by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The attempt made by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to enforce a Tamil boycott of the Presidential elections will affect Ranil Wickremasinghe as the bulk of Tamil votes was expected to be cast for him. The LTTE – TNA press conference in Kilinochchi has made it clear that the tigers are in favour of a boycott. Earlier there were confused signals to
that effect. Now it is in the open.
A striking feature in the LTTE attempt to push for a boycott is its undisguised contempt for Ranil Wickremasinghe. There is subterranean anger rippling. Indeed the whole boycott exercise in the name of the people seems to be aimed at teaching Ranil a lesson he would never ever forget. It is almost like a lover’s quarrel because in
popular perception there was a tacit alliance and understanding between Ranil and the tigers.
Why is the LTTE pissed off about Wickremasinghe? The opinion of the TNA does not
matter. Described often as tiger nominated agents by Douglas Devananda the TNA is
simply a mouthpiece for the voice of the master!But why are tigers hostile to Ranil?
The process of disillusionment with Wickremasinghe began from the time he was
Prime Minister. The original understanding between the UNP and LTTE forged mainlt
between ACS Hameed and Anton Balasingham envisaged an interim administration
for the North – East under the LTTE. Hameed passed away but the UNP remained
willing to set up an IA in principle.
The LTTE was not happy about the slow progress in setting up an Interim
administration during Wickremasinghe’s tenure as premier. It however accepted the
UNP position that it was difficult to proceed because Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga was Executive President and also due to lack of two – thirds majority to
change entrenched restrictive clauses of the Constitution.
Kumaratunga’s dismissal of Wickremasinghe’s government and subsequent election
strengthened the UNP view that she was the stumbling block.The LTTE concurred.
Though the UPFA conducted a strong anti – tiger campaign Wickremasinghe was bold
enough to include the setting up of an interim Administration in the party
manifesto.The UNP lost but Kumaratunga was unable to govern due to the forces of
racism she had unleashed.
When it became clear that Presidential election 2005 was on the cards the LTTE
adopted a low – key approach to help Wickremasinghe. It avoided identifying with him
in any way because it felt such a link would be detrimental to him among Sinhala
voters. The tigers were somewhat nonchalant about the elections and said they did
not care. This made the coast clear for Tamil voters to back the candidate of their
The minorities particularly the Sri Lankan Tamils were happy about the ceasefire
brought about jointly by Wickremasinghe. Rajapakse signed pacts with JVP and JHU
and targeted the majority community votes at the expense of the minorities. He
categorically ruled out the homeland, self – determination concepts and also the
rejected P- TOMS. It was nothing but natural for the minority communities to back
Ranil in such a situation. Besides there was always a tendency for Tamils to support
the UNP in a situation where Tamil candidates were not contesting directly. This was
more so among Colombo Tamils.
Against such a backdrop Tamil votes were expected in massive numbers for
Wickremasinghe independent of LTTE – TNA manipulation.. It was assumed that the
TNA directed by the LTTE will come out openly in support for Wickremasinghe about a
week before the election. It was also suspected that the LTTE would swing into action
a few days prior to the poll and influence Tamil voters in favour of Wickremasinghe.
Why did this not happen? It was mainly due to the LTTE perception that Ranil
Wickremasinghe was not playing fair by them.Suspicion created during the 2001 –
2003 period was further reinforced through some actions.
Internationally Wickremasinghe and his deputies kept on cultivating the International
community. This included visits to India and mention in sections of the Indian press
that some understanding had been reached. An Indian connection real or imaginary
makes the LTTE paranoid. The tigers were also harbouring a grudge about the
Washington summit. It felt the UNP had set them up on that.
Wickremasinghe was also harping on Tokyo and Oslo summit declarations. This was
his “clever” way of dealing with the South. The onus was put on the International
community. But this had a counterproductive effect. The LTTE felt that
Wickremasinghe was trying to trap them in protracted talks on exploring federalism by
way of Oslo resolution and adhere to benchmarks of democracy, pluralism, human
rights etc in terms of Tokyo. The LTTE kept away from Tokyo to avoid such
impositions and took up the position that the Tokyo declaration did not bind them. But
Wickremasinghe was saying the opposite.
Then there was the so called International safety net. It was felt that one reason for
the failure of the peace process was excessive internationalisation by the UNP.
Wickremasinghe was trying to convince Sinhala voters that concessions to the LTTE
was not dangerous because the international factor was there to guarantee
security,sovereignity , unity and territorial integrity of the Country. The tigers felt that
this was anothr ruse to trap them and confine them to an unproductive, prolonged
The international factor was seen as something altering the balance of powerin favour
of the State. The tigers were also miffed by the silence of wickremasinghe on the EU
travel ban.Thus the LTTE was getting suspicious that a second round of talks with
Wickremasinghe as President would mean indefinite confinement to
negotiations.Talks on the ISGa and possibly fedralism would go on and on while the
movement was progressively weakened with international help.
Domestically too Wickremasinghe was disappointing the tigers. His election manifesto
excluded any reference to the Interim Administration or meaningful commitment to a
federal solution. Concerned about Rajapakse’s appeal to the Sinhala constituency
Wickremasinghe too was trying to pander to the same. While Mahinda was forthright
about his stance Ranil was typically wishy – washy.
Wickremasinghe also signed a 67 point agreement with Rauf Hakeem. Some of those
included third party status for Muslims in the peace talks and a separate N- E council
for the Muslims on the principle of non – contiguous territory. This was anathema to
the LTTE. Besides important decisions such as these could not be taken without
consulting the other party to the peace process. This was seen as another trick to
stultify the LTTE.
