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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

PA can't have it and eat it

11April 1999

The elections to the five provincial councils have set the stage for new electoral calculations and for the emergence of new power brokers in Sri Lanka politics.

The calculation is simple. (Policies and strategies of two national parties, as we all know too well, are determined by this arithmetic not by pious concerns about our general welfare). The PA got 45 percent of the votes. The UNP 43 and the JVP 5 percent. (That the JVP has become a powerful and growing third force is today a foregone conclusion.) The only easy way out of this situation in the mind of the government strategist is to woo Tamils in the northeast and spend more on the economy, particularly in view of JVP's recently displayed potential to further boost its 5 percent with the votes of the growing ranks of the rural and urban ultra poor, eating mainly into the PA's left of centre vote bank.

The UNP and the JVP focused mainly on the economy and poverty in their campaign. The military glories of the PA appear not to have swept the voter off his feet. If capturing Mankulam and Madhu was not enough to greatly impress the Sinhala voter, then one wonders how opening the road to Jaffna and taking the rest of the Wanni is going to sway his or her mood in PA's favour.

So whatever the personal sentiments or ideological commitments of the rank and file, the PA has to listen to the dictates of the calculation.

The Sinhala vote is remarkably divided now and any further division caused by the growth of the JVP will hurt the PA and not the UNP.

Hence it is back to square one - add bloc minority vote to the divided Sinhala vote to surmount the 50 percent mark or secure the 48 percent required to get enough seats to survive in Parliament.

It will indeed be a tall order even for PA leadership to prosecute the war 'gloriously', woo the Tamils of the northeast and spend lavishly on the economy.

The PA and the UNP have to now take into account another fact that emerged this week in their calculations about Tamil and Muslim votes.

Tuesday's provincial polls point to a new configuration in minority politics in 2000 and 2001- the election years.

There are clear indications that the bargaining power derived by minority parties from their numbers in Parliament is bound to change significantly at the next general elections. One might, at this juncture, safely venture the prognostication that the TULF and the JVP will push out the CWC, the EPDP and the SLMC from their current position of power in Parliament.

The SLMC claims nine MPs, the EPDP nine and the CWC nine.

Let us take the Ceylon Workers' Congress first. Who are its nine MPs in parliament currently, constituting Mr. Thondaman's bargaining chip as it were? Contesting on the UNP list at the general election in 1994, the CWC got an MP each from the districts of Kandy, Matale and Badulla. Three CWC MPs were elected from the Nuwara Eliya district. Mr. Thondaman and Mr. A.M.D Rajan came on the UNP national list – SLMC MM Zuhair and Rauf Hakeem and Asitha Perera . And two more on the UNP's Colombo list came to Parliament after Ossie Abayagoonasekera and Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi were killed by the suicide bomb blast which took the life of Presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayaka on Nov. 9, 1994.

The votes the Ceylon Workers Congress and its assorted allies got in the three districts of Kandy, Matale and Badulla are not enough for them to return any member to Parliament at the next general elections. (16954 or 3.26% in the Kandy district; 9306 or 5.03% in Matale district and 19224 or 6.12 % of the total votes in the Badulla district.) This seems to be the case particularly given the JVP's performance in these districts at the provincial polls and its potential to grow.

In Nuwara Eliya the CWC even with the assistance of assorted Tamil trade unions has managed to get 25.57 percent of the votes in the district which returns six members to Parliament. The UNP is in a position today to get two MPs here plus the district's bonus seat at the general election. That leaves us with three seats between the PA and the CWC of which the PA is bound to take two unless Mr.Thondaman decides to contest as a government ally on a common list.

One need not talk about the CWC's fall in Colombo. It wooed the votes of the Tamil people in the hill country and Colombo as a champion of Tamil rights with the aid of a host of smaller plantation trade unions, calling itself the Inthiya Vamsaavali Makkal Perani. (But technically National Union of Workers- NUW).

The UNP candidate Joseph Charles and Velammal Sellasamy got more preferential votes than the total votes polled by the Inthiya Vamsaavali Makkal Perani. Mr.Thondaman could not hide his anger at the Colombo Tamils the day the results were out. He charged that they had voted opportunistically for the UNP.

Basically the fact is that the CWC cannot return a single member to Parliament from the Colombo district at the next general elections.

So what do we get? Three CWC MPs at most in the next Parliament. (One national list and two perhaps from the hill country) if we go by the results of the provincial council polls on Tuesday. Talk about Thonda being a kingmaker with three MPs or even less.

The EPDP cannot, even remotely, hope to send nine MPs to Parliament again. The TULF will take most of its seats in Jaffna. Informed political observers in the peninsula say that if the party goes ahead with its current reorganising work, it should be able to secure at least six out of the ten seats. The TULF can retain all four seats it currently has in the east and gain at least one in the Wanni, mainly due to the continuing implosion of the PLOTE. The party will secure a national list MP too.

Therefore we are talking here of at least 11 TULF MPs in the next Parliament with the EPDP relegated to a very minor presence in the legislature.

Of its nine seats, the SLMC is certain of retaining its current seats in Ampara (two), in Batticaloa (one) and in the Wanni (one). If it has no election pact with the PA this time it can neither retain its seat in Trincomalee nor get the two national list MPs it secured from the government last time.

And Ashraff is telling colleagues in Parliament that he would go it alone next year. Furthermore, the SLMC cannot return an MP from Jaffna this time.

Six MPs would be the maximum the Muslim Congress can hope for next year if it were to contest the general elections on its own.

But one can predict with a degree of certainty that the JVP might equal the SLMC in the number of MPs it can send to Parliament at the general elections if they are held next year.

Some psephologists say that the JVP will send more people to Parliament if it keeps up the momentum it has gained now. The JVP and the TULF (if the party's eastern group retains its current power) are not too amenable to opportunistic manipulations.

But they are the major forces the PA and the UNP will have to reckon with in the coming years. The TULF and the JVP oppose the extension of the emergency whereas the smooth support of the 27 MPs of the CWC, SLMC and the EPDP helps the government run the war and ruin the economy unhindered. This will change.

The TULF (barring the few crass opportunists in the ranks) will feel constrained to support the war; and the JVP will remain committed to its socialist agenda.

A totally different scenario, different players.So we may venture the suggestion to the busy strategists of the PA and UNP - "Reconfigure your 1994 calculators".

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