In Sri Lanka, the past seven decades the outlook for the Tamils has not been pleasant to say the least and at times been more disastrous than at the time the country gained independence in 1948. Bitter Truth is this state of affairs heavily impacted the country to take it from a leading nation in the region to a debt riddled nation by 2019 and is now struggling to prevent interferences from other nations. The total blame goes to the short sighted rulers who pursued with majority people biased governance to cause major human rights problems to the minority communities. Thus the Tamils living in the North and East provinces retaliated with the state that tried to correct the imbalance caused by centuries of colonial rule; by setting the clock back to pre-colonial rule with their exclusive policies without going forward with a holistic rule fit for the multi-ethnic and multi religious population in a land that was well placed in location and resources. This resulted in many uprisings from the minorities to drag the little island nation to a civil-war that lasted for three decades that was brought to finish in 2009 with more international interference; left the Tamil people subjected to major abuse of human rights. Earlier in 1987 another international interference by neighbour India resulted in the introduction of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, that devolved powers to the provinces, among other things merged the North and East provinces; unfortunately three decades passed and yet it was never implemented properly by the short sighted rulers.
Today, though a minority in the country the Tamils are 85 percent of the population in the North and East provinces are represented in parliament by the Tamil National Alliance [TNA] is a major political force. The TNA was formed while the civil-war was still on to be the voice of the Tamils in the Parliament and wants its people to live in the country with equality, dignity, safety and without all forms of discrimination. The TNA firmly believes that sovereignty lies with the People and not with the State as such claim it is not the government in Colombo that holds the right to govern the Tamil People, but the people themselves and feel that the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is flawed as the power is still concentrated at the Centre and its Agent, the Governor.
After the war ended in 2009, as negative peace prevailed the North and East provinces were demerged and Tamils witnessed more majority biased programme by the state. By 2015 another international interference forced a change of government and thereafter TNA made a significant contribution to the political programme of UNF rooted to the needs and aspirations of all people including the draft of a new constitution to give the Tamil speaking people justice and equality. TNA wants the Centre to grant a power sharing arrangement for the Tamil speaking people in a re-merged North and East provinces based on a federal structure with Muslim as historical inhabitants entitled to be beneficiaries of all the power-sharing arrangements. TNA requests devolution of power on the basis of shared sovereignty over land, law and order, enforcement of the law so as to ensure the safety and security of the Tamil speaking people, all enacted and implemented within the framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka.
In addition to continuing with the above just and lasting political solution to the national ethnic question, TNA has in parallel actively engaged in addressing the immediate and current concerns of its people. As accountability and reconciliation are fundamental to genuine and permanent peace TNA seek fulfilment of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to ensure permanent and genuine reconciliation between the different peoples on the basis of justice and equality. Further TNA wants a meaningful de-militarization to the pre-war situation as it existed in 1983 before the commencement of hostilities as it is imperative in the prevailing calm and peaceful environment.
Due to the persistent efforts of the TNA over the past four years the government has returned much of the lands held by the security forces and resettlement of the displaced people are being currently implemented, but the processes are far from complete. For there are still many thousands of Tamil speaking people displaced from the North and the East provinces due to the conflict living in other parts of the country and overseas in camps. In particular, expeditious steps must be taken for the return of over 100,000 refugees in South India. All these people needs to be resettled in their original places; housing provided and livelihoods restored in a manner that respects their dignity. The TNA has been pressing for their release of all political and other prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in relation to war-related activities must and for the abrogation of the PTA.
TNA wants finality reached by the truth being ascertained with regard to thousands of missing persons who were largely bread-winners of their families and adequate multi-faceted relief provided to the said families so as to enable them to overcome their agony and recommence lives. Further prior to 2015, it was not possible to implement a comprehensive programme for the development of the North and the East including the creation of employment opportunities for the youth due to the negative peace. However, a comprehensive development programme has been undertaken by the UNF government in the North-East, including upgrading the airports and developing sea ports and fisheries harbours.
The war left behind almost 90,000 widows in the North-East and there is a need for a clear policy to build their capacity and uplift their lives as they have become economically and socially vulnerable. Adequate steps must be taken to swiftly and effectively create livelihood programmes and other necessary measures to alleviate their present condition. Further there is also the need to address the needs of children, elders and disabled persons. The rehabilitation of ex-militants has commenced to ensure acquisition of necessary skills and creation of employment opportunities enabling them to recommence lives with dignity. For the programmes that have been implemented thus far have been inadequate and the ex-militants have not been able to earn their livelihood or recommence their lives with dignity and more action is needed to address this issue.
Prior to 2015 during the early negative peace years the structure of government was substituted by the military in the North-East to exclude a meaningful Tamil participation in effective governance. It resulted in the increase of gender based violence, abuse of alcohol and drugs and the general breakdown of traditional social structures. The situation has somewhat improved after 2015 and today the north and east provinces are governed by able civilians and not by military personnel; however the police is still mainly manned by personnel with no knowledge or talk in the language of the people they are policing.
It is in this backdrop the Presidential Election is to take place in November this year; TNA should call upon the voters in the electoral districts of Jaffna and Vanni in the Northern Province and Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara in the Eastern Province to unitedly and overwhelmingly exercise their franchise in favour of the UNF candidate contesting under the “Swan” symbol. For Sajith Premadasa the UNF candidate is popular with the people in the country including the Tamils and has proved his ability to resolve problems of the people at the grass root; has already told the TNA members of parliament who met him that if elected would initiate necessary actions to resolve the problems faced by the people in North and East provinces and for maximum devolution to the provinces within a united country.
As democracy in a plural society cannot function effectively without a constitutional framework that provides for equity, equality, justice, peace and security. Further the current political situation in North-East have proved that the present constitutional arrangements are inadequate and unsatisfactory; as it has imposed a majoritarian hegemony on the Tamil People. Thus it would be prudent and advisable for the TNA with 16 MPs to openly inform their voters in the two provinces to vote at the forthcoming Presidential Election for the UNF candidate and continue supporting its government to complete remaining tenure of parliament which ends in September 2020.