TNA will have to work with JVP to see real change – Sumanthiran

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Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran says that the President’s actual views are very liberal towards power-sharing, yet his trajectory has changed since his appointment in 2015.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader stated this at an interview conducted by an Indian media channel, The Hindu.

Sumanthiran, speaking on the appointment of Shavendra Silva as army commander, said that this must be seen in the same light as when the President resorted to drastic measures and sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place back in October 2018.

He says that the President’s trajectory has become very different from what it was when he was elected in 2015. Sumanthiran pointed out that it was President Maithripala Sirisena who led the way by example towards reconciliation in a very constructive way.

However, the President has gone back on all of that and is behaving out character, compelled perhaps by electoral and other political reasons, added Sumanthiran.

“We are very disappointed because we know that the President is not given to racism; his actual views are very liberal towards power-sharing.”

Sumanthiran says that the promise of abolishing the executive presidency – the premise that the TNA supported a candidate back in 2015 – has not been fulfilled.

“We are in a situation where we have to support one candidate or another for the post of the executive presidency that they promised to abolish. We are not amused by this turn of events.”

The leaders in the South tell their constituencies that devolution will lead to a division of the country to keep the chunk of the majority vote for themselves, said Sumanthiran.

However, as it is necessary to get a substantial minority vote, the Southern leaders resort to the ‘full implementation of the 13th Amendment’ rhetoric, said the TNA Leader.

“That way the southern constituency doesn’t feel insecure, and they are still promising the Tamil voter something. Their pledge is not sincere, we don’t take it seriously.

We will wait for all the parties to name their candidates and put out their manifestos. We will hold discussions with the candidates and take a decision. We are not in a hurry.”

“They think the Tamil votes can be obtained by seeming to be the lesser of the two evils, rather than being the party that actually delivers on the promise.”

According to Sumanthiran, after the war, the Rajapaksas had made it clear to the Tamils that they ought not to expect much in terms of rights. While this government gave reason for hope, it failed to deliver; the Tamil people are bitterly disappointed, he added.

Speaking on TNA’s upcoming meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sumanthiran said, “India’s good offices will still matter while we try to achieve this meaningful devolution of powers as envisaged in the Indo-Lanka Accord. To that extent, we will seek his assistance when we meet him in Delhi very soon.”

The parliamentarian also commented on the history of turbulent Tamil-Muslim relations and how it has evolved after the Easter Attacks.

“There was some sense in the Tamil community that the Muslims did not stand with us when we were the targets. After April 21, initially, there seemed to be a widening of the gap between Tamils and Muslims, which you might see even now on the surface. But I think deep down both communities are more conscious now than before that we need to stay together.”

Responding to a question on criticism to the TNA regarding their constant support to the government despite failures and the performance in governing the Northern Provincial Council, Sumanthiran said,

“Vis-à-vis the Northern Provincial Council, that was certainly a missed opportunity, a grave one at that because that has a lot of ramifications. In our call for devolution, we can now be told that we squandered the opportunity given to us, albeit in a system that didn’t grant enough powers. The accusation is that we didn’t use even those limited powers and there is substance to that accusation.

The TNA which propped up and even now props up the government is seen as having backed the wrong horse and not achieving anything for its people.”

Stating that the next phase of TNA will have to see a significant shift in terms of engagement with the forces in the south, Sumanthiran says that the TNA will have to work with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and other progressive alternative forces in South to achieve real change.

“We have had discussions with the JVP and post-October 26, the 52 day-saga, many told us that the JVP and the TNA were the two parties that held the political side together and that JVP and TNA coming together even on a political project would be a welcome change.

I can’t say readily at this presidential election whether we will see a coming together of such forces, but in the long-term definitely that is the way to go.

There may be the two main parties with whom we will anyway have to engage with and collaborate – because one or the other will be in office, but for real change, I think we will have to work very closely with the JVP and other progressive, alternative forces in the south.”