What does this election mean for the Tamil-speaking masses? War and repression mean that the Tamil-speaking population has been reduced to less than 15% of the population of Sri Lanka. In the East and in the North, areas where Tamil-speaking people are in the majority, there are paramilitaries in control: Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) – the Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers in the East. In the North is the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP). These organisations are the voice of the government, all are armed to the teeth, they carry out human rights violations with impunity and will not allow the election to be contested fairly. The people live at the mercy of these oppressing forces.
Can the Tamil-speaking people be allowed to vote freely? Is there any alternative to the pro-government forces for them?
None of the leading candidates offers any way out for the working and poor masses. In fact they represent a choice of death by machete or death by axe. General Sarath Fonseka standing with UNP and JVP support led the war offensive, butchering the innocent Tamil minority and worked closely with the current government in all its attacks on the voices of dissent and in the suppression of democratic rights. In a breathtaking show of hypocrisy he now accuses the government of corruption and of denying democratic rights. Both the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapakse, and Fonseka suppressed democratic rights and their policies and actions pushed the workers and poor into destitution. Both are using all kinds of devious techniques to win the next election and have not shown any sign of changing their policies after the election.
Some in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a political alliance of various Tamil nationalist groups and parties brought together by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the 2002 truce, and Mano Ganesan of the Democratic People’s Front (DPF), are the only ‘Tamil’ independent voices raised so far. Now the TNA seems to be on the brink of collapse as a significant layer of its leadership is wavering between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the weak-willed opposition party, the viciously neoliberal United National Party (UNP). And the DPF continues its support for the UNP regardless of its chosen presidential candidate – General Sarath Fonseka!
Previously Mano Ganeshan, the leader of the DPF was one of the very few Tamil MPs who had enough courage to organise and participate in actions to defend the rights of the Tamil-speaking people. He was a leading organiser of the Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) together with Siritunga Jayasuriya of the United Socialist Party (USP). Like Siritunga Jayasuriya he is one of those who have bravely outspoken against the war and the attacks on democratic rights. But, despite his participation in many pickets and activities organised in the defence of minorities, journalists and activists, he has now joined the very forces he fought against.
Among the so-called Tamil elite and MPs, there are some who harbour careerist aspirations and hopes of one day becoming a minister – if the party they support is elected. But for the Tamil-speaking masses, nothing will change. No one in their right mind can ask the people to vote for either Fonseka or Rajapakse, knowing that they are responsible for a range of heinous crimes – from the mass murder of thousands of innocent people to the bloody slaughter of surrendered prisoners in Mullivaaikaal.
Some people have argued that an independent Tamil candidate cannot win, that either the SLFP or UNP must be supported. This idea – that there is no alternative other than the oppressors setting the agenda – is not acceptable. Tamil-speaking people deserve an independent voice. They deserve the opportunity to support anyone who will stand up for their rights, regardless of whether they can win a big victory or not. Of course any candidate opposing the warmongers and basing themselves on the minorities and poor will not win the election at this stage. But that is not the reason to give up the fight and to ask people to support either major party. Both are oppressive. Scandalously TNA has taken the site of the oppressing forces.
Should we then ask the oppressed Tamil masses to vote for the only Tamil presidential candidate Mr MK Sivajilingam? Sadly the fact remains that for Mr Sivajilingam there are no major political differences between the TNA and the UNP and he would have joined forces with the UNP if it had not supported the Fonseka candidature. It is only the Fonseka factor that is now keeping a significant section of the Tamil elite away from the UNP – rather than the UNP’s politics. In this respect Sivajilingam is no different from the old Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) leaders who betrayed the Tamil masses. Throughout its history the Tamil elite has made the mistake of taking the site of the chauvinist elite parties who the majority of the oppressed Sinhala masses also oppose. It is with these politics that we are determined to break. To support Sivajilingam is to support the anti-working and poor people policies of the UNP and offers no solution to the problems of the Tamil-speaking masses. The ordinary people of Sri Lanka need a candidate with a principled stand against the policies of repression.
