“Given the depth of Tamil feeling – and bitterness – about the treatment of Tamil civilians by the security forces, particularly, though not only, in the endgame of the war, do you really think an army general can represent Tamils as well as Sinhalese and do you think they will trust him?”
The question was from a Face Book friend. Instead of an individual reply, let me take the issue in open. She may not be the only skeptic.
On the face of it, I partially agree with her. Large number of Tamils might be still feeling bitter about General Sarath Fonseka’s role in the war – between rebels and the state to many, but between Sinhalese and Tamils to few.
However, it was not the only war Sarath Fonseka fought. He was a senior officer in 1988/9 too and certainly fought for the interests of the state against the rebels – JVP and Sinhalese. He was a soldier. His duty was not to question why, but to do and die. The decisions to fight, as we know well, were of politicians. Soldiers do not select their opponents. They fight against the enemies of the state; be that Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. (I am not giving excuses, this is the harsh reality)
Why nobody asks how many Sinhalese killed by Sarath Fonseka’s boys in 1988/9? Because we know the soldiers don’t see them as Sinhalese. Soldiers are not given a choice to sympathise with their cause. Had one of his daughters taken arms against the state, Sarath Fonseka would have fought with her too. He was a soldier.
Operations issues, no doubt were concerns. How did Sri Lanka Army, with Sarath Fonseka as its head treated Tamil civilians? Was it as bad as portrayed by the Diaspora Tamil community?
Let us discuss that, but more important things first.
I see five and only five options available for the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the forthcoming Presidential election.
a) Vote for Sarath Fonseka
b) Vote for Mahinda Rajapaksha
c) Vote for the Tamil candidate
d) Vote for anyone among the rest (eg. left candidates who did raise a voice for Tamil rights)
e) Refrain from voting
Let us see the possible outcome of each; bottoms up.
OPTION 1: REFRAIN FROM VOTING
This was what the ‘Jaffna Tamils’ (A bit inaccurate term to refer Tamils from the Northern province) did in 2005. Even without LTTE influence, most had reasons to boycott elections. With LTTE reluctant to resume peace talks, a vote for Ranil Wickremasinghe did not necessarily bring a new hope; from their perspective.
Now, the environment is different. LTTE is history. We are back to near normalcy. Jaffna Tamils get an opportunity to freely exercise their votes for the first time after 1982. (Just assume Rajapaksa boys do not play any dirty games on January 26) They have all the right to abstain, but why? That will not serve any useful purpose, unless if one prefers anarchy.
OPTION 2: VOTE FOR ANYONE AMONG THE REST
Hardly makes sense. None of them will get enough to be seen as a protest vote. Voting Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Siritunga Jayasuriya or Wije Dias to show gratitude is fine, (These are three rare Sinhalese who fought for Tamil rights throughout their lives.) but after two weeks nobody will remember their votes. (Less than 0.1% anyway)If protest is what you want, make sure that is seen.
OPTION 3: VOTE FOR THE TAMIL CANDIDATE
Why should Tamils vote for a Sinhalese when there is a Tamil candidate?
Let me tell why. Even if the entire Tamil population votes for Sivajilingam he will get not more than 10-15%. (This is highly unlikely; More than 90% Colombo Tamils back UNP. Even without Thonda, sizable percentage of ‘Indian’ or ‘Upcountry’ Tamils too will follow suit.) So what? It will not make him the President. Doing so will surely show the Tamils’ strength but for what? Isn’t this the time to think as Sri Lankans? Isn’t this the time to vote on larger political issues rather than on ethnicity?
By the way, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest ‘Tamil’ party has not endorsed the candidacy of their former colleague. Instead they have decided to support Sarath Fonseka. Nobody calls that a perfect choice; just the best among the available.
In the Presidential Election of 1982, the only one so far to have a serious Tamil candidate, G.G. Ponnambalam Jnr. (Kumar) got only 40% (87,263 votes) from Jaffna district while the SLFP candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa was not too behind. (35% and 77,300 votes) Why Jaffna Tamils voted Kobbekaduwa, whom they have hardly heard about? It could have been partially a protest vote, but more importantly a reflection Jaffna Tamils did well under the control regime of Sirima Bandaranaike. They vote on issues, not on people or ethnicity.
That is what we need. Tamils should think themselves more as Sri Lankans and vote on principles rather than ethnicity. Who will address their day to day problems? (We have come a long way since the ‘Sinhalese’ governments could ignore their pressing issues like they did in 1970s.) In terms of economy and rights Sarath Fonseka certainly offers a better package to Tamils than anyone else in the list.
OPTION 4: VOTE FOR MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA
This sounds more like a joke. Why should a Tamil vote for Rajapaksa? Or, for that matter why should anyone vote for this opportunistic would be dictator whose only interest is himself and family? Do we want a Zimbabwe here? Can any self respecting individual endorse the re-election of this Idi Amin who shamelessly violated the human rights? Have we forgotten white vans? Have we forgotten Karuna hijacking Colombo Tamils for ‘kappam’?
Rajapaksa is also the candidate of the extreme Sinhalese – the Jathika Hela Urumaya types, who think the land belongs only to Sinhalese Buddhists and everyone else (including Sinhalese Catholics) live as second class citizens. He doesn’t even represent the moderate Sinhalese. Why should anyone expect him to represent Tamils?
Sarath Fonseka, on the other hand is the only candidate that represent the minorities. See the people who stand with him. We still have a long way to go to win an acceptable political solution to ethnic issue and Tamil grievances, but that will happen only if Sarath Fonseka comes into power. Otherwise the road will be closed forever.
OPTION 5: VOTE FOR SARATH FONSEKA
I already gave TEN reasons why anybody should vote for Sarath Fonseka. I reproduce five below in summary format. The full list is at http://bandaragama.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/2564.
1. HE IS CLEVER: Sarath Fonseka started at the lowest ranks of the army and rose to the very top. Then he ended a 30 year long ‘unending’ war. Need I say more?
2. HE IS HONEST: Having led the army when it did procurements of unprecedented levels, Sarath Fonseka could have made fortunes for seven more generations, even with 1% cuts. He did not. All he owned at retirement were a 15 perch land at Bokundara, Piliyandala with a house – that cost LKR 1.2 million for construction, a Mercedes Benz, and LKR 641,000 in bank. His wife has bank balances of LKR 23,307 and USD 2,952 and jewelry worth a little more than LKR 1.6 million.
3. HE INTENTIONS ARE NOT TO SERVE HIS FAMILY: Let us not kid ourselves. Why Rajapaksa wants power? To make his family grew further – bigger and more powerful. Perhaps he wants to make his family the richest in South Asia. Aren’t we tired of this kind of petty politics? Isn’t this the time to give a chance for somebody who thinks about the country before himself?
4. HE REPRESENTS A NATION, NOT A SINGLE RACE: Can Rajapaksa ever say he represents Tamils, or in that case even Muslims? Rajapaksa’s JHU supported Peoples’ Alliance represents only the extreme Sinhala Buddhists – not even moderate Sinhalese. On the contrary, Sarath Fonseka’s United National Front, true to its name, represents all ethnic communities at the top level. He will be the only leader capable of uniting this divided land.
5. HE IS ABOVE POLITICS: Unlike Rajapaksa, who is still very much within the political game (and thus not approved by nearly half of the country) Sarath Fonseka is above politics. He is not a candidate of this part or that party. He will unite the entire nation under a single flag.
Finally, the bitterness Tamils having with Sri Lanka Army. Whatever they are irrespective whether they are true or not, I frankly think this is the time to bury the hatchet and forget differences. We all should think as a nation. True, Sarath Fonseka, just like Rajapaksa, primarily represent Sinhalese. Yet, given his team I firmly believe he will do more for Tamils interests than Rajapaksa. What matters is future and not past. Sorry for being blunt.
SARATH FONSEKA IS THE FUTURE OF SRI LANKA NATION. I AM SURE YOU ALL WILL AGREE.