Leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), R. Sampanthan says that the TNA has discussed about a common candidate with all parties including President Mahinda Rajapaksa and UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Is the TNA ready for the upcoming elections?
A: Elections have not been announced yet but the developments indicate that there will be the Presidential Election at the beginning of the next year. After the Presidential Election is called, we can know who will contest. Perhaps, the incumbent President may contest. I have no idea whether he can or cannot. We are waiting to see. TNA has not taken any decision yet. We will discuss about elections with our people after the election is announced.
This election is crucial for the TNA, I think, as same as it is decisive for the other parties.
A: I admit it but the decisions will be taken only after the elections are summoned. We will take out time until then. The ideas of the Tamil people are vital for us. We must consult them. We will discuss with the leaders of the other parties after that. Then we will study what we can do and announce our position to the country.
What is the TNA stance about the common candidate?
A: I can’t say anything yet. No decision has been taken yet. There is a possibility of a common candidate. The President also introduces himself as the common candidate. We cannot take a decision without knowledge about the common candidate and his policies. If somebody invites us for discussions, we will go and see.
Did you discuss about a common candidate with the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: We discuss with all parties. We discuss with the President also. We have discussed with Ranil Wickremesinghe too. But we have not promised anything.
Did you meet Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera?
A: Yes. We discussed with the Thera few months ago.
What did you discuss?
A: He said the Executive Presidency should be abolished since it amasses power to one centre and that power corrupts. We are observing this phenom enon now. Many Presidents including the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa have promised to abolish the Executive Presidency. He promised in 2005 and 2010 but breached the promises. He amended the Constitution so as he could contest third and more times. We discussed many things with Sobhitha Thera.
Did you discuss with Ranil Wickremesinghe about abolishing the Executive Presidency?
A: He says he is ready to do so. I cannot provide you a direct answer about that. I did not ask him if he would change the system. It can be his idea. Since we have not come to decisions, we will discuss them with all sections at the right time.
What will be TNA’s demands at the Presidential Election?
A: We mainly demand true democracy. Democracy is not mere holding of elections. People must be able to take decisions wisely and with conscience without hindrance. For that, there must be the independent commissions like the National Police Commission, Judiciary Commission and Election Commission. People must have freedom and right to change the rule. Mere holding elections and issuing results is not democracy. We focus our attention to this matter.
Don’t you focus on the ethnic problem?
A: Everybody knows about the ethnic problem. We will have the opportunity to negotiate with all parties and find solutions if there is democracy in the country. The people of the Provinces must have powers to do their work. The problem must be resolved without dividing or damaging the country. The security, foreign affairs, financial management, railway, communication and so forth must be handed over to them. The people of the Provinces must have powers to take decisions about their life. We always demanded that right. There is no change in our positions. Many of the problems will be resolved if democracy is reinstated.
Don’t we have true democracy in the country? If so, what must we do?
A: Every country appoints the wisest section of the individuals for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. No cohorts and associates are appointed to these positions. But this does not happen in Sri Lanka. If this goes forth, all powers will be amassed by one centre and a total dictatorship will be the result. People will have no powers. We can vote at the election but after that the powers will be taken away from the people. This is not a good development for the country and people. We must create an environment in which all people can live together and we must make changes necessary for moving forward.
The President charges that the TNA and the Tamil Diaspora has not given up the Eelam concept yet.
A: It is a complete lie. We do not admit his argument that we have not still given up Eelam.
We have discussed with the President about the ways to resolve the ethnic problem through devolution of power. We have contested and won the Parliamentary, Provincial Council and Local Government elections. We have mentioned about devolution of power in a united country in our manifesto. A minority of the Tamil Diaspora can be in the mindset that the President may not provide a solution to the problem. But the majority wants a settlement. They are ready to accept a decision. The President states various things about this before the Sinhala polity to attract their vote. He misleads the people.
Tamil people were not granted rights through 1972 Constitution. We set forth the demand for Eelam in that context. We do not reject it. There was communal violence in 1983. Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in 1987 and Provincial Councils were established. We had discussions about devolution of power during the time of Presidents Premadasa and Chandrika. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also appointed an all party conference. All such moves were for power sharing and not for dividing the country. Now he tries to mislead the Sinhala polity to get a votes. I directly state that the argument about TNA talking about Eelam is total lie. President Rajapaksa knows too well that we do not demand Eelam.
The President stated that he would abolish the Executive Presidency only if you give up Eelam.
A: It is a long time now we have given up Eelam. Did he abolish the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and brought an 18th Amendment because of Eelam? He never told so. He made the amendments since he wanted to continue as the President. In such a context, what is the meaning of these Eelam stories? Now he talks of things to win the votes of the Sinhala polity which is two-third of the population of the country.
He must abolish the Executive Presidency as he promised in 2005 and 2010. Otherwise he may contest third, fourth and fifth times or his brother or son may contest.
What is the self-determination right demanded by certain sections of your party?
A: It has two meanings. One is the internal self-determination which means the power of the people to take decisions about themselves in their regions. It is not division. The other is total self- determination which means free and independent country.
What is your view on European Union withdrawing ban on LTTE?
A: It is the fault of the government. The reason for the judgment is the errors in representing. It is not a decision of the EU but a judgment of the judiciary. The government had five years to resolve the problem but failed to do so. If the government resolved the problem this would not happen. Without doing what was necessary, the government now says we are trying to bring the LTTE back. In fact, the LTTE is finished now. The President knows it. I have never been with the LTTE politically.
You have said that you will start a peaceful campaign unless the ethnic problem is settled. Are you trying to put the country in trouble?
A: Our people’s land has been grabbed with gun power and not returned. We went to Court against it and the authorities said to the Court that people could have their lands. When I questioned this in Parliament, Minister Basil Rajapaksa also verified it. Several years have passed now but nothing has happened. TNA will take a decision about this soon. We are not trying to damage the country, but we are struggling to win the rights of the people to live in the land they have lived for centuries. What will the people of Matara and Hambantota do if this happened to them? They will act. We need our lands. That is all we demand.
You are going to discuss with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and there are various speculations about it.
A: If we can discuss with the President and the Opposition Leader, why can’t we discuss with the Muslim Congress?
Sinhala politicians argue that the Sinhala people also have equal rights to live in the Northern Province.
A: We do not object the right of Sinhala people to buy land in Northern Province and live there. If there are any people who lived in the Northern Province in the past, they must have the right to resettle there. There is no problem about it. But it is not right if the government settles the Sinhala people who are loyal to them in North. The government does not take the Tamil people to South and settle them in Matara.