BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Secretary and Vanni District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian N. Sivasakthy Ananthan said both leaders Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are taking the most crucial decisions in the TNA. They rarely discuss and obtain the opinions of others of the constituent parties. “We obtained a people’s mandate assuring a suitable political solution within a merged North-East; solution for enforced disappearances, political prisoners and lands. However, since of late the ITAK is arbitrarily making use of this mandate that we managed to obtain with the contribution of other parties; as the ITAK is taking decisions on their own it has caused conflicts within the coalition. They have forgotten their policy obligations,” he said. Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: When other TNA coalition parties agreed to provide and support a time extension to implement the UNHRC recommendations in Sri Lanka, why did your party reject this stand?
A: Sumanthiran said our coalition is ready to give a conditional time extension of two years in order for the government to implement the UNHRC recommendations, following which we gathered a coordinating committee meeting, of all four constituent parties of the TNA, at which EPRLF, PLOTE and TELO insisted a conditional time extension should not be given to the government.
If a conditional time extension is to be given, we said that we do not have any objections on ITAK alone adhering with the decision. However, even after this discussion both Sampanthan and Sumanthiran informed the media that the TNA is ready to provide a time extension, of two years, to the government to implement the UNHRC recommendations; when it was only the decision of the ITAK at that stage.
Following their statements to the media, the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF informed that they are not ready to give an extension, as the government had done very little to implement the resolution passed at the UNHRC.
After this discussion suddenly Sumanthiran paid a secret visit to Geneva. Although he claimed that the visit was on behalf of the TNA, it was not an official visit on behalf of the coalition. If he had been sent on an official visit representing the TNA, our constituent parties must be informed of the reason for his visit and the person accompanying him. However, we were unaware of the reasons behind his visit to Geneva; later we found that he had gone to Geneva to inform and give permission for the time extension. Meanwhile, around 97 civil and Buddhist religious organizations sent a letter that an extension must be given to the Sri Lankan Government to implement the recommendations. These organizations have quoted Foreign Minister Mangala Samaweera that TNA is ready to give a time extension and therefore some time should be granted to implement the recommendations.
Following which we (TNA) were questioned and urged by various organizations that an extension should be given. However 11 TNA Parliamentarians sent a letter to the UNHRC urging that a time extension should not be given to the government as they have failed to implement the recommendations in previous time frames. As we sent the letter Sumanthiran said three parliamentarians have failed to sign this collective letter. He also questioned how we (11 parliamentarians) could send a letter to the UNHRC without informing the Leader Sampanthan, ITAK Leader Mavai Senathiraja or him. We counter questioned Sumanthiran on what basis could he inform that TNA is ready to provide a time extension to the government without any prior discussion with the other parliamentarians. We also questioned about the reasons for his Geneva visit and who gave him the authority to take such a decision.
Even Leader Sampanthan had informed the media that a time extension can be given, therefore we questioned him too. We asked Sampanthan as to why he failed to discuss this decision with the other parties in the coalition. Sampanthan admitted it was his fault and gave an explanation that he was under pressure by the media continuously questioning as to whether the TNA will be able to give a conditional extension to the government to implement the UNHRC recommendations. We vehemently condemned Sumanthiran’s statement in Point Pedro that all 11 parliamentarians who sent the letter to Geneva are fools. At this moment Leader Sampanthan warned Sumanthiran not to make contradictory statements creating conflicts within the TNA; the leader also said that he cannot call the other parliamentarians fools. These arguments and issues were discussed at a TNA Parliamentary Group meeting. Following this meeting Sampanthan said he will not say anything to the government regarding time extension.
Later we had a TNA Party meeting in Vavuniya on 11 March, and there it was discussed whether the TNA should give a time extension to the government. Except for a few ITAK parliamentarians and provincial councillors, all the others were firmly of the stance that an extension should not be given. However, Sampanthan and Sumanthiran said that the recommendations passed at the UNHRC should be implemented, therefore a conditional time extension should be provided to the government.
However, the EPRLF firmly opposed this decision, already Sampanthan and Sumanthiran had given permission for an extension through the media. Therefore, they have already taken the decisions, convening the TNA meeting in Vavuniya was merely eyewash. Our people will not gain any benefit in giving conditional time extensions to the government.
Q: It seems only the EPRLF is having disagreements within the TNA coalition but not the other constituent parties. Why is this?
A: It is quite evident that Sampanthan and Sumanthiran are taking most of the crucial decisions in the TNA. They rarely discuss and get the opinions of the other constituent parties.
It is a matter that the other constituent parties like PLOTE and TELO should be questioned as to why they remain silent despite disagreements. We have several times requested from our leader Sampanthan, over the past one year, to arrange a meeting with the government representatives to discuss the UNHRC recommendations. But a meeting in this regard was never arranged, yet some of our parliamentarians individually contact government representatives.
PLOTE Leader Sidthadthan and TELO Leader Selvam Adaikkalanathan had signed the letter sent to Geneva; but later they have changed their stance. However, we cannot contradict our stances after sending a letter to Geneva urging not to give any extensions.
Q: Is it true that there are serious conflicts within the TNA coalition?
A: We obtained a people’s mandate assuring a suitable political solution within a merged North-East; solutions for enforced disappearances, political prisoners and lands. However, of late the ITAK is arbitrarily making use of this mandate that we obtained with the contribution of other parties. ITAK is taking decisions of their own accord and this has led to conflicts within the coalition. They have forgotten their policy obligations.
Q: When the TNA obtained the people’s mandate, the main promise was made that a suitable political solution will be reached within a merged North-East. However, now that is not spoken of anymore by your leaders. What exactly is your stand on this promise?
A: EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran urged at a recent TNA coordinating meeting that Tamil villages in the Eastern Province should be merged with those in the Northern Province and one single province should be declared. At the same time we have no objections to the Muslim community forming a separate administrative unit, district or province. We cannot give up on our aspirations, because the Muslim community is not ready for a merger. The government is not ready to provide a merger therefore representatives of the Muslim community are claiming that they are against it.
Q: You have on several instances stated that there are dissatisfactions in extending support to the government. If so why do you continue to support?
A: We are not supporting the government but it is the ITAK. They hold the post of the Leader of the Opposition. They are leaders of District Development Committees and other similar groups. Therefore it is the ITAK that is extending support and we being one of the constituent parties of the TNA have not failed to address the issues of our people in Parliament.
Q: Is it true that people in the North, who have been carrying out hunger protests recently, have rejected the TNA‘s decision to give the this extension to the government?
A: Yes, they were furious with the decision. They have lost hope, claiming that if extensions are given that the process will be further dragged. Most of the protestors are in their 60s and 70s, if it is extended they claim they will not be alive to experience the solution.
Q: Does that mean the TNA would lose its popularity and support at the upcoming elections?
A: Yes, definitely! Most parents and relatives who have lost their loved ones in the war have voted for the TNA. Apart from that, even the families of former LTTE cadres also cast their votes in favour of the TNA; in such a situation this decision of the TNA has ruined their hopes.
Q: As there are conflicts within the TNA, will the EPRLF walk out of the coalition?
A: No never! We have contributed immensely to form the coalition. At the beginning our Leader Sampanthan was not ready to join the coalition but our representatives and Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham encouraged him.
We will continue to point out the faults and disagreements within the coalition.
Q: Recently TNPF Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam had invited the EPRLF to join his party in the political journey. Have your party taken any decision in this regard?
A: No we have not initiated any discussions.