The long awaited 2020 Parliamentary Elections has concluded with a 71% Voter turnout despite the difficulties imposed by the COVID -19 Pandemic threat. Appropriate health procedures were followed by the authorities with enthusiastic cooperation of the people. Voter feedback is generally positive about the efficient manner in which the polls were conducted. The Independent Election Commission along with Govt officials and security personnel deserve much praise for this. Furthermore elections were held without any major incidents of violence being reported.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa recorded a historic victory. In terms of Parliamentary seats including allocations under the national list , the SLPP contesting under the lotus bud won with a landslide gaining 145 seats. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya(SJB) contesting on the telephone symbol came a distant second with 54 seats. The Tamil National Alliance(TNA) which fielded its candidates under the House symbol got 10 inclusive of one national list seat. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP) got 3 seats. In what was perhaps the biggest upset of all, the United National Party(UNP) failed to directly elect even one MP and ultimately obtained a single seat on the national list.
The remaining twelve seats were shared by several parties. They were the All Ceylon Tamil Congress(ACTC) – 02; Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP)- 02; Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) -01; Our Power of People Party(OPPP) – 01;Sri Lanka Muslim Congress(SLMC)-01;All Ceylon Makkal Congress(ACMC)- 01; National Congress (NC) -01;Muslim National Alliance(MNA) -01; Thamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP)-01 and the Thamil Makkal Thesiyak Koottani(TMTK) – 01. It must be noted that the SLMC and ACMC contested alone in Batticaloa and Amparai districts respectively while being part of the SJB alliance in other districts. Likewise the SLFP which contested as part of the SLPP Led alliance in most districts contested separately in Jaffna and got a seat. The SLMC and ACMC forged together the MNA and won a seat in Puttalam.
This columnist intends writing a series of articles on the 2020 Parliamentary elections and its consequences in the days to come. In this first article of the series – written at short notice to meet the deadline – I want to focus briefly on Tamil electoral trends in the Northern and Eastern provinces with particular emphasis on the TNA. As is well known the North is predominantly Tamil while the East is still a Tamil majority province. The TNA is the accredited premier political configuration of the Northern and Eastern province Tamils. The TNA comprising the Ilankai Thamil Arasul Katchi (ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO) and the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) contests polls under the House symbol of its chief constituent the ITAK.
The TNA led by its Parliamentary Group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan contested in all five electoral districts of the North and East namely Jaffna, Wanni, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Amparai (Digamadulla) at the August 2015 Parliamentary elections polling 515,963 votes. This was 4.62% of the total national vote. This enabled the TNA to obtain sixteen seats consisting of fourteen elected seats and two appointed on the national list. Of the 14 elected seats 05 were from Jaffna, 04 from Wanni, 03 from B’caloa and one each from Trinco and Amparai. The two national list seats were allocated to candidates who lost from the Wanni and Trincomalee districts. It must be noted that the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF) was also a TNA constituent in 2015. The EPRLF pulled out of the TNA a few years ago.
Initially the ITAK had the lion share with ten of sixteen MP’s. These comprised four from Jaffna, two from B’caloa and one each from Wanni and Trincomalee. Both the National list MP’s were also from ITAK. The other six seats were shared equally by the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF. The TELO got two MP’s from Wanni and Amparai. The PLOTE had one MP from Jaffna and another from Batticaloa. The EPRLF got both MP’s elected from the Wanni district. Subsequently one MP from the EPRLF and another TELO Parliamentarian shifted to the ITAK. When the EPRLF withdrew from the alliance, the TNA tally dropped from 16 to 15. Later another MP elected from the PLOTE split from the TNA and joined the short lived “ Govt” of Former president Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2018. He was expelled.
