern province where the Tamil speaking people are in a majority is of vital importance.
Forming an administration again in the East is crucially necessary for the Rajapaksa regime. Doing so again under the previous Tamil chief minister would be of great value in the sphere of the “politics of optics”. This has enhanced chances of Pillaiyan becoming chief minister again.
The recent elections showed that the majority of Tamils in the province had voted for the TNA. The TNA that conducted an ethno-nationalist campaign is now prepared to form an administration with a Muslim chief minister. This is likely to be unpalatable to some Tamils. Pillaiyan’s accusation during the campaign that the TNA was trying to deprive the province of a Tamil chief minister struck a responsive chord in some Tamil circles.Hence a Tamil being appointed chief minister by the Govt is likely to help score a propaganda point against the TNA.
The Govt has also found Pillaiyan despite his sordid past to be flexible and adaptable in carrying out his chief minister duties. He has not asserted himself strongly or demanded greater devolution but has been content to obey diktat from Colombo without rocking the boat.
In the prevalent situation Pillaiyan is perceived as a safe bet when compared to potential contenders from the Muslim community. He is the known devil.Besides the internal strife between the SLMC and other constituents of the Govt like Athaullas National Congress, Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Muslim Congress and Muslim members of the SLFP are also prickly matters.
It would be better to have Pillaiyan as CM until these differences are reduced and a working arrangement is evolved it is felt. Pillaiyan is not seen as a threat in the current situation as he is the only Tamil Councillor in the UPFA and has no support bloc of his own in the council.
More importantly Pillaiyan has to some extent established amicable relations with the Muslims after he became chief minister. Some Tamils in the East were annoyed with him for allegedly siding with Muslims on some issues. Pillaiyan also provided a massive boost for Tamil – Muslim relations when he went in person to the Mosque in Kattankudi where the tigers had in 1990 brutally murdered Muslims engaged in prayer.In a significant gesture Pillaiyan embraced Hizbullah on the Mosque premises.
Under these circumstances Pillaiyan is deemed acceptable to both the Govt as well as several Muslim leaders of the province.Nevertheless there is a chance that Pillaiyan may not be made chief minister if the Muslim parties object strenuously in a united voice and instead agree among themselves to a common Muslim chief minister.
This however seems highly unlikely as the differences among Muslim leaders in the East on this matter are rather complicated. Athaulla’s nominee Uduma Lebbe is unacceptable to Muslim Congress. Badiutheen’s nominee Ameer Ali is unacceptable to the others. The SLFP senior from Kinniya ,Najeeb A Majeed is unpopular with Muslims from Amparai and Batticaloa. The councilors elected on the SLMC ticket including its deputy leader Nazeer Ahamed are not very welcome among other Muslim parties.
Even senior Muslim ministers may be concerned about who the Muslim chief minister would be as any one holding that post is likely to evolve as a strong and powerful leader of the Muslims.
Against this backdrop the prospects seem good for Pillaiyan. He could be chief minister for a while until the Muslim parties arrive at a working arrangement and select a suitable replacement.
The emerging scenario at present seems to be one where Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan would become the chief minister of the Eastern Province for the second time and hold office for a certain period of time until the Northern Province elections are held.
The nature of politics however is fickle and fluid and the best laid plans of men and mice could go awry!This may apply in Pillaiyan’s case too.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org