The UNP leader also spoke about striking a deal with bete noir Kumaratunga. A pan –
Sinhala government was also talked about. The tigers could not stomach the notion of
Wickremasinghe’s tete – a – tete with Kumaratunga after projecting her as the “enemy”
so far to the LTTE. The LTTE antipathy towards her is very real.Also a re- alignment
of Sinhala parties meant a “Sinhala Consensus”. Such consensus can only result in
further dilution of any political settlement.
Notwithstanding all these “prickly issues” the LTTE may still have played ball with Ranil
if the UNP was prepared to grant two things. One was the setting up of an Interim
authority without too much haggling. The second was a thorouh disbanding of so
called paramilitaries including the Karuna faction. It soon became apparent to the
LTTE that these were impossible.
The ISGA would not have any meaningful powers desired by the LTTE. The Muslim
card will be used to undermine it. The Supreme Court on P- TOMS demonstrated that
even if granted an ISGA will not be allowed to function. As for the Karuna faction it had
now become integral to the politico – military machinations by the state in the East.
Wickremasinghe would not be allowed to concede on Karuna even if he wanted to.It
was also felt by the LTTE that Wickremasinghe was not going to push anything
decisively or firmly .
The tigers were also unhappy with the conduct of Wickremasinghe;s campaign. If
Rajapakse was hard – selling the Sinhala line Wickremasinghe was soft – selling it.
Ranil was not making strident anti – Tamil or anti – tiger remarks but he was not
making any pro – Tamil statements either. If one is genuinely keen about some issues
then one must have the courage of convicyion to articulate those the LTTE felt.
In an attempt to overtake Mahinda he was also pandering to Buddhist sentiments in a
clumsy manner. Writing books on Buddhism on the eve of his campaign and
promising the world’s tallest Buddhst monument etc were some of thewse. It was
becoming increasingly clear to the LTTE that both Wickremasinghe and Rajapakse
were two sides of the same coin. The LTTE felt that both were the same in substance
and only the styles differed.This is incorrect but that was the tiger perception.
Wickremasinghe in LTTE perception was the dangerous of the two. Rajapakse was
bluntly direct in his stance. The world at large knew he was a hardliner and that if
elected war was on the cards. But Wickremasinghe’s image was that of a peace loving
man ready to do business with the LTTE. If Wickremasinghe came to power and
continued his “slipery” politics world opinion would be with him if war broke out. But
with Rajapakse the LTTE had the moral high ground. If war erupted the international
factor would back Wickremasinghe. The position was unclear with Rajapakse in the
The biggest problem for the LTTE was to avoid a repetition of the Kumaratunga
phenomenon in the case of Wickremasinghe. In 1994 she had swept to power as an
angel of peace with the overwhelming support of the Tamil people. It was an uphill
task for the tigers to destroy that image. Now Wickremasinghe was fast acquiring a
prince of peace image among the Tamil people. It was necessary to preempt
that.From a tiger perspective the Tamil people had to be shaken free of such illusions.
Any hesitation by the LTTE was removed by Wickremasinghe himself when he went to
Palaly on Nov 3rd. He confined himself to the security forces alone and did not meet
the Tamil people. Even Rajapakse had a token meeting with a captive Tamil audience.
Ranil did not. When asked about meeting Tamils he “arrogantly” said that he knew the
Tamil people’s problems via telephone calls and leters etc. Furthermore he spoke
about modernising the army. Ranil also boasted about 23 LTTE ships being
destroyed during the ceasefire.
This was the proverbial last straw. On Nov 5th Balakumaran came over the air on
“Voice of Tigers” and pitched in. The point he made was that Rajapakse and
Wickremasinghe were the same as far as the Tamil issue was concerned.
Wickremasinghe was more dangerous because he pretended to be a moderate.
Some Tamil people too were confused. As such the people had to be informed about
Ranil’s true colours. The presidential election was of no importance or relevance to
the Tamil people in this situation.
The floodgates opened after Balakumar’s outburst. Wickremasinghe is criticised as
unreliable, crafty and duplicitous. The comments of Dissanaike and Moragoda about
Karuna, ceasefire, loss of LTTE ships, trapping the LTTE, international community etc
are helping LTTE propagandists to justify their position. It must be remembered that
Dissanaikes speech made on Nov 3rd was reported only on the 7th. Moragodas
interview appeared on the 9th. But Balakumar’s comment made on the 5th was
circulated all over the “Tamil world” on Nov 6th. So comments by the UNP stalwarts
are strengthening the LTTE argument now but the cause for tiger resentment of
Wickremasinghe was earlier and different.
One thing however is that the claims purportedly made by Moragoda and
Dissanayake cannot be new to the LTTE. If there is merit or validity in those
arguments then the LTTE must surely have known it long ago. The tigers are not
kittens who opened their eyes only after these revelations. The tiger mouthpiece
“Tamilnet” however is going to town with its angled accounts of those comments
Basically the LTTE is disillusioned and disappointed with Wickremasinghe. It must be
understood that the manifesto and conduct of Wickremasinghe’s campaign was not
enough for the LTTE to support it openly without losing credibility in the eyes of the
Tamils. But if the TNA was allowed by the LTTE to negotiate with the UNP the situation
may have been different.The Tamil case has suffered through default. It also appears
that Wickremasinghe blundered by taking the Tamil votes for granted.
It is however a moot point whether the call for a boycott – direct or indirect – will help
the LTTE in the long run. It is possible that a Wickremasinghe defeat made possible
through a tiger boycott would strengthen the victor Rajapakse in an unimaginable
manner. It is one thing for war to erupt due to a Rajapakse victory despite the Tamils
voting for Wickremasinghe. It is totally different if Rajapakse wins because of a tiger –
inspired Tamil boycott. The LTTE should give much thought to this .