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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 TULF: Stage set for new leadership

29 November 1998

The Tamil political scene is undergoing some fundamental changes.The TULF now carries on without the active guidance of M. Sivasithamparam. And it appears that the stage is set for the emergence of a new leadership.

Those in the party who have been sympathetic to the PA have lost their former influence. Mr.Anandasangari is the only leader of the TULF who is now prepared to rise to the defence of the President and her policies despite persistent attacks in sections of the Tamil press accusing him of unabashed treachery. (A Tamil political fortnightly reported last week that an aide of Mr.Aanadasangari had helped the Bamabalapitiya Police arrest an LTTE suspect in Colombo and that it had later transpired that the youth was the son of an ardent TULF supporter.)

Mr. Sampanthan and Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam have become more prudent in expressing their sympathies though the latter had been unhappy that he had to vote against the Government on the budget.

The fading away of Mr. Sivasithamparam has prepared the ground for Joseph Pararajasingham to consolidate his power as the de facto guiding force in the TULF. The statement of Mr. Anandasangari to the Daily News on Thursday, criticising opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, embarrassed all the MP's in the party. And it will be occasion for the formulation of a policy and procedure for issuing statements which will further strengthen Mr. Pararajasingham's hold on the party.

A report in the Hindustan Times on the appointment of Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardena as Governor of the northeast has also contributed to the growing unease in the TULF about the embarrassing political incoherence among the leadership.

The report said "A TULF spokesman said that any Tamil occupying the post of NEP Governor would be automatically included in the LTTE list of "drohis" (traitor) and annihilated. The moderate Tamil party also felt that a military man might be best suited for the office at this juncture when the civil administration in the province was only an adjunct of the military in the context of the on-going military operations.

The TULF further said it would be wrong to dub a man as anti-Tamil based only on preconceived notions about military officers and the Sinhalese.The report angered some MPs and working committee members and will be among the issues that will be taken up at the next Politburo meeting. "This statement is totally unwarranted," a Batticaloa MP of the TULF said.

The eastern MPs say the party's future would be doomed if it is seen by the Tamils as an unscrupulous lackey of the PA.

The possibility of a force emerging in the TULF that might be amenable to the interests of the Government remains extremely remote today basically because of the unstable security situation in Jaffna.

It was expected when things were seen returning to normal in the north that the pro-Government sections of the TULF leadership would become more assertive and overshadow the Batticaloa MPs. But now Jaffna has become almost out of bounds for the TULF.

Matters are actually worse for the party's pro-Government coterie than they were before the holding of the local government polls in January.

As the election year approaches, the future looks somewhat bleak both for the Batticaloa group and for the others. Contesting the general elections in Jaffna is well nigh impossible if there is no improvement in the security atmosphere in the peninsula.

And in the East things are no better. Most of the TULF vote banks in Trincomalee and Batticaloa are in areas currently dominated by the LTTE.

The problem that worries the TULF in Batticaloa is the possibility that three or four of the district's five Parliamentary seats might go to the Muslim candidates of the SLMC and the UNP.

If the LTTE retains its current influence in the district then voting in the Tamil majority areas will be almost nil. This will affect the TULF alone. The PLOTE, EPDP and the TELO here are not bothered about the future. They are more concerned with their survival amidst the growing threat of increasing LTTE infiltration into the heart of the Batticaloa town.

It should be remembered here that the single national list seat the TULF was able to obtain at the last general elections was mainly due to the large number of votes the party got in the Batticaloa district.

The situation in Trincomalee is no different. Potential TULF candidates privately say they would first seek the LTTE's approval rather than risk their lives. Mr.Thangathurai got most of his votes in the Mutur area. The Tamil majority parts of this region are largely under the influence of the Tigers now.

Vavuniya is a veritable mess. The presence of LTTE in this town and its suburb is felt almost ubiquitously now. The activities of the PLOTE's armed wing that is now a law unto itself has made things worse. The TULF is but a shadow of its former self here. The Tamil moderate alternative that the government essentially needs to effectively push its case in international fora seems doomed.

The TULF and some informed leaders of the EPDP, PLOTE and the TELO are worried that the EPRLF might shrewdly cash in on this situation by completely and unreservedly throwing in its lot with the PA at the next general elections in return for a national list seat and by negotiating a deal to do what the EPDP did in Jaffna under UNP's patronage in August 1994 - stuff ballot boxes. The EPRLF, of course, denies all this.

But other groups point to some tell tale signs that things are afoot. The Razik group is today the most powerful adjunct of the army. The EPRLF weakly insists that it has nothing to do with this special auxiliary force of the army while the reality on the ground points to a definite link.

One ex-Tamil militant leader said if this is going to be the case there are only two options available to them today to plot the course of their future.

One is to strike a deal with the PA and assist it to garner votes at the Presidential polls in the northeast and hope for very convenient concessions to manipulate the outcome favourably at the next general elections. The other is to ask the PA to postpone elections to Parliament by holding a referendum to prolong its life in return for the votes they could secure for the PA's Presidential candidate. This will further discredit their already dwindling political credibility. They sadly agree. But the situation seems inexorable as Prabhaharan once again reiterates his determination to continue with the war in his Maveerar day speech.

An enfeebled TULF and an aimless set of assorted ex-Tamil militants are not going to help the government win the war. It will only create an inevitable polarisation of the polity. And nothing more than this could help the LTTE find more people for its cause.

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