Will Tamils be Taken for a Disposable Napkin Again?

| by Thomas Raj Johnpulle

( January 15, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Minorities turned tables at the 2015 Presidential Election which is the first time it happened. At all previous presidential elections, the will of the majority of Sinhalese prevailed. Not this time. Former President Mahinda won in areas outside the north, east, upcountry and the Colombo City but President Maithripala won in these areas (despite losing in Sinhala majority areas). Tamils and Muslims have become kingmakers.

Parliamentary seats allocated to Jaffna District have been reduced in line with new population numbers. This means TNA and other Tamil parties represented in parliament will be reduced. To overcome it, TNA should contest Colombo district where it has a very good chance of winning two seats.
Minorities were king makers in many previous General Elections. These include 1947, 1965, 1994, 2000 and 2001. However, on all these occasions, minorities, particularly Tamils were treated like a disposable napkin or worse. It may be worse this time as there aren’t any pre-election pacts with the winner. This helps him get away without reciprocating. Even his much touted 100 day programme doesn’t contain anything specific to Tamils.

Since the defeat of the LTTE, there is little incentive for Sri Lankan governments to even consider approaching the ethnic problem affecting Tamils. This is a very rare golden opportunity not to be missed.

LTTE defeat due to entanglement in national politics

The unthinkable happened in 2003 when it was crystal clear that peace talks were not going anywhere and broke down. Although violence cannot be condoned, the right thing from the point of view of the LTTE was to resort back to a quick military operation to either retake Jaffna or block Trincomalee resulting in the fall of Jaffna. Both could have been achieved with minimum casualties on both sides. After that it could have sued for peace.

Sri Lankan state was in serious jeopardy at that time with the SLFP President and UNF parliament unable to come to a consensus on almost anything - a perfect opportunity for the LTTE to make its move.

However, no action was taken as the LTTE was committed to the CFA and was not interested in making things even more difficult for the UNF which was the other party to the CFA. This proved fatal as a year later the 2004 tsunami battered Tamil majority areas hard weakening the LTTE. Another year later the Sri Lankan government was intent on war again on terms advantageous to it. They restarted war when it was most beneficial to them after amassing Off Shore Patrol vessels, Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, jets and various other devices during the ceasefire period.

Tamils failed to strike, politically and militarily, when the iron was hot. And paid the price. Now it is impossible to get the attention to the ethnic problem.

Way ahead for Tamils

TNA and other Tamil groups must demand from the government to make necessary constitutional amendments to accommodate Tamil national aspirations before dissolving the parliament. Two third majority is required to do so and this is the best time to do it as both the UNP and SLFP badly need Tamil support. After General Elections, no party will have a commanding position in parliament and each will try to appease their main vote base which excludes Tamils since TNA will contest alone.

If Tamils don’t get these constitution amendments that accommodate Tamil national aspirations before the general election, they will miss this opportunity as well.

If the government agrees and does so before the general election, then Tamil parties must jointly contest the election with the UNP with the agreement to elect and appoint a sufficient number of MPs. Following the election, they can form their own group in parliament. This way, the SLFP can be further weakened so that it cannot disrupt the new peaceful political solution.

As can be seen from election results the ‘tiger story’ doesn’t sell in Sinhala electorates today. Political opportunists can cry ‘tiger’ or ‘wolf’ as much as they want but the Sinhala people are not fooled by it. They too lament the fragility of peace which is the result of no constitutional change accommodating Tamil national aspirations.

Plan B

If Maithripala fails to grant constitutional changes for Tamil needs, TNA and other Tamil parties must contest alone.

Parliamentary seats allocated to Jaffna District have been reduced in line with new population numbers. This means TNA and other Tamil parties represented in parliament will be reduced. To overcome it, TNA should contest Colombo district where it has a very good chance of winning two seats.

This serves a dual purpose. While it helps sustain the Tamil say in the parliament without reduction, it also unifies Tamils throughout the island. A counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy of the government is to break up Tamils into regions – north, east, Colombo and upcountry – thereby weakening them. Separate leaderships have cropped up in these areas and they cannot work together because they have political pacts with other parties. The only way to reverse this plan is for TNA to contest Colombo.

Tamil parties winning the maximum possible seats is crucially important in the next parliament. This power can be used selectively to prevent the two major parties treading on Tamil interests.

Although Tamils and Muslims joined forces for the presidential poll, their interests diverge, particularly in the east. Muslims aspire to have their own district in the east which directly affects Tamils living there. It can seriously impact on traditional Tamil routes to religious shrines in the south-east just to give one example. Although initially the demand is for one district, if given, another will be demanded from around Trincomalee where Muslims are the majority today. This will wedge Tamils into insignificant fragments of politically worthless pockets in strategically important east.


The long and short of it is Tamils must not waste anymore time to demand a constitutional change accommodating Tamil national interests. Getting entangled in UNP-SLFP politics will only ruin Tamil interests as it always did. The Foreign Minister has been summoned to India to instruct him on addressing the Tamil problem. Tamils must rise up to the occasion and demand such a solution now. Peaceful protests must mushroom in the north and other Tamil majority areas demanding an immediate solution. Time is running out. Time will make the minority victory go stale in memory and in electorate. A solution must be sought before the ink dries up.


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