Can the TNA be trusted with the administration of the Northern Provincial Council?

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The provincial elections–the ones scheduled to be held as well as the one that isn’t—are the subject of political comment. Three are to be held ahead of schedule, resulting in a dual criticism. One is that they are untimely and the other that they serve solely the interests of the ruling bloc.

In the USA, elections are held on a predictable schedule; predictable since they have been ordained, inscribed in the System. In the UK and Europe, for the most part it is not so, and within the prescribed terms incumbents call elections at moments thought most propitious or when they are politically pressed by crisis. So, the premature holding of provincial elections in Sri Lanka should not be regarded as a mortal sin.

As for the accompanying criticism that the elections are held for sinister and self-serving purpose and are not on anything like a level playing field, I have a two word response: Mohamed Morsi. Egypt provides the latest proof that however entrenched the Establishment, an opposition that is authentically popular, has its roots in town and country, and gets its act together, can prevail.

In systems far more authoritarian than Sri Lanka, even in dictatorial ones such as Pinochet’s Chile, plebiscitary exercises aimed at legitimising the regime have proved to be the beginning of the end of those regimes. Any opening of electoral space is therefore welcomed with a surge of exuberant energy and determined activism by any opposition party.

If Sri Lanka is an exception it says more about the state of the opposition than about the State. Sri Lanka’s opposition might learn something from the Arab Spring: the democratic choice of the peoples turned out to be neither pro-Western cosmopolitan civil society liberal-conservatives nor fanatical and sectarian religious fundamentalists but precisely moderate, modernising, nationalists (including Western-educated ones like Egypt’s President Morsi).

Everywhere in the world, border provinces have their special problems and arrangements, ranging from the US-Mexican border to Kashmir and Nagaland- Mizoram-Manipur.

The non-holding of the Northern Provincial Council election has been critically remarked upon by the Leader of the Opposition. One might have thought that he would be far more concerned about his party’s upcoming performance at the provincial elections that are to be held than by the issue of an election that is not scheduled to be held soon. No matter. What is of note is that the problems associated with the immediate holding of an election to the Northern PC do not seem to detain him. What are these problems?

How can one be confident that the administration of the Northern province be responsibly carried out by a party that refuses to forswear secessionism, commit unconditionally and unambiguously to a solution within a united Sri Lanka, criticize Prabhakaran and the LTTE even for murdering that party’s own leaders, and instead claims that its goal is ‘to convince the international community that a solution is NOT possible within a united Sri Lanka’? Surely such a party would be more tempted to prove its thesis that a solution –such as provincial devolution– within a united Sri Lanka will not work?

Even a card-carrying moderate such as Mr. Sumanthiran’s statements to the newspapers reiterating the specious doctrine of ‘internal self-determination’, threatening adherence to ‘external self-determination’ if the former was not acceded to and going so far as to advocate a referendum among the Tamil people on whether or not they wish to remain part of a united Sri Lanka, were and are hardly conducive to confidence building and constructive negotiations.

How would one know who the TNA candidate for Chief Minister will be?

What is the guarantee that it will be Mr. Sampanthan?

How are we to assume that the balance of forces in the TNA and Tamil politics will not force Mr. Sampanthan to agree to a Chief Ministerial candidate other than himself?

This is hardly an irrelevant consideration when one recalls that just a few weeks ago a TNA MP stated that the goal remains Tamil Eelam. What if that MP or someone with his views is the TNA’s Chief Ministerial candidate?

‘Eelam is our ultimate goal’ said Sivagnanam Shritharan, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Sri Lankan Parliament from Kilinochchi in an interview given to Dr Paul Newman published this June 8th. The interview was republished in the weblog of the respected journalist DBS Jeyaraj (dbs The article says that “In an exclusive interview to Dr. Paul Newman, he reiterates his position that securing Tamil Eelam is the ultimate goal of TNA.”

In the interview Sritharan is quoted as saying “Our leader Sampanthan too has lived in Colombo. When a Sinhala flag was thrust in his hands, as a person living in Colombo he had to accept it. It was only a political tactic to hoist the lion flag and invite the Sinhala leaders to talk to the Tamils.”

It would be difficult to ignore the following declaration of intent by Mr. Sritharan:
“Since 1990, 26 countries have been born – twenty-three of them in Europe after the dismantling of the communist world, two countries, namely Eritrea and Southern Sudan in Africa, and East Timor in Asia.

All these countries got freedom with the help of some western country. We too will get it one day or the other…We too hope that with the help of the Diaspora and the Tamils of Tamil Nadu we would be able to establish Eelam… There may be statements made by our leaders to suit the polity of the time but Eelam is our ultimate goal.”

While responsible moderates must remain supportive of power sharing, they must always be mindful of how much power is shared and who with. The North is the strategically vital frontier of Sri Lanka, across which we have the possibility of external hostility. No other province in the country is in that position.