By Mirudhula Thambiah
First Chief Minister of the merged North-East Province and Leader of Social Democratic Party of Tamils, Annamalai Varatharaja Perumal, said a President should not be elected with the votes of Sinhala people alone but with the votes of Tamil people too.
Following are excerpts:
Why did you choose to support SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the upcoming Presidential Polls?
A: Well, I personally met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa a month ago. Then along with the leftist parties and some Tamil parties including EPDP, Sri TELO, Democratic People’s Congress, and All Ceylon Tamil Maha Sabha, I met for the second time. Alternative political circles of Tamils are now supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidate. Gotabaya may not even be a candidate after all. There are questions about his citizenship. Our position is clearly to support Mahinda Rajapaksa. Our negotiations were mainly with him. Therefore, we wanted the promises from him because he will be the head of the affairs. In future, Gotabaya will be the President but he had openly declared he will abide by the guidance of Mahinda.
As far as the North is concerned, the UNP is based on TNA. TNA had failed to deliver the Tamil people under the UNP. If we want to do something better than what we were and we are then it could only be done through Rajapaksa.
There are two aspects, one is development, and other is devolution. From the development side everyone agrees that the Rajapaksa government did and they will do. They carried out development activities all over the country. Even the Tamil people agree that the current government did not perform like the Rajapaksas.
The second is the issues pertaining to the political rights of Tamil people. UNP cheated even in these issues. TNA too did not perform anything pertaining to the political rights. Both these parties have the same mentality.
During the 10-year period after the war, administrative and infrastructure developments have occurred only in the period of Rajapaksa. There are six main roads in Jaffna, out of which, five roads have been carpeted during Rajapaksa’s period. The current government couldn’t carpet the remaining Karainagar-Manipay road during the last five years. In the last moment they are constructing 100 metres or 200-metre roads under the Gamperaliya Programme. Therefore complete infrastructure developments were mostly carried out during Rajapaksa’s period. Infrastructure is essential in the post war period. No development activities were comparatively carried out in the North during the last five years. The current government is talking about war widows and women-headed families. Nevertheless, they have failed to provide an economical plan for at least 100 families.
During the provincial council elections and general elections the TNA and the UNP promised the youth job opportunities, but did not actually stick to these promises. Only at the last moment some improvements could be seen. These are just carried out aiming at upcoming elections. Once the elections are over, they may stop all such activities.
My point is, they must aim for elections during all five years, not just at the last moment.
Rajapaksa also promised to take necessary steps to release political prisoners. Why did the current regime go to Parliament?
Therefore, our view is that the war affected people should be provided with an economic plan. Their basic problems are yet to be solved. They are experiencing drinking water scarcity. Only the middle class can afford bottled water. However, the rest are consuming water that is contaminated with nitrogen, calcium and sewage waste. Importance should be given to such basic burning issues.
Mahinda promised to address these issues. He also noted that steps will be taken to make Provincial Councils more powerful. Therefore, we expect that such issues will be addressed to a certain extent if Rajapaksas come back to power.
Once Gotabaya becomes President he cannot function like a defence secretary but as a politician. Therefore, Gota phobia was created by his opponents. It is quite wrong to create this phobia and expect us to take decisions based on perceptions. We must observe this in a broader aspect and take objective decisions.
Was the decision to extend support to Gotabaya taken collectively as a party or by a single person?
A: No! Our party leaders and SLPP leaders met. Later we had discussions within the party.
Someone will become the President. It could either be a representative of Ranil’s or of Mahinda’s. I already mentioned we are opposing the Ranil’s candidate. Therefore, we chose the other. Not merely that, there are chances that Mahinda could come back to power. Based on these, we took this decision.
It is said there are allegations against Gotabaya. However, the usual practice is, until allegations are proved a person cannot be guilty. This is said to everyone, thus it will apply to him too.
Has UNP proven him guilty? Did they even file legal action against him? Why didn’t they prove it? Why couldn’t TNA make it happen? Are these political parties and international community just wasting time?
The situation is that Mahinda has decided it is Gotabaya who will contest. There are many allegations against Ranil Wickremesinghe too. There are many allegations against him during the time of the JVP.
Therefore, we cannot just hold on to these allegations and just waste time. We should go to the next step.
Did you meet Gotabaya too?
A: No! We are yet to meet him. We have only met Mahinda.
Did you speak to the former President regarding missing persons, PTA prisoners, and land issues?
A: We didn’t have to discuss about it because these are exaggerated by TNA for their political motives.
Did former President Mahinda give any promises regarding 13 plus?
A: Currently, we did not discuss anything in detail. We will discuss later. We had to obtain basic promises. However, leftist and Tamil parties that participated in the discussion with Mahinda had an understanding regarding the 13th Amendment. Therefore, we shall discuss later.
How do you view TNA’s performance in Parliament during the last five years? Do you see a change in the issues of Tamil people?
A: During the last five years, the TNA should have obtained financial allocations to carry out development programmes in the North and East. Instead, what did TNA say? TNA said they have gone to obtain political rights therefore they shall not demand development programmes. They only realise their fault only when Tamil people toppled them at the local government elections in 2018. They are performing drama only during the last six months. I am not saying that Gamperaliya did not provide any benefits to the people. The programme will benefit people because Rs 5 billion had been allocated. We question the government as to why they have not carried out this development programme throughout the entire five years? This is why I am saying they are just worried about elections.
