By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Whenever demands or proposals are put forward to devolve more powers so that the Tamil and Muslim people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces could have a greater role in administering their areas of historic habitation one of the standard responses is to point out that more Tamils and Muslims live outside those two provinces.
It is also an incontrovertible fact that the greater part of Tamils of recent Indian origin described generally as Up Country Tamils or Plantation Tamils or Hill Country Tamils reside in the seven Sinhala majority provinces.
It is also pointed out ad nauseam that there is no necessity for a separate State or devolutionary unit in the North and East when so many Tamils are living in peace, prosperity and harmony with their Sinhala brothers and sisters in provinces outside the North-east.
The crucial question however is whether these Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern provinces enjoy political representation in Parliament and Provincial councils corresponding to their numerical strength in the seven “southern” provinces.
The recently concluded Parliamentary elections has once again drawn attention to this issue of equitable Tamil and Muslim representation. This column will focus on the question of Tamil representation for now and hopefully will examine the Muslim aspect in a future article.
The stark reality of General Elections 2010 is the decline of Tamil political representation outside the North and East. This drop is particularly striking when compared to the results of the previous Parliamentary poll in 2004.
The premier political organization of the Plantation Tamils, the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) led by Arumugan Thondaman got eight seats in 2004. The CWC or “Ilangai Thozhilaalar Kaangirass” contested in association with the United National Party (UNP) but crossed over to the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government later.
The CWC got three seats in the Tamil-majority Nuwara-Eliya district with Thondaman, Muthu Sivalingam and Jegatheeswaran getting elected. It got two seats in Badulla district with Vadivel Suresh and Satchithanandan winning.
The CWC also fielded a Muslim candidate Faizer Mustapha who got elected in Kandy district. In addition veteran Politician MS Sellasamy and V. Puthirasigamany were appointed as CWC National list MP’s.
This CWC tally however began rapidly decreasing. Vadivel Suresh and then Faizer Mustapha joined government ranks. Later the CWC itself quit the UNP and joined the Govt. Subsequently Puthirasigamani quit the CWC and remained as an independent in the govt.
During the tail- end of last year Sellasamy and Satchithanandan also quit CWC and went over to the opposition.Thus the CWC Parliamentary strength had dwindled from eight to three at the time of dissolution.
The second largest Party representing Up Country Tamils is the Malaiaha Makkal Munnani (Up-Country Peoples Front). Its charismatic founder-leader Periyasamy Chandrasekharan passed away on January 1st this year.
In 2004 the Up-Country Peoples Front (UCPF) contested along with the UNP but fielded a separate list in Nuwara-Eliya district. Chandrasekharan was the solitary MP to be elected but the UCPF got a national list slot when Radhakrishnan from Colombo was appointed.
Subsequently the UCPF also joined the Government. After Chandrasekharan’s demise the next on the UCPF list Arulsamy was deemed to have been elected as MP. But by then Arulsamy had quit the party and formed a new one.
Mano Ganesan was another MP to be elected on the UNP ticket in 2004. He won from Colombo district. Ganesan’s party was known then as Western Peoples Front. Later it was changed to Democratic Peoples Front (DPF) or “Jananaayaga Makkal Munnani”.
A Tamil of Jaffna origin was also elected from Colombo district in 2004. He was none other than the controversial Thiyagarajah Maheswaran who had won from the UNP in Jaffna in 2000 and 2001. Maheswaran had moved to Colombo in 2004 to avoid friction with the LTTE sponsored TNA and created history by being the first Tamil of Sri Lankan origin to win in Colombo after Independence. He was shot dead in Colombo on January 1st 2008.
There was also Lakshman Kadirgamar appointed on the national list of UPFA. Though Kadirgamar regarded himself abouve ethnic origin the fact remained that he was indeed a Sri Lankan whose political ambition transcended the Northern and eastern provinces.
Another Tamil MP was Ramalingam Chandrasekharan of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). This well-known activist from the plantation proletariat was appointed a national list MP.
