In retrospect: 2005 Presidential Election, LTTE boycott and Heroes’ Day address

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

It is widely acknowledged that President Mahinda Rajapaksa narrowly won the November 2005 contest because of the boycott enforced by the LTTE in the predominantly Tamil areas of the North-East province. It is also said that the LTTE deliberately decided to enforce the boycott to ensure the victory of Rajapaksa, perceived by many as a hard-liner, in the belief that his election would help to create conditions that would be conducive to resume its war, a course action that the LTTE leader had already decided upon towards which the accredited agents have been mobilizing funds from the expatriate Tamil community during the previous two years.

As for Mahinda Rajapaksa, the LTTE’s enforced boycott was a blessing that ensured his victory over his formidable opponent, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the UNP candidate. Rajapaksa had already entered into pacts with political parties, including the JVP and JHU both strongly opposed to the UNP. The general view not only amongst the Tamils but also internationally was that Mahinda Rajapaksa, having struck deals with the JVP and JHU for their support, would present a hard-line Sinhala-nationalist position

According to the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the LTTE had sought a secret undertaking from him that he would accept and take the necessary steps towards implementing the LTTE’s ISGA proposals (Interim Self Governing Authority for the North-East) as a pre-condition for its support. Had he agreed to the LTTE’s proposal and given the undertaking it sought, the LTTE would not have imposed the poll boycott in the North-East. However, Wickremasinghe went into the campaign promising to resume negotiations with the LTTE with a view to reaching a settlement on federal lines, a stance that most Tamils welcomed and supported. A victory for Wickremasinghe, with his good rapport with foreign leaders had woven the so-called ‘international safety net’ during his term as Prime Minister much to the irritation of the LTTE leadership, would have resulted in the prospect of renewed international pressure to resurrect the peace process and resume peace talks with view to reaching a political solution on federal lines within a united island in keeping with the Oslo declaration of December 2002 and would have made it difficult to justify internationally a belligerent course of resuming of war.

The enforced boycott of the Presidential election was also motivated by the impulse to affirm the existence of two nations in the island. It should be remembered that the late Anton Balasingham, at the first ever media conference held in April 2002 in the aftermath of the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement at Kilinochchi said, “Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga is the President and Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe is the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, but Mr. Prabhakaran is the President and Prime Minister of Tamil Eelam”. The two-nation concept, an abiding ideological position of the LTTE, was also reiterated in the LTTE leader’s 2005 Heroes’ Day address just within 10 days following Mr. Rajapaksa’s election as President: “The Sinhala nation has chosen a new national leader. A new administration has assumed power under his leadership. This new government has been elected by the Sinhala majority specifically with their voting power. The national minorities are not represented in this government. It is essentially a Sinhala-Buddhist regime. Therefore, Mahinda Rajapakse does not represent all the social formations of this country. He has assumed power as a president to protect and promote the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhist community.”

He also said: “The recent presidential elections and the change in governance effected by the Tamil boycott have created a wide rift, politically, between the Tamil and Sinhala nations. While Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony has assumed predominance in the south, Tamil nationalism has emerged as a powerful force and consolidating itself in the Tamil homeland. While a new government under Mahinda Rajapakse has assumed power in the Sinhala nation, LTTE’s administration is expanding and gaining strength as a concrete embodiment of Tamil nationalism.”

The LTTE leader spoke the truth about what had been achieved by its enforced boycott in the Northeast. It was the boycott that brought about the “the change in governance” and which “created a wide drift between the two Sinhala and Tamil nations”.

This writer has reiterated in previous articles that the LTTE’s strategy and tactics have been designed to aggravate the divisive process started by the pro-Sinhalese governments after independence under the unitary system that bestowed unrestricted governing powers to the Sinhala majority. The objective is to make the ethnic division of the population and the land based on pre-independence settlement pattern of Sinhalese and non-Sinhalese fait accompli. It is a fact that the governments neglected the development of the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, except the strategic parts primarily for settling Sinhalese through State sponsored colonization schemes. This imbalance in regional development did not result from the lack of skills and natural resources (e.g. Trincomalee harbour and neighbouring areas or Palaly as a second international airport) but by the deliberate policy not to develop by exploiting the available resources. Thus, the governments did not consider all citizens as equals as well as the entire island as one nation where all regions should be developed according to the resource endowments there for the benefit of not only the local people but also the entire country.

In short, the LTTE considered Mahinda Rajapaksa as a more suitable person to be the President for accelerating the process of the final break-up of the island.

Tamil Eelam goal

The ‘Tamil Eelam’ goal of has not been set by considering all internal and external factors relevant to the long-term viability of an independent Tamil State which no country in the world is willing to recognize. It is not even a bargaining chip useful in negotiating for maximum self-rule. It is an exclusivist ideological position for ‘salvation’ grounded in the preconceived belief that “the Sinhala racist ruling elites would not accept the fundamental demands of the Tamils and offer a reasonable political solution” (This quote and others in the following paragraphs are from LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 2005 Heroes’ Day Speech.). Given his unswerving commitment for an independent Tamil Eelam, the LTTE leader was determined to prove that the principal reason for seeking this goal remained valid. He sought to prove that by manipulating the electoral process in the Tamil areas of the Northeast ensuring Rajapaksa’s victory that the case for Tamil Eelam remains intact.