It is very basic that TNA had continuously lied to people. They could not even properly handle a local council. At the same time, Wigneswaran alone did not waste the five-year period of the provincial council. The TNA contributed to weaken him. TNA brought Wigneswaran to the scene but later antagonised him. Four ministers of the provincial council were removed from office due to corruption. Therefore the TNA talks about corruption but appoints corrupt political representatives on responsible positions. Therefore, they are worst corruptors and did not perform any programme for the betterment of people. There are many issues faced by the youth but they have failed to address those grievances. Instead, they are just blaming the youth. They say the youth are addicted to drugs, irresponsible and involved in sword attacking gangs. They must first examine the political, social, and economical reasons behind these issues. What have they done to solve these issues?
They said federalism will be implemented within a unitary State. This is fooling the people. Apart from that, did they do anything? Do we really need a new Constitution? Our need is go to the next step from the present. What does a political solution mean? It is not a separate feature.
A political solution is only possible when a provincial council is empowered, effective, and independent to a certain extent. Many do not understand what exactly a political solution is and how it should be obtained. They tend to think it is something separate from the system. Political solution should be based on provincial councils. Administrative circulars should be created through the cabinet. Did they do any of those? Did they even obtain the needed funds? Powers of provincial councils are mentioned in the constitution. Did they take any steps to fully implement the 13th Amendment? What happened at last? The Gamperaliya programme has grabbed the powers of provincial councils and local councils. It has now gone to the Parliamentarians. If so, why do we need provincial councils?
But, there are criticisms that Rajapaksas did not attempt to solve Tamil issues until 2015?
A: Mahinda said due to certain situations in the post war period, they had many doubts and restrictions on sharing power. However, these restrictions are not currently prevailing. Therefore, in the current situation, he will take steps to provide many powers to provincial councils including Police powers.
They now understand and accept that they have failed to address Tamil issue. In 2015, our party worked against the Rajapaksa government. We believed that the government of good governance would actually render good governance.
A coalition government was formed, good governance was not rendered as promised, and anyhow the coalition did not continue to prevail as envisaged.
Haven’t the families of PTA detainees stressed that they were just detained without legal action during the previous regime?
A: We must also recollect that 12,000 of them were released through rehabilitation during the Rajapaksa government. We have seen many times Namal Rajapaksa visiting the prisoners.
We had also observed the TNA representatives visiting the PTA prisoners to just give promises when a hunger strike is held. Therefore, the current regime should have addressed the remaining issues with regard to Political Prisoners.
Majority of the Tamil national political parties are of the opinion that Tamil people will not vote for the SLPP candidate. Now you have taken the stance to support their candidate. Do you think this will make you unpopular?
A: My history is different. Tamil people were dependent on TULF. We wanted to establish another political party and I formed TELO in 1975. We did not form this party for popularity or populism. A role of a people’s leader is to take the correct stand. When we began to support the Indo-Lanka Accord, there was no popularity among Tamil people, but we took the decision that supporting the Accord would be the correct decision.
We had to face great difficulties to hold the North-Eastern provincial council elections. Ninety per cent of the issues are only known to me. Those who were closer to me knew the difficulties. If that election was not held, a North-Eastern provincial council wouldn’t have been established. This Provincial Council was declared only after the elections were held. When we went to convince President J.R. Jayewardene to hold elections in the North-East, many including Sampanthan were against our motive. At the last moment TULF refused to participate. When they opposed TELO also stepped down. When these developments happened, PLOTE was not even in the scene. Their concentration was over the Maldives. EROS was fully supporting the LTTE. The LTTE was fully involved in preventing us from taking this initiation. We wanted to contest as a proxy; LTTE did not allow them to proceed but threatened to kill them. Most Tamil papers at that time did not even support us. They only provided coverage for the Pakistan elections in which Benazir Bhuto was elected Prime Minister. We had to face many struggles. We didn’t think of popularity.
Have you forgotten your upcountry roots?
A: Says who? My family is from Jaffna and our roots are from that region. Only my mother settled from India during the 1940s. I will work on behalf of the Tamil speaking community although currently every such community is taking up the identity as Tamil, Muslim, and Upcountry Tamil.
Why did you declare North-East as a separate State in 1989? Do you still believe in the same ideology?
A: I had to flee the country. When I fled I had to express my stand. Our declaration was based on 19 demands on how to make provincial councils more effective, to reduce army camps, to do away with the Weli Oya settlements, a special power devolution for Muslims and Upcountry Tamils. We wanted these demands within a unitary feature. Failing that we said we may have to go back to our Eelam demand.
However, I did not declare a separate State.
There are moves to field a Tamil candidate at the Presidential Elections. Would you extend your support?
A: This is another stance to support Rajapaksa. This means the third party is either supporting one of the main parties. There are many reasons for the JVP to contest. This stand was taken up to maintain their vote bank. It is known to everyone.
This will not be the aim of Tamil candidates. If the President is elected with the votes of Sinhala people alone it will be a disadvantage to the Tamil people. Therefore, a President must be elected with the votes of Tamil
(Pic by Nuwan Amarawansha)