Thus the TNA which had 16 MP’s in 2015 had only 14 when Parliament was dissolved in March this year. When fresh elections were announced the TNA once again fielded candidates in all five electoral districts of the Northern and Eastern provinces. TNA leader R.Sampanthan stated that the TNA would obtain seats at the 2020 elections. The TNA electoral campaign basically revolved around the premise that the Tamil people should elect MP’s from their party as a bloc so that they could negotiate from a position of strength in potential talks with a future Govt. Although a number of rival Tamil political parties were in the electoral fray , the TNA took up the position that voting for them was a waste. The TNA appeared to be confident that the Tamil people would reject others and vote for them to express Tamil unity and solidarity.
Triple Tenets of Tamil Nationalism
Despite the TNA’s confidence a formidable range of parties and groups from a broad spectrum were opposing it in the electoral arena. On the one hand were parties and groups claiming to be more Tamil nationalistic than the TNA. They accused the TNA of selling out and not being faithful to the triple tenets of Tamil nationalism namely “Thesiyam” (nationalism), “Thaayagam” (Homeland) and “Suyanirnayam”(self -determination). The main parties and groups in this self -styled “ultra-nationalist”category were the Tamil National Peoples Front(TNPF) contesting under the cycle symbol as the All Ceylon Tamil Congress(ACTC), the No 8 Independent group of Jaffna contesting under the mango symbol and the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Koottani(TMTK) contesting under the Fish symbol. The ACTC, TMTK and No 8 independent group are led by ex-MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, ex -chief minister CV Wigneswaran and ex- Provincial minister Ponnudurai Aingaranesan respectively.
On the other hand there were a number of parties and groups opposing the TNA for non -nationalistic reasons. This school of thought took up the basic position that development, employment and economic issues were more important to the Tamil people than mere “identity” politics. They said the TNA had neglected these issues and was simply harping on “political equality” related matters. An easy target for these sections was the miserable failure of the TNA dominated Northern provincial council under former chief minister CV Wigneswaran.
Among these parties and groups were the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna(SLPP), the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP), the Ahila Ilankai Thamil Maha Sabha (AITM) and the Independent Group 5 of Jaffna contesting under the shield symbol. The chief personalities involved with these parties and groups are Douglas Devananda (EPDP), Angajan Ramanathan (SLFP), Sathasivam Viyalendran (SLPP), Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias “Pillaiyan”(TMVP), Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Karuna”(AITM) and Murugesu Chandrakumar (Ind group 8).
In spite of so many adversaries the TNA was fortunate in one respect. While being united in their opposition to the TNA these parties could not establish unity among themselves . The EPDP, SLFP and the independent group could not forge a common front in Jaffna. The TMVP and SLPP could not close ranks in Batticaloa. There are some who feel that this was a stratagem of the SLPP’s master strategist Basil Rajapaksa. This however is debatable. The crux of the matter is that the parties and groups aligned to the ruling regime did not present a joint front against the TNA. Interestingly the UNP or the SJB do not fit into any of these categories under current circumstances.
“Thamizh Makkal Thesiyak Koottani”
This was more or less the case with regard to the other “ultra-nationalist”category too. However there was a semblance of unity when former chief minister CV Wigneswaran cobbled together an alliance of four parties firmly opposed to the TNA. The four parties that came together in February were Wigneswaran’s Thamizh Makkal Koottani”, the “Eezha Makkal Puratchihara Viduthalai Munnani” led by former Parliamentarian Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh, “Eezhavar Suyaatchik Kazhagham”led by former Northern provincial minister Ms. Ananthy Sasitharan and the “Thamizh Thesiyak Katchi” led by former MP’s MK Sivajilingam and N. Srikantha. The new alliance was named “Thamizh Makkal Thesiyak Koottani” or Tamil peoples National Alliance.
When the TMTK was formed Ananthy Sasitharan stated frankly that the alliance was for the elections and not based on policy. Many of those desiring an alternative to the TNA felt the new alliance would bring about change. Sections of the Tamil media gave much support to Wigneswaran and his party. But Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam would not align himself with the TMTK despite a lot of pressure being exerted by Tamil ultra-national elements in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora. Gajendrakumar regarded himself and his TNPF as nationalist “puritans”. Similarly one – time Wigneswaran acolyte Aingaanesan too opted to form his own group rather than join the TMTK alliance. Thus the rivals of the TNA on either side of the political divide could not join forces against their common “enemy”.
