Kelum Bandara (Daily Mirror)
Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader Suresh Premachandran, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the future of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the aftermath of the no confidence motion against Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. The excerpts:
Q In your view, how will the crisis that erupted in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the no confidence motion against Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran have an impact on the future of it?
This problem was created by the Ilankai Tamil Arachu Katchi (ITAK), an ally of the TNA. It was led by ITAK MPs Mavai Senathirajah and M.A. Sumanthiran. The ITAK has to be held responsible. It was something triggered from outside the Northern Provincial Council actually. They have to answer the people as to why this motion was brought against the Chief Minister. This created a lot of rethinking among people. They feel that the ITAK lost credibility. Tamil people are expecting a new leadership. I hope, in the present situation after this motion, the political alliance will be altered.
Q Does it mean that a new political force will emerge in the north and the east?
Nobody can avoid that situation. There are possibilities for that.
Q Will that be led by the Chief Minister?
I do not know at the moment. Actually, there were two agitations against the ITAK. It was a spontaneous reaction by the people. One was organized by young people in the social media. The next day, another was organized by Tamil People’s Council. A large crowd gathered. They demanded a new leader. They, in fact, said Mr. Wigneswaran should take it. That is a calling from the public. I do not know what Mr. Wigneswaran is up to. Anyway, there is a lot of pressure on him as well. We have to wait and see.
Why couldn’t they resettle people in their own areas? Still, thousands of people are living in displaced camps. Their lands are occupied by the armed forces. There is no policy on these matters. Nothing has happened regarding the demand for a general amnesty to the political prisoners
Q Yet, we learnt that you, along with other alliance leaders, played a role to bring about compromise between Mr. Wigneswaran and the TNA leadership. How do you advocate a change then?
Of course, we did so to keep the Chief Minister in office. This is a plot against him. My party, along with People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO), had a lengthy discussion with the Chief Minister for a couple of days. We transferred this information to TNA leader R. Sampanthan through PLOTE leader Darmalingam Sitharthan.
Q However, the ITAK says it was the Chief Minister who invited trouble by resorting to action against two provincial council ministers against whom there was no finding of guilt. What is your response?
That is their understanding of the matter. Yet, very clearly, the Chief Minister said the charges against the two ministers could not be examined properly because witnesses could not come forward to give evidence. He said the charges should be examined further. In case they are proven innocent, they will be able to function. Otherwise, they will face action. I do not see it as a questionable position. He was not going to remove any of them without a proper inquiry. However, Mr. Senathirajah, Mr. Sumanthiran and others were shouting at him. If anyone wants a corruption free administration, why cannot he or she cooperate with the Chief Minister? This is a question to be answered by the ITAK leaders.
Q Differences among the TNA allies were not something new. It happened in the past. Yet, every time, for electoral purposes, they remain united. Can’t it happen in the future though you see a possible split?
As far as EPRLF is concerned, we are definitely having differences with Mr. Sampanthan and the ITAK. In fact, I raised it on several occasions. However, there is no action taken. There is no consultation with other allies in decision making. We are always in the dark. Only after a decision is taken, we will realize what has happened. These decisions are not sometimes acceptable to others. This has continued for a long time. There is a difference between what we promised to people and what we are doing now. That is more so in working out constitutional reforms and living up to the aspirations of Tamil people. There are differences between the ITAK and the EPRLF. Tamil people are against the ITAK as they could not deliver anything. For example, they could not complete the resettlement of the displaced. They could not address the issues related to missing persons. They could not do anything about political prisoners. They could not deliver on anything. People are disillusioned as a result.
Q As part of the TNA, you played a role in the installation of the present government. How do you see it?