It could be seen therefore that Ten Tamil MP’s from the CWC,UCPF and DPF along with three Tamils from the UNP, UPFA and JVP took their seats in Parliament in 2004. There was also the Muslim MP from CWC making up a grand total of fourteen.
Compared to that figure the 2010 Parliamentary election results have been rather disappointing. The number of Tamil MP’s elected or appointed from outside the North and East has decreased to nine.
These include four from the CWC (three elected in Nuwara-Eliya and one appointed on the national list) three elected on the UNF list (two in Uwara – Eliya and one in Colombo) and two appointed from Colombo on the UNP national list.
Arguably the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) national list MP could also be classified as being from outside the North – East. The well-known lawyer MA Sumanthiran appointed by the TNA was born and bred in Colombo though his parents are of Jaffna origin.
The CWC that had eight seats in 2004 has been halved in 2010. Three were elected from the Nuwara – Eliya district. CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman got the highest number of preferences with 60,997. The other two Tamils from the CWC were Velsamy Rathakrishnan and Perumal Rajadurai.
Rathakrishnan who got 54,083 preferences had been for a long time provincial minister of Education in the Central Provincial council. Perumal Rajadurai who got 49,228 is a leading lawyer and Rotary club president from Nuara – Eliya.
Rajadurai is an inspiring success story for the deprived plantation youth. He was born into an estate worker family in Rockland estate in Udapussellawa in the Walapone electoral division. He rose up from humble origins through hard work and passed out as a lawyer in the nineties of the previous century.
Of the three CWC sitting MP’s from Nuwara Eliya district only Thondaman contested again. Muthu Sivalingam and Jegatheeswaran did not enter the fray but were placed on the national list. Though the CWC expected both to be nominated only one, Sivalingam became national list MP.
Apart from the four CWC Parliamentarians all the other Tamil MP’s are from the UNF/UNP. In Nuwara-Eliya two other Tamils were elected from the United National Front. They were Pazhani Digambaram with 39, 490 and Jeyaratnam Sri Renga with 33,948 preferences.
P. Digamparam a prominent businessman and industrialist is also the leader of “Thozhilaalar Thesiya Sangam” or National Union of Workers (NUW). The NUW was pioneered by the great VK Vellaiyan and CV Velupillai who broke away from the CWC in the sixties of the last century.
Digamparam and the NUW deputy-leader Mailvaganam Uthayakumar were members of the Provincial Council for Central Province. Both had contested for Parliament and conducted their election campaigns in a synchronised manner. Both were expected to win but Uthayakumar with 30,828 votes failed to get in.
The other Tamil MP elected on the UNF ticket from the district is the well-known Tamil media personality Jeyaratnam Sri Renga who heads a political party “pirajaigal Munnani” (Citizens Front). Renga is of Jaffna origin and was based in Colombo.
Yet he has managed to garner adequate Plantation Tamil votes and win in Nuwara-Eliya. Renga due to his “Minnal” (Lightning) TV show had become popular with Up Country Tamil youths.
Renga had grilled Up Country Tamil politicians in his TV programme and spotlighted the problems of the plantation Tamils. He had also conducted live events in Up Country towns where political leaders would be bombarded with questions about travails of Up Country Tamils.
As a result of these media hype Sri Renga had become some sort of “hero” to the Up Country masses. Such is the power of the medium. The educated Up Country Tamil youths who at one time flocked around P Chandrasekharan had now been attracted to Renga.
Among notables who failed to win in Nuwara-Eliya were former deputy – minister and leader of the “Malaiyahath Thesiya Thozhilalar Sangam” (Up-Country National workers union) general- secretary V.Puthirasigamani. He got only 2896 preferences.He contested under the betel symbol.
Another who contested under the betel symbol and lost was Santhanam Arulsamy.He had contested in 2004 on the UCPF list and come second to Chandrasekharan. He then split from the party and formed “Thozhilalar Viduthalai Munnani” (Workers Liberation Front).
He later contested Central provincial council elections successfully and became a provincial minister. Though he was out of the UCPF Arulsamy was declared as MP after Chandrasekharan’s death.Arulsamy was tipped to do well at the 2010 hustings but got only 5855 votes.