It is against this backdrop that the TNA performance in the current poll has to be evaluated. The TNA has done well compared to its political rivals but there is no denying that the premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamils has suffered a major set back. Many of the TNA’s ruvals like the EPDP , SLFP, ACTC and TMVP have done well when compared to their previous “show” in 2015. Only Wigneswaran’s alliance that was blown up by the Tamil media has failed to live up to expectations. This however cannot obscure the fact that the TNA has taken a jolt in this poll.
The TNA votes have decreased more than one-thirds from its 2015 tally. From 515,963 (4.62%) in 2015 the TNA has dropped to 327,168 (2,82%) votes. The MP tally has declined from 16 in 2015 to 10. Of these nine are elected and one will be from the national list. The TNA has obtained six seats in the North and three in the East. A brief overview of TNA candidates contesting as the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK)and the winners thereof are as follows –
In Trincomalee the ITAK/TNA list was led by veteran politician Rajavarothayam Sampanthan followed by Kathiravelu Sanmugam Kuhadasan , Sulochana Jeyabalan, Paramalingam Nithyanantham, Rasarathnam Sachchithanantham, Kanthasamy Jeewarooban and Selvaraja Premarathan. Of these only Sampanthan(ITAK) has been elected MP. As is well known the octogenarian Sampanthan has represented Trincomalee in the last Parliament as well as in many more since 1977. He is also the TNA parliamentary group leader.Trincomalee elects four MP’s. While the TNA has got one seat the SJB and SLPP have got two and one each respectively.
In Batticaloa the TNA list was headed by lawyer Krishnapillai Thurairajasingam who has been a parliamentarian and provincial minister. He is also the ITAK General secretary. The others on the TNA list were Manikkam Uthayakumar, Seeniththamby Yogeswaran, Gnanamuththu Srinesan ,Kovinthan Karunakaram, Murugesapillai Gnanapragasam , Navareththinarasa Kamalathasan and Rasamanikkam Saanakkiya Rahul Rajapuththiran. Of these only Rasamanikkam Saanakkiya Rahul Rajapuththiran(ITAK) and Kovinthan Karunakaran alias “Jana” (TELO) have been elected MP’s. Among those who failed to win are two incumbent MP’s Yogeswaran and Srinesan and also former MP Thurairajasingham. Of those elected Karunakaram aias Jana has been a former MP and Provincial councillor. Rasamanickam Sanakkiyan is a f=first time MP, He is the grandson of reputed ITAK leader and former Paddiruppu MP SM Rasamanickam.
Batticaloa district elects five MP’s. Apart from the TNA duo the other three MP’s elected are from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress(SLMC), Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Tamil Makkal Viduthalaippuligal (TMVP). The chief candidate on the SLMC list is incumbent MP Seiyad Ali Zahir Moulana. The SLPP list is headed by Sathasivam Viyalendran who was elected to the last Parliament from the TNA. He later defected and became a deputy – minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa “cabinet”of October 2018.The TMVP list is headed by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan the former Eastern province chief minister. Chandrakanthan contested “in absentia” as he is currently in jail over suspected involvement in the assassination of former TNA Batticaloa MP Joseph Pararajasingham.