Apart from bringing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, what else, have they done? I do not know what the new government did for Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim people apart from the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. There is nothing done to uplift the living condition of people. As far as Tamil people are concerned, we are having several problems. At the beginning, the government promised to address all the problems. Why couldn’t they resettle people in their own areas? Still, thousands of people are living in displaced camps. Their lands are occupied by the armed forces. There is no policy on these matters. Nothing has happened regarding the demand for a general amnesty to the political prisoners. There was such an amnesty given to the JVP cadres. During the IPKF time, there was an amnesty given. This is nothing new. The new government could not deliver anything to Tamil people though they promised to do so. The Tamil people’s opinion is against the so called ‘Yahapalana Government’.
Tamil people are against the ITAK as they could not deliver anything. For example, they could not complete the resettlement of the displaced. They could not address the issues related to missing persons. They could not do anything about political prisoners. They could not deliver on anything. People are disillusioned as a result
Q In addressing some of these issues concerning the Tamils, the government seems to be under compulsion politically in the south. How do you look at it?
Is anybody asking not to resettle displaced people? Sinhala people do not say no to the resettlement of displaced people. Definitely, they do not do so. There are narrow political interests at work. President Maitripala Sirisena has a spat with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is having a problem with President Sirisena. They have their own problems. Otherwise, I do not understand any compulsion.
Q Actually, I meant matters such as power devolution, the release of political prisoners. You describe them as political prisoners. Yet, they are described as hardcore LTTE cadres. How can the government address such concerns?
When Mr. Rajapaksa was in office, he said he would go beyond the 13th Amendment. He willingly accepted to give something more than the 13th Amendment. He may say something to rouse Sinhala nationalism. On the other hand, the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s faction loyal to the President and the ITAK have a two-thirds in Parliament. Then, why cannot they proceed? Why do they fear the Rajapaksa faction? These are the things that concern us. As far as the national question is concerned, the two main parties were taking on each other. Now, they are together in governance. Now, they point the finger at Mahinda Rajapaksa. They always have a scapegoat. We do not have any faith in this government.
Q Does it mean that Tamil people will not support any candidate from the south in the future presidential election as a result?
There are a few more years for it. Anything can happen. In politics, six months is a long period. I do not know how things will change. That will depend on the scenario at that time. Tamil people will decide what they have to do. That is a different matter. What is being done at the moment is definitely against the Tamil people.
Q What is your view on the reconciliation policy being implemented by the office of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga?
Reconciliation cannot be brought about by having football matches, Vesak festival or Sinhala Tamil New Year. If reconciliation is needed, first, the Tamil national question should be resolved. Paying a visit to Jaffna or having sports events will not resolve the problem. I humbly request Chandrika to tell the government to resolve the national question. Her father late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike advocated a Federal solution first. Now, Chandrika or SLFP does not want to talk about it. Everybody is insisting on a unitary system.
Q What is the nature of political solution you expect as the EPRLF?
Actually, it is not only the EPRLF but also the TNA that put forward an election manifesto. That is very clear. We told the government again and again what our expectations are. My opinion is that there should be a proper meeting between the government and the TNA before the constitutional process. They must resolve the important matters. After that it should be referred to the constitution making process. There is no meeting between the TNA and the government. There is a Steering Committee. Mr. Sampanthan and Mr. Sumanthiran are members of it. Nobody knows what is happening there actually. There is no transparency. We only find some subcommittee reports. When Madam Chandrika was there, she brought some proposals in 1995/1996. That also failed.
If reconciliation is needed, first, the Tamil national question should be resolved. Paying a visit to Jaffna or having sports events will not resolve the problem. I humbly request Chandrika to tell the government to resolve the national question
Q Is that set of proposals acceptable to you?
Ahead of the 2000 document of power devolution, there were proposals originally worked out in 1995/1996. That original document is very much acceptable to Tamil people. That was diluted in 2000. That was brought to Parliament in 2000. But, the UNP was opposed to it.
Q Earlier, you said that the government did nothing for the people. But, the government said it released lands for the resettlement of people. What is your opinion?
I do not dispute it. There are still 50,000 acres of land occupied by the military. Of them, 35,000 acres are private lands. The rest is state owned lands. We are talking about land belonging to private individuals. It may be Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim people. There must be a policy decision first.