Polarised Realities: For Tamils it's 'devil' everywhere

Without addressing the grievances and just aspirations of the war-affected Tamil people, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, seeking an unprecedented third term in office, has conceded in Jaffna that he has been a "known devil" and audaciously wanted them to vote for him at the January 8 poll.

Addressing an election rally in the embattled northern Jaffna peninsula on January 2, he said that the Tamils will be better off re-electing him rather than supporting the opposition candidate and “unknown angel” Maithripala Sirisena.

“The known devil is better than the unknown angel,” Rajapaksa said. “I am the known devil, so please vote for me.”

The Tamils have faced and still facing the worst in the hands of the Rajapaksa government, in-which Sirisena was a top minister till last month, for the past ten years. This includes systematic killing of hundreds of thousands of people during the war, enforced disappearances of thousands of people during and after the war, ongoing military land grab, rape, abuses and military harassment in the former war zones - to name a few.

Rajapaksa, having been responsible for the killing hundreds of thousands of people during the final months of the war and for effectively continuing the systematic campaign of genocide even after the war, is not that fool to expect the Tamils to vote for his re-election, just because he got his regional allies to rebuild some roads, bridges and the railway tracks in the former war-zones.

'Known devil'

His concern is largely not to get the Tamil votes but to ensure that they don't vote for his former health minister with the major Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) pledging unconditional support for the latter.

This could well be the reason why he is accused by the election monitors of making plans to use the military to ensure a low voter turnout in the north. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa has unmistakably been a "known devil" but it will be a grave mistake to consider Maithripala Sirisena a lesser devil, considering his rhetoric stance either on the issues of war crime, truth, justice and accountability, or on the issues of just solution to the ethnic question.

More than the UNP, Sirisena has been fully backed by former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, who gave the military leadership and the radical Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) which gave the ideological leadership to the "victory at any cost" campaign of war. 

Unitary character

Claiming his own share of credibility for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, Sirisena has said that he was the acting Defence Minister during the final week of the war as Rajapaksa was away in Jordan on a state visit.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which has reportedly asked for the military command structure during the war, would have surely noted his claim to update its data for the ongoing probe.

Sirisena, by all means is trying match President Rajapaksa although he claims that the country needed a change.

Even on the last day of the election campaign he has clearly told the country on record that he would not allow the unitary character of the state to be diluted or withdrawal of troops from the northern peninsula.

“I with utmost responsibility state here that I will never allow the unitary character of the state to be altered or withdraw troops from the North under any circumstances. We will never allow the LTTE to raise its head or allow Eelamists to raise their voices,” Sirisena said at a special press conference in Colombo on the final day of the election campaign on Monday.

Refuting government allegations and distancing himself from the non-Sinhala political parties, Sirisena said his common opposition party “has not entered into any electoral pact whatsoever with the TNA or with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to devolve powers or divide the country” in return for their support for him.

Internal dissent in TNA

The TNA, which has been demanding for the withdrawal of troops from the North, removal of high-security-zones and the return of thousands of acres of lands forcefully occupied by the military in the north, however , finds Sirisena an ideal alternative to Rajapaksa in order to find a permanent political solution to the Tamil national question.

The TNA has not only extended its unreserved support but also actively campaigned for the victory of Sirisena in the north and the east, despite opposition from some of its popular members like Sivajilingam and Ananthi Sasitharan.

It will be interesting to see how the Tamils in the embattled north and the east, who have thus far shown unwavering political maturity and supported those who championed their cause, would behave at this election, with the powerful Tamil Civil Society Forum and the TNA's alternative Tamil National Peoples' Front (TNPF) giving different advices and directives.

Pointing out that both President Rajapaksa and common opposition candidate Sirisena “have taken positions contrary to Tamil interests”, the TCSF last month said that explicitly calling for “a vote for either of the main candidates will be tantamount to accepting a unitary constitution and to rejecting international investigations”.

The TCSF also said that both the main candidates have placed “the Sinhalese at the centre of these elections and have made these elections as being material only to their future well-being” while ignoring issues that affect the Tamil people.

Commenting on the elections and the plight of the Tamils, a Sinhala rights activist said the salient contradiction that lies at the heart of the current enthusiastic campaign for 'restoring democracy' is that "it is based upon a common political agreement to deny any justice to Tamils".

"So this makes the fundamental premises upon which the current campaign for democracy is founded, anti democratic in its essence. What this means is that the whole idea of 'democracy' has been defined in a manner that leaves out the central and fundamental question of 'democracy' in the island, which is whether the state contains the democratic potential to ensure the equality and justice for non Sinhala-Buddhists".

"Sadly though, the current campaign fails to prove any such potential. As a result, we are seeing the absurd formulation of the slogan that seems to be guiding the oppositional campaign which appears to be let's restore democracy while making sure that Tamils could not gain any benefit out of it!' Or let's establish good governance while maintaining the status quo for Tamils," he said on condition of anonymity.

I could not disagree.