Sri Lanka’s Tamils weigh candidate options, lean towards reds

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s king-maker Tamil political coalition is moving towards a “red” candidate as their current ally, the United National Party (UNP), remained locked in a power struggle, party sources said yesterday.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is yet to officially declare its preference, but has ruled out backing the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa because of his role in the no-holds-barred military onslaught that crushed theTamil Tigers over a decade ago.

A constituent member of the TNA, the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF), had a one-on-one meeting with Rajapaksa recently and made it clear that it was unable to endorse his candidacy.

With the choice left between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP and the leftist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), the TNA was weighing options of supporting the red candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake who has impressed the electorate with the launch of his campaign on August 18.

The TNA has been discussing the possibility of backing the JVP leader Dissanayake in the event the UNP failed to come up with a choice acceptable to them.

“I have had informal talks with the JVP,” DPLF leader Dharmalinga Sithadthan said. “They think they can make a considerable impact if the Tamils throw their lot behind Anura Kumara.”

A group within the TNA also feared that support to the JVP would indirectly support the cause of Rajapaksa by splitting the anti-Rajapaksa vote which would give Rajapkasa the edge. “A debate is still going on within the TNA,” a party source said.

He said the TNA, however, was largely leaning towards the UNP hoping it will be able to overcome its ongoing internal power struggle between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his deputy leader Sajith Premadasa.

Another Tamil legislator said Wickremesinghe was an easy candidate to back as his government had allocated over 7,000 million rupees for the Jaffna district secretariat this year, but they were concerned about his prospects among the Sinhalese majority.

“Our number one choice is Ranil and we have made that clear to the UNP,” the source said. “But given the in-fighting, we will have to go by the track record of other candidates.”

“The TNA could support a compromise candidate with a strong programme.”

Between the other two potential candidates – Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Premadasa – the Tamils were inclined to go with the parliamentary speaker who established his democratic credentials during the October coup, the Tamil MP said.

He said they had concerns about Premadasa, partly because his late father Ranasinghe Premadasa was avowedly opposed to the 13th amendment to the constitution which set up the provincial councils system.

TNA leader R. Sampanthan met with Premadasa and a few of his supporters on August 21, but the talks were inconclusive. It was after this meeting with Premadasa that the TNA was seriously weighing their options of supporting the JVP candidate, party sources said.

Meanwhile, DPLF leader Sithadthan said he was surprised that contents of a closed-door meeting he had with Gotabaya Rajapaksa had leaked with a spin that Tamils had been warned to support Rajapaksa or face “consequences.”

“I did not meet Gotabaya as a TNA representative, but only as the leader of my party,” Sithadthan said. “I was very surprised to read about the meeting in the media.”

Tamil legislators noted that in 2010 too they voted against Mahinda Rajapaksa and supported former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka was also a key driver of the successful and yet controversial military onslaught.

“Tamil moderates were pleased with the annihilation of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), but the collective punishment for Tamils thereafter alienated the community,” a Tamil law maker said referring to travel restrictions for Tamils, incarceration of Tamil civilians in internment camps and the enforced disappearance of tens of thousands of Tamils.

He added that it would be political suicide for them to support Rajapaksa at the upcoming election. (COLOMBO, Aug 31, 2019)