Unfortunately another presidential candidate, Vickramabahu Karunaratne, despite his left ‘profile’, is also eager to work with the entire Tamil elite regardless of their politics. It is not the first time Vickramabahu Karunaratne and his Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) have made such a mistake. When the Indian army intervened in the north in the 1980s the NSSP argued that Indian imperialism was preferable to western imperialism and supported the presence of the Indian army in the Tamil-speaking areas. Even though they now admit that it was a mistake, Vickramabahu and his party continue to make similar mistakes as they seems to have a little understanding of the national question. [too crude!] Just as the TNA and other Tamil elites continue to cooperate with either leading party, the NSSP cooperates with the Tamil elite without reservation, abandoning the oppressed working and poor Tamil masses for the sake of electoral gains is not acceptable.
Mr Sivajilingam’s position not to take the side of the oppressors and join forces with the left candidate should be welcomed. However, at a stage where a clear political alternative is needed this marriage of convenience between Sivajilingam and Vickramabahu Karunaratne has only an electoral objective. In Tamil Solidarity we do not believe that they possess a clear alternative for the oppressed Tamil masses who at this stage need a long-term committed fighting programme to win their rights rather than a electoral stunt.
What should our strategy be? The majority of the exploited Sinhala masses do not support either the ruling government or the opposition candidate. However, they have been led to believe that the brutal war was conducted in their interest. But the truth is to the contrary. The exploited Sinhala masses have nothing to gain from the mass killings of Tamil-speaking people. It is the ruling class that benefits from the brutality. We must join with those organising the exploited Sinhala masses against their oppressors. Only when the Sinhala workers and poor stand up for the rights of the Tamil workers and poor can any solution be found. Instead of allying with the oppressive forces who exploit all sections of society, Tamil-speaking people should stand up with those fighting. We must join with them to build an independent voice.
The most important question is not how we can defeat the current government in this election. Instead the question is how can we build this independent force that will change society for the benefit of all the Sinhala,Tamil, Muslim and upcountry masses.
Based on this long-term strategy Tamil Solidarity can carefully work with only those who are prepared to permanently defend the rights of the oppressed masses.
What the pro-business, ruling elite refuses to acknowledge is that there is an alternative. There are people even in the south who have consistently defended the rights of Tamil-speaking people and workers and poor. United Socialist Party (USP) members have risked their lives to speak and organise against the brutal war and oppression. They remain the only voice that is bravely and consistently defending the rights of the Tamil-speaking people. The USP also helped to set up the civil monitoring commission (CMC) that investigates death and disappearances caused by paramilitary operators. They risked their lives to openly condemn these atrocities and to organise pickets and activities.
Media in Tamil Nadu and around the world published widely when USP secretary, Siritunga Jayasuriya, bravely spoke against the brutal war at its height. This was at a time when the defence minister famously declared that you are either with the government and military or against them and accused everyone who spoke against them as being traitors. The majority of the Tamil politicians who now argue for a vote for the leading parties either remained silent or chose to support the government. But these political fighters in the USP risked their lives to stand up for the principles and ideas for which they have always stood – standing shoulder to shoulder with the poor and oppressed masses in the fight for their rights. This consistent approach and record deserves respect and it is the USP who the oppressed people, be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, should trust. The TNA MPs and other Tamil elites know this fact very well. There is nothing impossible about having a Tamil candidate in the presidential election. But is this candidate prepared to stand up for the rights of the Sinhala workers and poor is the key question.
Siritunga Jayasuriya also helped to set up the ‘Stop the Slaughter of Tamils’ campaign which was the predecessor of the Tamil Solidarity campaign. From this record and the trust we built in our long fight against the attacks and brutality against the Tamil-speaking minority that TS steering committee urges all its members to support a left candidate, Siritunga Jayasuriya in particular.