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Can Sampanthan regain lost political clout of the minorities?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( July 31, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recent weeks saw the emergence of two new political trends in two different camps that are indicative of diverse repercussions yet to be assessed. One was the unanimous decision of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to nominate former Supreme Court Judge, C.V. Vigneswaran as its chief ministerial candidate, having successfully ironed out the differences of opinion that prevailed among the contending parties until the final moment.

The other was the ominous threat by Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Patali Champika Ranawaka to withdraw from the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), to mark their opposition to the devolution of police and land powers to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). What is significant about the latter is that the threat comes from two strong pillars of Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sinhala-Buddhist power edifice.

When objectively analysing the two separate incidents, it becomes amply clear that the minority clout is gaining points in its struggle with the Sinhala-Buddhist power base.

Minority political power was a J.R. Jayewardene concept, created for the benefit of the United National Party (UNP) to garner future election victories. Both, the Executive Presidency and the preferential voting system, gave minority parties considerable intrinsic political clout to make and break governments. But this so called conceptually ideal format was shattered by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuina (JVP) when it joined mainstream politics in the aftermath of the 1988-89 failed uprising, in which the party lost all its politburo members, except Somawansa Amarasinghe, who survived by fleeing the country.

Political struggle

He was experienced enough to understand later that grabbing power through an armed struggle was too far-fetched and that his best chance stood in a successful political struggle. Consequently, he concentrated on becoming a decisive power in the country's political landscape. The first step towards the JVP's revised agenda came with the Provincial Council elections in 1999. The new generation of frontline JVP members, Wimal Weerawansa, Nandana Gunatillaka, Tilvin Silva et al came to the political centre stage by being successful at this election. They cleared the next hurdle to their goal, by winning some seats at the 2000 General Election and with the success achieved in the 2004 election they ultimately realized their goal of becoming the country's third political power that could make or break governments. A power, which until then, was wielded by the minority parties thanks to JR's 1978 Constitution.

The political power enjoyed by the minorities from 1978 to 2004 under JR's Constitution paved the way for a whole new identity for the country as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity. However, with the JVP's ascent to a position enabling it to play a decisive political role, the country regained its traditional status as a unitary State. In 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to use the concept of unitary State very effectively to win the Presidential Election.

J.R. Jayewardene, when he introduced the 1978 Constitution, strongly believed the minority support was crucial to forming a government. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who came to power in 1994 also subscribed to the same belief. But the JVP exposed the lie to this belief and proved that governments could be formed without minority support.

Mahinda Rajapaksa gravitated to a military solution against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with the newfound strength emanating from the concept of a unitary State, which the JVP had established.

Annihilation of the LTTE

With the annihilation of the LTTE and its leader, V. Prabhakaran, the TNA was pushed to the wall, with the clout wielded by the minority political groups to give him a leg up. In actual fact, the TNA's position then was similar to that of the JVP after the annihilation of its political bureau en-mass during the 1988-89 period.

TNA Leader R. Sampanthan is now on a similar mission to that of Somawansa during the early resurrection of the JVP; to regain minority political power it has lost.

The Indian sponsored 13th Amendment is causing discontent among government coalition parties, specifically Weerawansa's National Freedom Front and Champika Ranawaka's Jathika Hela Urumaya. At a recent Cabinet meeting, Mahinda Rajapaksa had remarked that a conspiracy to create a rift and divide the Sinhala-Buddhist power base among the people is insidiously raising its head and that Wimal and Champika should not allow themselves to become the victims. If the Sinhala-Buddhist power base in society weakens, Mahinda Rajapaksa will have to depend on minority support at both Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the future.

But there is a big 'if' in this. Such a political scenario is possible only if Sampanthan succeeds in restoring minority political power after the Northern Provincial Council elections.

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