Very often the LTTE in its statements and its leader in his rare speeches have made it absolutely clear about their abiding conviction that: “we do not believe that we can gain a reasonable solution from the Sinhala nation” and that “We have to fight and win our rights We have never entertained the idea that we could obtain justice from the compassion of the Sinhala politicians. This has always been the view of our liberation organisation.”

Then why does the LTTE, now and then, call for and participate in so-called peace talks? According to the leader, it is simply to “to secure legitimacy for our liberation organisation as the representative organ of our people”, “to internationalise our struggle and win the support and sympathy of the international community” and “to demonstrate beyond doubt that the Sinhala racist ruling elites would not accept the fundamental demands of the Tamils and offer a reasonable political solution.”

By November 2005, in the view of the LTTE leader “the concepts of peace, ceasefire and negotiations have become meaningless; concepts that do not correspond to or reflect reality”, and “our people have lost faith in everything. Our people have lost faith in a peace process that has failed to secure them a real, peaceful life; they have lost faith in a ceasefire that has failed to remove the occupation army from their homes; they have lost faith in the talks that have failed to resolve their long standing problems.”

The preparatory work for launching ‘Eelam War IV’ started long before the Presidential election. According to the LTTE leader, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami delayed the execution of the planned campaign. The impetus came with the announcement to hold the Presidential election on 17 November 2005 as it presented an opportunity to create the environment for waging the war. A new hard-line leader at the helm was thought to be helpful to justify the renewed aggression internationally.

‘The pragmatic President’

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was hailed as a pragmatic political leader by Velupillai Prabhakaran in his Heroes’ Day address delivered ten days after he narrowly won the Presidential election. There were, however, mixed or rather confusing messages that concealed the decision to resume the war with the pragmatic President as the new Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces – Army, Navy and Air Force.

With regard to the tribute paid to President Mahinda Rajapaksa as “a realist committed to pragmatic politics”, the relevant part of the Heroes’ Day address is given below:

“We have now reached the critical time to decide on our approach to achieve the objective of our struggle. At this crucial historical turning point a new government under a new leader has assumed power in the Sinhala nation. This new government is extending its hand of friendship towards us and is calling our organisation for peace talks. It claims that it is going to adopt a new approach towards the peace process. Having carefully examined his policy statement in depth, we have come to a conclusion that President Rajapkse has not grasped the fundamentals, the basic concepts underlying the Tamil national question. In terms of policy, the distance between him and us is vast. However, President Rajapakse is considered a realist committed to pragmatic politics, we wish to find out, first of all, how he is going to handle the peace process and whether he will offer justice to our people. We have, therefore, decided to wait and observe, for sometime, his political manoeuvres and actions.

Our people have lost patience, hope and reached the brink of utter frustration. They are not prepared to be tolerant any longer. The new government should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. This is our urgent and final appeal. If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland.”

It is relevant to note ‘next year’ meant little as attacks started early 2006. Did the LTTE leader really expect a suitable political framework from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to accommodate his political aspirations?

Human Rights Violations

The unappealing part of the latest phase of fighting is the apathetic reaction of the international community (IC) to the extrajudicial killings, abductions, involuntary disappearances and aerial bombardments by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Fortunately for the Government, it has been able to take cover under the now controversial “War on Terror” launched by the United States in the wake of the attacks there by terrorists on September 11, 2001. The ‘deafening silence’ of the IC has been misunderstood by some as lending support to various atrocities committed by their rival.

An elected government claiming to be democratic and fair by all citizens should be committed to human rights, rule of law and norms of good governance. It cannot expect to be judged in the same way as a rebel group that has no such obligations. The human rights violations by the LTTE would have induced stronger actions if the government had been seen to be serious in its commitment to resolve the conflict early in a fair and just manner to the satisfaction of all communities. What has happened so far on this front is frequent announcement about an imminent release of devolution package by the SLFP, the main political party in the coalition government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Based on the reports submitted by the Expert Panel appointed by the President the chairman of the APRC, Prof. Tissa Vitharana promptly compiled a set of proposals for constitutional reform. This too is gathering dust with considerable uncertainty about its usefulness.

The indications are that the SLFP proposals to be announced on April 30 (this year’s Labour Day) will include the introduction of Executive Premiership in place of Executive Presidency and a second chamber (Senate); and the establishment of 25 Grama Rajayas in all districts based on the Indian concept. Devolution of powers will be at the district level and the provincial council system will be abolished. This seems to be the proposed formula for solving the ethnic problem!

Does the government expect the LTTE to abandon their Tamil Eelam goal and negotiate a settlement on the basis of devolution to district councils or Grama Rajayas, the preferred new name?