In Ampara/Amparai or Digamadulla district the TNA list was headed by Kaveendran Kodeeswaran who was elected MP in 2015. Kodeeswaran who was from the TELO later joined the ITAK. The others on the TNA list are Thavaraja Kalai Arasan, Seenithambi Sundaralingam, Selvarasa Ganesanandam, Dayaparasingham Paranidaran, Ramakrishanan Sayanolipawan , Sinnaiya Jeyarani, Thamodaram Pratheevan ,MuruguPillai Ravikaran and Arasarednam Thamilnesan. No candidate from the TNA was elected from Amparai district. In fact the Ahila Ilankai Thamil Mahasabha list headed by Muraleetharan alias “Karuna” with 29,179 votes got more than the ITAK but none were elected.The district elects seven MP’s. Those elected were from the SLPP (3), the SJB (2), the ACMC (1) and the National Congress (1). There is no Tamil representation from the district this time.
In the Northern Wanni district the TNA list was headed by A. Adaikkalanathan alias Selvam who is the leader of the TELO. Sekvam Adaikkalanathan is an incumbent MP who served as deputy chairman of committees in the last Parliament. The others in the TNA/ITAK Wanni list were Pathmanathan Sathiyalingam, Kanthar Thamotharampillai Linganathan, Iruthayanathan Charles Nirmalanathan, Shanthi Srikantharasha, Kandaiah Sivalingam ,Sivappiragasam Sivamohan, Arumugam Senthilnathan Mayuran and Subramaniyam ”Vino” Noharathalingam .
The Wanni electoral district comprises the administrative districts of Mannar, Mullaitheevu and Vavuniya.Three TNA candidates were elected from the Wanni. They are “Selvam”Adaikkalanathan (TELO) Charles Nirmalanathan (ITAK) and “Vino” Notharaligam (TELO). Of these Adaikkalanathan has been elected to Parliament several times. Nirnalanathan was an MP in the last Parliament. Noharathalingam has been an MP in previous parliaments but lost the poll in 2015. The Wanni elects six MP’s. The other three elected are from the SJB (1), SLPP(1) and EPDP(1).
The Northern Jaffna electoral district consists of the administratve districts of Kilinochchi and Jaffna. The TNA/ITAK list was headed by Somasundaram “Mavai” Senathiraja the president of the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi(ITAK). Senathirajah known generally as Mavai has been an MP many times in the past including the last Parliament. The others in the TNA candidate list were Dharmalingam Siddharththan, Mathiaparanan Abiraham Sumanthiran, Sivagnanam Shritharan, Easwarapatham Saravanapavan, Kurusuwamy Surendran, Sasikala Raviraj, Vethnayaham Thabenthiran, Emmanuel Arnold and Balachchndran Kajatheepan.
Three TNA candidates were elected MP’s from Jaffna. They are Sivagnanam Shritharan (ITAK), Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran (ITAK) and Dharmalingam Siddharthan (PLOTE). All three were MP’s in the last Parliament also. Among those who lost from the TNA were Senathirajah the ITAK leader and the newspaper proprietor Easwarapatham Saravanapavan. Both were incumbent MP’s. The Jaffna electoral district elects seven MP’s. Apart from the TNA trio, the other four MP’s elected are Angajan Ramanathan (SLFP), Douglas Devananda (EPDP), Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam (ACTC) and CV Wigneswaran (TMTK).
This brief overview of the TNA’s performance in this election shows clearly that the premier Tamil political configuration has not done well in this poll. The overall TNA tally with one national list seat will be ten whereas in 2016 it was sixteen. Of these the number of elected MP’s have dropped from fourteen to nine and national list MP’s from two to one. A district wise breakdown of TNA elected MP’s shows that the party has gone down to three from five in Jaffna;three to two in Wanni; three to two in Batticaloa; retained one in Trincomalee and lost the single seat in Amparai. Of the nine TNA elected MP’s five are from the ITAK, three from the TELO and one from the PLOTE.
Moreover the election results indicate that while the TNA has lost out in terms of votes and seats , other Tamil parties , both pro and anti- Govt have gained. What do these developments portend for the future? Why then has the TNA suffered an electoral setback in this election? These questions will be answered in detail in another article next week.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This is an Updated Version of an Article written for the DBS Jeyaraj Column in the “Daily Mirror” of August 8, 2020. It can be accessed here: