Sri Lankan Tamils seeks mandate for power sharing



Batticaloa: The Tamil political party seeking to control a Sri Lankan provincial assembly for the first time hopes an election victory Saturday will be seen internationally as a mandate for more power-sharing in ethnic Tamil-majority provinces.

Tamil National Alliance lawmaker MA Sumanthiran today said that a victory in the Eastern Provincial Council would be a key step though the party wants more power to be devolved based on federalism.

Talks have been stalled since January, and the party and the Sri Lankan government blame each other for the stalemate.

The party is a former proxy to the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were defeated in 2009 after fighting a quarter-century civil war for an independent ethnic Tamil state after years of marginalisation by majority Sinhalese-controlled governments.

Sumanthiran told a campaign meeting that with Sri Lanka's human rights periodical review at the United Nations approaching, the government was trying to portray to the international community that the Tamil people are not seeking political rights but are satisfied with infrastructure development.

"This is a God-given opportunity to defeat the government's scheme," he said. "You must use the election as a mandate to make the international community keep its pressure on the government until a meaningful devolution is given." However, the TNA will not be able to form a single-party government in the province with all three major communities living in near equal proportion and the seats distributed accordingly.

Sumanthiran said his party has invited the country's premier Muslim party to help form a government.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, representing the second largest minority after Tamils, has not responded.

The sitting, government-backed chief minister of the province says only reconciliatory politics with the central government would benefit the Tamils. "We are a community that has continuously fought and destroyed. Our needs are many and they can be met only though conciliatory politics," said Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a former child soldier with Tamil Tigers who later defected to the government and helped its forces defeat his former comrades.

He said the approach of the TNA will only help politicians get positions. Varnakulasingham Kamaladhas, a social worker in the eastern Batticaloa district said the election is seen as a contest between parties prioritising development and those promoting political rights. Even though the people do not trust the government, the TNA has also been inactive at a grassroots level, confusing the choice of the voters.

"The people are frustrated and there is also a possibility that the people may stay away from voting."

Thirty-five seats are to be filled in Saturday's election with 1,470 candidates. The province has more than a million registered voters.

PTI