Chances of resuming ‘Peace Talks’

The audience with Pope Benedict XVI by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday April 20 resulted in His Holiness calling for early resumption of ‘Peace Talks’. The President called on the Pope during his four-day visit to Italy to get wide support for the ongoing military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger ‘terrorists’. The reasons for the collapse of previous rounds of ‘Peace Talks’ still remain intact and there is no positive sign to believe both sides are willing to abandon their irreconcilable positions and agree on an agenda for discussing the main political issues. This is a prerequisite for any forward move towards a negotiated political settlement. Iqbal Athas the veteran defense analyst in the Sunday Times April 22 has said: “Despite all the talk of peace talks, the prospect for such an event is fading daily if it has not already faded away. Ground preparations make very clear there is more war on the cards in the weeks ahead”. The present analysis exposes the game of deception played by both sides at terrible cost to the people, while using them as pawns in this wicked game. The terms ‘peace’, ‘negotiation’, power sharing’ and ‘maximum devolution’ also remain deceptive. ‘Democracy’ and ‘unity in diversity’ have also lost their true meanings from the wide national perspective because of the incompatible political culture that has evolved in consequence of the unprincipled ways power has been sought and used.

Lack of civic consciousness

The correct approach to lasting peace is neither via the annihilation of the Tamil Tigers as advocated by some Sinhalese (according to recent opinion poll some 59% favour military solution to the protracted conflict) nor solely by amending the present constitution as and when agreed by the political class. Constitutional changes are no doubt needed but these will not be adequate without the elimination of the incompatible practices that negate the declared aims. The importance of common Sri Lankan identity was ignored by the political class that has exclusive power to draw up or amend the constitution to whom – ‘national interest’ had a parochial meaning. The nation as a whole has paid a hefty price for their lack of foresight and liberal thinking.

After independence in 1948, the word ‘national’ took a different meaning as the two main rival political parties became obsessed with power that was used for seeking narrow aims and also for undercutting the rival in the power struggle. The efforts and resources expended on these, at the expense of depriving national unity and development were quite considerable. Divisive politics, discriminatory governance, short-term political strategies and abuse of power were the salient features of the political system that got entrenched after independence. Not only politically expedient allocation and inefficient utilization of financial resources but also deliberate desertion of the local talent and natural resources available for national development just because these are outside the majority Sinhalese community and their habitats are responsible for the present political and social unrest and the lack of extensive economic development encompassing all regions.

Dr. Siri Gamage, Senior Lecturer School of Professional Development & Leadership Faculty of Education, Health and Professional Studies, University of New England, Australia in his article on ‘Erosion of Democracy, Rule of Law and Basic Human Rights’ in Sri Lanka published in Asian Tribune 23 April 2007 agrees with Kishali Jayawardena, the renowned human rights activist that there is no “civic consciousness in Sri Lanka to demand the State to be democratic and respect human rights without considering the status of the individual”. Her basis is that there is hardly any public criticism of the State focused on the failures of the rule of law and the domestic institutions of justice. Strong critics are within the political or ruling class of the society whose motives are limited to their own short-term political interests. There is a strong political factor in the enforcement of the rule of law as seen from recent incidents.

The ethical crisis

In an interview with ‘The Morning Leader’ (April 25), Sunanda Deshapriya Free Media Movement Convener said: “The easy way to get to power is ‘nationalism,’ which Bandaranaike used as a way to come to power and from then on nationalism thrived at the expense of pluralism, diversity, democracy and human rights. There has been no going back since although some leaders like Chandrika and JR, tried to do things differently. But during that process they made other mistakes which became bigger than their achievements. With all our politicians, their mistakes stand stronger than their achievements.” This frank statement pinpoints the nature of the malady that has brought the country to the present dismal state.

The system that considers some more equal than others or privileged to act outside the law is neither democratic nor fair. The executive presidential system has been formulated on ancient monarchism. The chief architect of the present constitution and the first Executive President boasted, he had the powers to do whatever he wanted except to change a man into a woman and vice versa! The ethical crisis in Sri Lankan politics has continued for decades, ignored even by the religious leaders. The way to peace, security and socio-economic advancement is not through the elimination of the political class aimed at replacing democracy by autocracy. Lasting unity, essential for peace and economic development cannot be ensured forcibly. Monarchs and dictators who used force to suppress dissent and freedom could not prevent the eventual collapse of their regimes. Even while these lasted, it was at the expense of development. The dilemma for the Tamils comes from the absence of promising alternative to present majoritarian rule given their bitter experience over the past several decades. Enlightened all-inclusive approach to national unity, territorial integrity and lasting peace taking cognizance of existing ground realities is needed to regain the lost Paradise. Success in resolving national issues comes from unity, common aim and joint effort. We seem to be no where near this state. Sunanda Deshapriya’s concluding remarks also confirm the concerns raised in this article. “We have to take a part of the blame because we have not done anything to stop this (the easy or unprincipled way to get to power and its abuse). I don’t see any positive development in the coming years in this country; the situation is going to get worse before it will turn around”.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

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