Among notables who contested under the Elephant symbol and lost in Nuwara – Eliya were Subbiah Sathasivam and Letchumanan Bharathidasan. Sathasivam a former CWC stalwart and MP had later split and formed “Ilankai Thozhilalar Ikkiya Munnani” (Ceylon Workers United Front).
He had contested the Central Province Council and won. After being with the UPFA govt for several years Sathasivam crossed over to the opposition last year. Sathasivam got 24,852 preference votes.
Bharathidasan was Chandrsekharan’s deputy in the UCPF and was deputy chairman of the Talawakelle-Lindula urban council. Afte Chandrasekharan’s demise Bharathidasan joined the Mano Ganesan led DPF with a large number of UCPF activists.
He was placed on the UNF list for Nuwara-Eliya as the DPF nominee. Bharathidasan was expected to do very well but got only 7705 preference votes.
Of the MP’s elected from Nuwara-Eliya only Arumugan was an “old- timer” having contested successfully since 1994. All the others are first-timers to Parliament. Five of the seven MP’s from Nuwara-Eliya are Tamils. In 2004 four were Tamils.
This “rise” in Nuwara-Eliya was not reflected in other districts. Badulla district with 116,000 estimated Tamil voters had returned two MP’s from the CWC in 2004. This time there were none.
Kandy district with 85,000 Tamil voters also did not return a Tamil MP despite the strenuous efforts of Mano Ganesan.Other districts like Matale, Kegalle and Ratnapura also did not return a single Tamil MP.
In Colombo The DPF provincial councillor from the Western Province Praba Ganesan got elected as MP with 42,851 preferences. His colleague N. Kumaraguruparan failed to make it with 34,205.
Two other MP’s were appointed from Colombo as national list MP’s by the UNP.
One was the UNP treasurer and long-standing Prty member DM Swaminathan. This respected lawyer is a scion of the Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan-Arunachalam family and was made MP to represent Colombo Tamils of Sri Lankan origin.
The other UNP national list Tamil MP was Ramiah Yogarajan. R. Yogarajan had represented Colombo district in 1994-2000 as a CWC Mp. He had also served as national ist MP later. Yogarajan had quit the CWC last year and joined the UNP. He was appointed by the party as MP to represent the Colombo Tamils of Indian origin.
The decline in Tamil representation has been a crucial concern for the Tamil political parties. Most Tamil parties in the South had contested under the Elephant or betel symbols. There had been pre-poll arrangements about extra nominations through the national lists. These pledges were not honoured fully after the polls.
This has caused much bickering and dissension leading to fractures in political alliances.
The CWC was promised two national list seats but only one was given. Though unhappy Arumugan Thondaman has not chosen to create a row over it and adopts a wait and see attitude.Even Wimal Weerawansa and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) are reportedly unhappy over breached promises about national list nominations.
In the case of the UNF, Mangala Samaraweera of SLFP (M) was also not given the national list MP seat promised. He too remains quiet.
But not so the DPF and NUW. Both Mano Ganesan and P. Digamparam have pressed the UNP to deliver on the national list MP’s. When refused both have opted to pull out of the UNF.
P. Digamparam stated in Parliament that the NUW was displeased with the UNP over being denied the national list seat promised and pledged support to the UPFA govt from opposition ranks. The NUW was angry over Ranil Wickremasinghe failing to appoint NUW secretary Thilakraj as promised earlier.
In the case of the DPF the matter was more complicated. The DPF expected a national list seat as arranged earlier. It was to be given to either Mano Ganesan who had lost in Kandy or Kumaraguruparan who lost in Colombo. The UNP however had defaulted on its promise and tried to explain it away by invoking the party decision of not appointing defeated candidates.
Praba Ganesan the DPF National organizer and newly elected MP was indignant in speaking to the media. He warned the UNP leader that his party would react if denied a national list MP seat as promised. Praba Ganesan who is the younger brother of Mano told the BBC Tamil service that discussions were currently on about joining the government.
