(Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran is interviewed by Arthur Wamanan of The Nation )
Q: TNA is part of the common opposition coalition with the UNP. On what basis are you part of such a coalition?
This joint opposition was formed sometime ago when the fuel prices went up. The parties came together and started agitations throughout the country. We had our very first protest outside the Fort Railway Station. We have had frequent protests. What happened the other day was only a formalization process. And even in the Memorandum of Understanding that was brought forward that day, it was clearly stated that the parties could have their own political agendas and ideologies. But this coalition was formed for the purpose of protesting against this particular regime identified as the Rajapaksa regime for the various injustices the people have to suffer at the hands of this regime.
Q: The TNA has been part of several coalitions in the past. The opposition too, has been considered quite weak in the current political scenario. Do you think this coalition would help in any way?
That is why it has become necessary for parties in the opposition to come together. Otherwise, the opposition will be very weak and splintered. This way, all the opposition forces can be brought together to be more effective.
Q: What is the motive behind the opposition platform? Would you contest elections in future?
The MoU itself says that this is not an electoral pact at all. It says that we could contest against each other. But, it does not rule out electoral pacts between parties that are part of the coalition.
Q: How do you intend to go ahead with the movement?
The same work the organization has been doing will continue. We have been having meetings in various parts of the country. A joint program has been scheduled to be held in Jaffna and Kilinochchi during the latter part of this week. There will be frequent agitations by this organization.
Q: The JVP was not part of the coalition. Why?
The JVP has been invited. But it has chosen not to participate.
Q: Have they declined the offer to join the coalition or are they considering it?
I am not too sure of the dynamics of that.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled to be held in Colombo?
A: Well, Sri Lanka wants to have the cake and also eat it. They want the CHOGM be held here. But they do not mind breaching all the Commonwealth principles and values. That is not a sustainable thing. You must choose one or the other. Sri Lanka should get out of the Commonwealth if it is not happy with it. You cannot criticize the Commonwealth and particularly violate all its principles and values and at the same time want to have such events to show we are part of the Commonwealth. Therefore it is increasingly becoming untenable for the CHOGM to be held in Sri Lanka.
Q: Sri Lanka was put in a spot of bother at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last year where a US backed resolution was passed against it. India too supported the motion. What do think would happen this time around?
Sri Lanka has been giving various assurances to the UNHRC. The most important assurance Sri Lanka has given is that there will be an accountability mechanism. That is contained in the joint statement that President Mahinda Rajapaksa made with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on May 26, 2009. In that, he also gave an undertaking that the long worn out national issue will also be resolved. And there have been various other similar assurances given to the international community. The US-backed resolution was passed last year in this backdrop, urging Sri Lanka to address the question of accountability in a credible way, and also implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which was the government’s own creation.
This year, the concern of all these countries is greater. There were many countries that were neutral last time and those countries in their comments specifically stated that they were remaining neutral not because they did not want accountability addressed, or they did not want the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. They wanted both very particularly. They wanted to give a chance to the Sri Lankan government.
The government was given a chance and has demonstrated to the world that they are not interested in the least in doing either of those recommendations. So, even the countries that were neutral last time will be compelled to vote for the resolution this time. India voted for the resolution last time, and there is no reason why they should change their stance this time around.
Q: The government has said it would provide a detailed report on the progresses made on the said aspects of the resolution. Are you aware of such a report or of its content?
There cannot be any information there. It will be fiction. Any good writer can write up something, because there is no detail to give. There has been no progress whatsoever. So they will have to hire a fiction writer for this purpose. It might sound interesting, but will be a hoax.
Q: The TNA-army friction seems to be continuing, especially after the attack on a newspaper distributor in Jaffna. The military also said it would take action against TNA for accusing the army for the attack. What do you have to say?
The military cannot take high ground and threaten legal action against the TNA, when on July 16, 2011 the army stormed into a TNA meeting and assaulted the people and chased the crowd away. They were fully armed and were carrying long batons and in full uniform. We made a police complaint immediately after that, and no action has been taken to date. We were given assurance by the Jaffna Military Commander that all soldiers who took part in the assault will be court martialled. Nothing of that sort has happened. Without being able to produce the persons responsible for that, the Jaffna Security Forces Commander has no moral authority to take objection to our accusations against the military.
Q: What is your take on the arrest and release of the Jaffna University students?
We do welcome the gesture by the President to release the students. But, here is a situation where there is no process, not even finding whether guilty, and there isn’t even a production before a judicial officer. The way this happened has raised many an eyebrow. If he is able to release them with one word of command that only means that they were held at his pleasure. There are 39 others who were arrested at the same time who continue to undergo rehabilitation without having been produced before the court.