Tamil Diplomat

The Presidential Election and Tamil Nationalism

L. Vijayanathan

The forthcoming Presidential Election in Sri Lanka that is to be held on the 8th of January is of unprecedented historical importance. Though it is viewed as a confrontation between two fundamentalist Sinhala extremists, in reality it is also considered as a decisive election keenly contested between autocratic rule and a democratic renaissance sought by people who have been adversely affected by that dictatorship. In this election Mahinda Rajapakse and Maithripala Sirisena have entered the fray as the representatives of the dictatorial rule and the alliance of the opposition parties respectively. Maithripala Sirisena has come out of the Party of the President and is posing a challenge to him.

On this occasion also Mahinda has resorted to his routine ploy of resorting to the tiger threats to obtain votes. He has geared up his election campaign by fanning up communalistic feelings among the Sinhalese people at the grass-root levels and hopes for a victory as achieved on the previous occasions. He realizes only too well that the Tamil people of the North and East will never vote for him. He uses the claims that Maithri has an agreement behind the scenes; that the possibility of the country breaking up into two is imminent and the Tamil diaspora and the Western World are very much a part of this conspiracy. This is resorted to as a psychological warfare on the Sinhala voters. He acts in the hope that as a result the Tamils of the North and East and their leaders will not openly support the opposition alliance and even if they do so, then he can shrewdly use this to obtain the votes of the Sinhalese.

Maithri has embarked on his election campaign by asserting that he will abolish the Executive Presidency and the autocratic family rule and restore democratic governance and that he would never betray the patriotic soldiers who put an end to terrorism in this country. His main Election Manifesto has given prominence to these pledges. He has an election strategy that would appear to appeal to both the aspirants of change and those with extreme Buddhist Sinhala standpoints. That he has in his alliance a blend of the extremist parties and the moderate leaders of neutral parties and they are mobilized fully is certainly to his advantage.

As the Sinhala nation is split into two factions and faces an election, the situation of the Tamil speaking people is neither here nor there. Both leaders are vying to prove that they are against the minorities and they have not made any tangible moves to win over the minorities. When we compare this situation with the pledges made in erstwhile election manifestos; it becomes very clear that neither candidate is willing to assume any risks.

The main reason for this state of affairs is that the Tamil issue is no longer an impressive part of the political and economic agenda and their position has become very weak.

The reality that they have not been politically mobilized and built up as a force to be reckoned with is another contributory factor. The delusion that they need not struggle for their own emancipation and this belief that others will intervene and work out miraculous solutions for them has made them vulnerable. When we consider the options open for the Tamils and their leaders, there are two possibilities. One is a wholesale boycott of this election and the other is to participate in the election.

The first option doesn’t offer any explanations as to what the advantages are and as to the nature of the message it will give the international community. On the other hand it may send out negative signals to the Sinhala nation and the world at large. It may have adverse impacts on building up and integrating the Tamils politically. It will pave the way for Tamil people to lose hope and stay away from democratic processes.

The second option of participating in the elections will pose the question of whom to vote for. Both candidates are the products of Sinhala Nationalism. The Tamil people will not gain anything by supporting any of them. Apart from leaders and their ideologies, we cannot gainsay that a considerable number of Sri Lankans are frustrated with the ways of the present government and are yearning to have a change that will strengthen democracy.

We, the Tamils can give a message loud and clear to our Sinhalese brethren who seek a change by exercising our right to vote. We have to tell them very clearly that our votes are not given to the communalistic leadership, but as an oppressed community that has experienced the pain and misery of marginalization and discrimination, we have come forward in solidarity with the Sinhalese compatriots that suffer under a dictatorial regime and that it is a hand extended once again in the name of peace. Gripping that firmly or spurning it is left to them. We have to tell them very clearly that if they failed to understand our issues and offer a reasonable solution, then we would have no alternative but to prolong our democratic struggle.

The Tamil people can be partners in victory by voting for those who seek a change. This will compel our Sinhalese brethren and their leaders to think about the issues of the Tamil people. It will be an opportunity to reveal to the whole world the bona fides of the Tamil nation once again.

This exercise will facilitate the political mobilization of the Tamil people under a single banner, the strengthening of the Tamil nation and making the groundwork for the preparation for the General Elections that will ensue.

We, the Tamil speaking people, have to analyse things objectively and act realistically to achieve our goals.