When this column contacted Mano Ganesan the DPF leader was cautious about future moves. He said that some talks with government leaders and DPF personalities were going on in a “private,unofficial” capacity. Mano Ganesan said that he himself had not participated in any of these talks.
Mano G also said that the party politbureau would meet over the week-end and finalise matters. While the pull-out from the UNF was certain the dilemma was about functioning separately or teaming up with the UPFA government.
The DPF was expected to conduct a media briefing on April 26th or 27th to announce its decision.
Ganesan seemed very hurt and angry over the alleged UNP “betrayal”. According to him the DPF, SLMC, SLFP (M) and UNP were the co-founders of the UNF. It was decided then that each of the founders would definitely get a minimum of one national list seat. Thereafter other seats would be allocated on the basis of votes received by each party.
Mano Ganesan had contested on the UNP ticket in 2001 and 2004 and won. Unlike the CWC or UCPF he had not deserted the UNP folds after winning. He had stood shoulder to shoulder with Wickremasinghe through thick and thin.
The sustained campaign against human rights violations by the state like the notorious “white van disappearances” had been spearheaded by him amidst great danger.
Had Mano Ganesan contested in Colombo it would have been a virtual cakewalk for him. Instead he chose to contest in Kandy district against tremendous odds.This was due to two reasons. One was to mount an effective campaign and ensure the long –denied Tamil representation from the district. The second reason was due to a request made by the UNP hierarchy.
Apparently Ganesan was relying on the promised national list seat as some form of “political insurance” if he failed to win in Kandy. But now The UNP was backtracking complained Ganesan.
He said after it was known that the UNP was entitled to nine seats on the national list it was decided that five would go to the UNP, two to the SLMC and one each to the DPF and SLFP (M).Shortly before noon on April 21st there was a reversal and the SLFP(M) and DPF were omitted.Ganesan alleged that Wickremasinghe had gone back on this assurance due to pressure from hardliners in the party.
When asked about the UNP policy decision of not appointing defeated candidates on the national list, Ganesan responded by saying that such a condition did not apply to UNF constituents like the DPF. It was a UNP and not UNF decision.
He also pointed out that the UNP was duplicitous on the matter as it had appointed Ms. Anoma Gamage the wife of defeated UNP candidate Daya Gamage in Digamadulla district on the national list. People can see through this ruse, Ganesan said.
Ganesan also claimed that he and his party should be treated as an exception and given preferential treatment as he had undertaken great risks in challenging the high-handed tactics of Mahindaananda Aluthgamage in Nawalapitiya.
Another grouse was over Tamil representation in Colombo district. The DPF had been promised three slots on the candidate list. But later the UNP wanted one to field a Tamil candidate of its own. The DPF agreed and gave up one candidate.
UNP Western Provincial Councillor and lawyer Ram was to be the Tamil candidate. But UNP stalwart Ravi Karunayake who was cultivating the Colombo North electoral division had objected strongly to a UNP Tamil candidate and pressured Wickremasinghe into withdrawing Ram’s candidacy.
Neither Ganesan nor Digamparam seem to have entered into any memorandum of understanding or written agreement with the UNP leader about national list allocations. They seem to have relied on verbal assurances given by Wickremasinghe. As Digamparam told BBC “we trusted Ranil as he was a gentleman in politics”.
The BBC Tamil service also asked Ravi Karunayake about the controversy. It appeared that Karunanayake was unable to categorically deny that such promises about national list appointments had been made to the DPF or NUW.
Instead of a straight-forward denial Karunanayake posed a challenge asking these parties to furnish documents that such pledges had been made. Against the backdrop of these parties whining that they trusted Wickremasinghe’s oral promise and that there were no written agreements Karunanayake’s countering sounded cheap and hollow.
Karunayake added insult to injury by ridiculing the two parties as poor losers. One fielded two candidates and one won. The other fielded sixteen candidates and got only one seat, Karunanayake said. He also charged that both parties were ready to join govt ranks and were using this issue as a pretext to ditch the UNF.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of Karunanayake’s response it does seem clear that the UNP is going to embark on a new course of political action. The party is likely to refrain from alliances with political parties espousing minority community interests and instead deal with the non – Sinhala ethnicities directly. The appointment of its own members like Swaminathan and Yogarajan as national list MP’s is a pointer to the future.
Mano Ganesan’s predicament as a consequence of his failure to win in Kandy district is also a source of worry as far as Tamil political representation outside the North and East is concerned.
Although the anti-democratic antics of Aluthgamage has received much publicity there is a larger and more deep-seated problem in Kandy district.
It was in 1994 that a Tamil was elected to Parliament from Kandy district. Rajaratnam of the CWC contesting on the UNP list was elected. Thereafter no Tamil has been elected. One of the reasons attributed is the systematic violence directed against Tamils in a bid to intimidate them during elections.
What happened in Nawalapitiya was perhaps the tip of the iceberg. But according to Up Country Tamil politicians this practice prevails in other areas of the district too.
In the current election apart from Nawalapitiya electoral divisions like Gampola, Kundasale, Hewaheta, Pathadumbara, Udadumbara etc have also suffered such intimidation of Tamil voters.
As a result of this Tamil voters in Kandy district do not vote at all or vote for non-Tamil candidates to avoid trouble. Thus no Tamil stands a chance of getting elected from the district.
It was to force a change in this situation that Mano Ganesan moved from Colombo to Kandy.
His candidacy was viewed as a threat by some elements and protest demonstrations were staged against the alleged “intruder”.
Ganesan countered this by meeting the Mahanayake Theros of Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters and explaining that he was not an outsider to Kandy. Ganesan pointed out that he was born in Ampitiya and had studied at St. Anthony’s College,Katugastota.
AS the election campaign unfolded the antics of Aluthgamage captured media attention. Initially Tamil voters were intimidated. Then the Muslims. Thereafter Sinhala supporters of the UNP were targeted. Finally in the crazy hunt for “Manape” supporters of UPFA stalwarts from the district were also threatened.
Despite the prospect of defeat, Mano Ganesan to his credit took up the challenge and invaded the forbidden territory of Nawalapitiya electorate. His supporters were attacked and according to DPF sources Mano himself was hit at least ten times.
When Ganesan accompanied the UNP’s Lakshman Kiriella into Nawalapitiya a mob surrounded them with the support of some partisan Police officers. Kiriella was abused in filth.The UNF supporters also retaliated and beat back the assailants.
On election day Tamil and Muslim voters were threatened and at least 13 polling booths and a counting station were invaded. The Elections Commissioner annulled polls in Nawalapitiya and ordered a re-poll for April 20th in 37 polling stations. Around 36,000 Sinhala, 11,000 Tamil and 6,000 Muslim voters had to vote again.
In spite of elaborate security arrangements hoodlums went to areas where Tamils were concentrated and warned them not to vote. As a result thousands of frightened Tamils kept away.
The poll concluded without any major violence. But when results were announced no Tamil had got enough preferences warranting election.
Mano Ganesan contesting on the Elephant symbol got 28,033 preference votes. Former Kandy district MP Rajaratnam also contesting on the UNP ticket got 16,967 votes. Madhiyugarajah of the CWC contesting under the betel symbol got 7,920 preferences.
Roughly about 35 to 37,000 out of 85,000 Tamil voters in Kandy district seem to have voted. No Tamil was elected. The Muslim voters in the district number round 140,000. Four Muslim MP’s from both the UNF and UPFA were elected. This includes Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakeem.
What Mano Ganesan wanted to project by contesting in Kandy was the systemic intimidation of Tamil voters in the district. He wished to draw attention to this prevalent practice.
Though Ganesan has succeeded to some extent the antics of Aluthgamage have resulted in this being viewed as an “aberration” and nothing more .What is of importance is to note that Nawalapitiya 2010 was not an isolated event but a virulent manifestation of a deplorable process.
While the violence and intimidation in Kandy district helps to understand the low turn –out of Tamil voters and corresponding decrease in Tamil representation that alone is not enough to provide an explanation for the prevailing situation.
It appears that voter apathy on the one hand and fragmentation of votes on the other are contributory factors of great magnitude in reducing Tamil representation.
If one is to take Nuwara – Eliya the number of Tamil voters is estimated at 255,000. But when the preference votes gained by Tamil candidates on the UPFA and UNF lists are calculated it appears that only around 100,000 plus Tamils have voted in the district. There was no systemic violence against Tamils here.
Likewise 116,000 Tamil voters are estimated to be in Badulla district. Vadivel Suresh contesting on the UPFA ticket got 27,827 preferences this time. He got some Sinhala votes too from the Passara electoral division. TV Sennan of CWC contesting as UPFA got 7587 preferences.
Satchithanandan and Velayutham contesting on the UNF ticket got 22, 277 and 25, 056 preferences respectively. Uva Provincial Councillor Aravinthakumar of the UCPF who contested separately got 11, 474 preferences. Thus only around 60 -65,000 Tamils seemed to have voted in Badulla district.
This seems to have been the case in Colombo district too. When the preference votes obtained by Tamil candidates and parties/groups are calculated the pattern does not indicate a high turn out by Tamils.
This is further illustrated by the comparatively lesser turn out in electoral divisions with large concentrations of Tamils. Tamils of Sri Lankan origin in Colombo are more to blame in this respect.
Another problem is the high aggregate of spoiled votes in the Up- Country districts. The number of rejected votes in the districts of Nuwara – Eliya, Kandy, Matale, Badulla, Kegalle and Ratnapura were 37,236 (12.27%), 58,333 (9.45%)19,310(8.98%),24,169 (6.41%),25,965(6.68%) and 37,022 (7.71% ) respectively.
Preliminary surveys indicate that a substantial number of these rejected votes were in polling stations in Tamil areas. One reason for the votes getting spoiled was that voters had simply voted for numbers belonging to other parties or groups instead of the party for which they had cast their votes
Another reason for reduced representation was proliferation of candidates and fragmentation. Individual candidates received preference votes that were not enough to ensure their election.
Thus these votes helped enhance the number of MP’s to be elected from the party but did not help certain individual candidates to win. Thus these votes gained by some candidates helped others to reap the benefits.
Another feature of this poll was the tendency on the part of many candidates to avoid direct canvassing or holding pocket meetings on a wide scale. Instead of interacting with voters directly many preferred to reach out through posters,leaflets and extensive media advertisements. There was an “impersonal” atmosphere in the campaign.
One other aspect of the recent elections is the downfall of the Up Country Peoples Front. After its leader Chandrasekharan died in January the party is led by his widow Shanthinidevi a retired school teacher. The UCPF Contested separately with her heading the list in Nuwara-Eliya and got 13,109. It contested under Aravinthakumar in Badulla district and got 11,481 votes.. In Colombo the UCPF contested under the aegis of the UPFA. Its outgoing national list MP Radhakrishnan got 9,064 preferences and another candidate Ravichandran got 4,210.
Despite an anticipated sympathy wave for the grieving widow the results were not favourable for the UCPF. It has failed dismally. Since the UCPF evolved and revolved around Chandrasekharan it may very well decay into oblivion after his death.
The important lesson to be learnt from the election results is that the general pattern of Tamil voting is on the decline in districts outside the North and East.
The decline in the North and East is understandable to an extent as the effects of prolonged conflict are still felt. Some negative consequences are yet to be rectified.
But why is voting decreasing among Tamils in other areas? Why should voters in Tamil majority Nuwara-Eliya district keep away from voting? Why are Tamil voters in Colombo apathetic?
It is a sad truth that many Tamil voters are yet disenfranchised due to lack of proper identification and citizenship documents. It is an indictment on Plantation trade unions that these issues are not resolved yet
But why are eligible voters not voting in large numbers?
This is the question to be addressed and remedied if the decline of Tamil political nrepresentation is to be prevented in the seven “Sinhala” majority provinces.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org