Sri Lankan Tamils Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

(January 05, Colombo - Lanka Polity) The decision of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to support opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka at the January 26 presidential is a crucial victory for the opposition and the TNA move has potentials to make impact on the voters of the other minority communities as well.

In 2005, United National Party (UNP) candidate Ranil Wickramasinghe lost the presidential to the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa since he was deprived of the Tamil votes by the election boycott of the then powerful Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sinhala polity is divided with the candidature of the ex-Army chief Sarath Fonseka and Rajapaksa can claim for the arch-chauvinist Sinhala votes and his campaign will be more Sinhala-centered in the days following the TNA decision.
Already the Upcountry Tamil party Ceylon Workers' Congress is divided and the government is receiving half-heated support from major political parties of the Upcountry Tamils. UNP bagged 128,289 votes at the Central Provincial Council election last year while the ruling coalition was able to achieve only 146,418 despite all its war successes and the state-sponsored propaganda. UNP also won the Nuwaraeliya-Maskeliya electorate that is the heart of the plantations. The decision of the TNA can have a great impact on the Upcountry Tamil polity. The same happened in the 2005 presidential and the turnout in the plantations was also low.
Although the leaders of several Muslim splinter groups are with the government, the major Muslim party Sri Lanka Muslim Congress supports opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka.
A number of paramilitary based political groups of Tamil origin support Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Eastern Provincial Council election was held in 2008 just after the province was cleared of Tamil Tiger rebels. The TNA had no opportunity to contest due to the prevalent conditions. Tamil People's Liberation Tigers (TMVP) leader ex-paramilitary cadre Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan swore in as the Chief Minister after the government coalition won the election. Due to the clashes with ex-TMVPer Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman and due to the displeasure caused by the sidelining of the Chief Minister from the development work in the province handled by the President's all powerful brother Basil Rajapaksa, the TMVP is also not offering fullest corporation for Rajapaksa's presidential campaign at the moment.
The major Tamil constituent in the parliament is TNA. It was branded as a proxy of the Tamil Tigers before the latter's defeat. TNA has lost gravity since then but it performed unexpectedly well in the local government elections of Jaffna Municipal Council and Vavuniya Urban Council. They won the Vavuniya Urban Council while they were placed second to the government coalition in Jaffna Municipal Council through a low profile campaign vis-a-vis state-sponsored propaganda of the opponent.  The ruling coalition collapsed to third position in Vavuniya Urban Council.
All these facts lead to the argument that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has poor support from the minority communities of the country. Quite extraordinarily the Tamils have opted to Sarath Fonseka who was equally Sinhala chauvinist and equally instrumental in the brutal repression of the Tamil struggle. Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights identified the war victory in the terms "For both parties, the key to military dominance lay not in brilliant strategies, but in an utter disregard for the lives of civilians and combatants alike, driven by their leaders’ single-minded pursuit of personal power."
However, the Tamils appear to be tired of the Sinhala chauvinist rule of the Rajapaksa regime and they have expressed their displeasure through choosing Fonseka but with less hopes for a better future.
Senthan Nada, a Toronto spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop the War in Sri Lanka, told Digital Journal in an e-mail on Sunday that Tamils in Sri Lanka are like “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” because both candidates were partnered together during the military operations.
“I think The Tamils have to choose between the lesser of the evils. Tamils are considering Sarath Fonseka as a common opposition candidate and lesser evil of the two evils,” he says.


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