By S. Rubatheesan
Apparently fed up with rhetorical nationalist party politics and failure to address the urgent needs of the former war torn regions, North and East voters have sent a clear message to their main party the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the August 5 general elections. The TNA, officially known as the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), suffered a big set back by winning only ten seats, including one on the national list. The TNA had won 16 seats in the former Parliament.
In the Jaffna district the TNA’s seats were reduced from five to three, and in the Vanni district its number was reduced from four to three. In the Batticaloa district the TNA won only two seats compared to three at the 2015 elections.
In Trincomalee district, the TNA’s leader R. Sampanthan secured his seat, but in Ampara district the party did not win any seats, while it won one in 2015.
“We acknowledge we suffered a setback, and we are concerned about the way people voted,” TNA Spokesperson M.A. Sumanthiran told reporters at a post- polls news conference. He said a significant portion of the traditional TNA vote bank tilted towards the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP).
The other two Tamil parties namely the Ahila Ilankai Tamil Congress (AITC) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam won 67,766 votes, while the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK) led by C.V. Wigneswaran won 51,301 votes.
They won one seat each. Mr Ponnabalam is the grandson of veteran politician G.G. Ponnabalam while Mr Wigneswaran is a former judge at the Supreme Court, and former Chief Minister of the Northern Province. Both parties converted their strong criticism against the TNA into votes and took a hardline stance on the Tamil national cause.
ITAK Leader Mavai Senathirajah, lost his seat in the Jaffna district while the party’s, General Secretary K. Thurairetnasingam lost his seat in the Batticaloa district.
TNA Spokesperson Mr Sumanthiran said intra-party conflicts and pressure brought from outside played a role in the reduction of its traditional votebase. He also referred to the aggressive hate campaign against his fellow candidate S. Shritharan online, particularly on Facebook.
While acknowledging the setback Mr Sumanthiran added, “Our people have given us a clear mandate by defeating those who worked against both of us. We realised our flaws and will address them immediately. One among them is strengthening the youth participation in politics.”
The TNA Spokesman also accused another fellow candidate E. Saravanabavan of working against them and party interests, using his Jaffna based Tamil daily newspaper.
There was a chaotic scene when Mr Sumanthiran visited the main counting centre at Jaffna Central College on Thursday around midnight, as reports started to emerge on social media sites that he might lose the race. By 1.30 am, it was clear that he was among the winning candidates.
When a group tried to enter the counting centre Police Special Task Force personnel baton charged them, and at least two people including a local councillor were injured.
Sasikala Raviraj, wife of former TNA Parliamentarian N. Raviraj was leading among the top three initially but was later pushed to fourth place when the counting ended. Later, Ms Raviraj claimed there were inaccuracies in the counting process and asked for a recount. She said she would complain about the counting process to the Jaffna District’s Returning Officer, the Chairman of the Election Commission and the TNA leader.
Referring to the controversy over alleged irregularities in the counting process, Mr Sumanthiran said, “I did not go in to the counting centre. Soon after I was informed by our party polling agent that I was among the winning candidates, I visited the centre to hear the announcement by the Returning Officer. Since it was getting delayed, I left.”
In the Batticaloa District, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam former fighter and Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP) Leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, better known as Pillayan, won a seat with 54, 198 votes, the highest number of preferential votes.
During the last five years, Pillayan has been in remand custody over the assasination of ex-TNA Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham.
TNA officials said former LTTE Commander turned politician Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman split the votes by contesting under a new political party.
For SLFP’s Angajan Ramanathan, his victory is historic since he is the SLFP politician ever to win a seat in the North. He won 36, 365 preferential votes.
“As I bow to the peoples’ verdict, my top priority will be developing the region while ensuring the rights of our people. The Northern people are also entitled to all the rights and benefits other communities enjoy,” Mr Ramanathan told the Sunday Times.
He claimed among those who voted for him in large numbers were the young people who were seeking jobs and urgent development in the region.
“Not only unemployment, but issues relating to housing, land and livelihood are some vital issues that need to be addressed immediately,” he said.
Mr Ramanathan alleged that decades long Tamil nationalistic rhetoric failed to address the needs of the Northern people even after the war was brought to an end a decade ago.
“All these Tamil nationalistic parties assure development but how are they going to achieve that while sitting in the Opposition?” he asked.