By N Sathiya Moorthy
President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is expected to order the dissolution of Parliament even within hours and order fresh elections, but the Opposition UNP on the one hand and the Tamil-majority TNA on the other seem unconcerned. They are already fighting (only) for a post-poll leadership fight within the respective party/community, without concerns about having to win the parliamentary polls before it.
There is a difference. The way the UNP is going about it, who knows, the TNA may end up as being the official ‘Opposition’ in Parliament, without the kind of interpretation that helped the party do so in the first couple of years of the current Parliament. Not that it is really possible under the existing PR system of election, but the UNP, it seems, will only be too happy and eager to lose that status, and possibly for a longer time than the party cadres may be prepared for.
The reality-check goes like this. The TNA is fighting two different battles for the Tamil community’s supremacy. One is with the breakaway groups under former Northern Province Chief Minister, C V Wigneswaran. Another is within the TNA, and more so in the leading ITAK partner, on the question, ‘After Sampanthan, who?”
Even as all of them swear by Sampanthan, pray for his good health and seek his blessings, they want the Northern Province Chief Minister for themselves, or that as the party campaign chief, empowered to select the TNA nominees for the parliamentary polls now and the PC polls that would follow. The ‘succession battle’ is on.
Not doing enough
The TNA has an advantage just now, or self-perceptions of the same. The Alliance does not have to fight the parliamentary polls that harshly against ‘outsiders’. It is a ‘Tamil vs Tamil’ poll, where it is ‘Advantage, TNA’. Yet, they are not sure if the past five-plus years has helped them or disadvantaged them, given their own greater identification with the failed ‘GNU’ dispensation and the failure of the Wigneswaran administration, nearer home.
If the TNA wants to pass off all leadership blame of failed administration in the North to Wigneswaran’s intransigence, the latter is only too happy to point out how the Alliance leadership and most of their MPs palmed off their decisive parliamentary vote for ‘thirty pieces of silver’. Both blame the other for ‘not doing enough’ for the war-ravaged community – and both of them are telling the truth, almost the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
This has made what was designated as a one-horse race into a multiple horse affair where the ‘Elephant’ cannot run, a ‘Swan’ cannot swin’, or a lotus bud bloom. The Tamil vote will count not pre-poll, but in the post-poll Parliament, if at all. It will also count, not based on what numbers the TNA and/or the others win, but on what the UNP fails to win in the Sinhala-Buddhist South. Some irony, this.
This is where the TNA has an advantage, or relative disadvantage. In comparison, the UNP is only at a disadvantage. Everyone other than the divided party leadership recognises the fact. It also implies that the UNP’s top leaders seem to have (also) acknowledged that the party may have a slim chance to win the parliamentary polls and form a government with a party man as Prime Minister.
The UNP’s problem now is not about post-poll ‘cohabitation blues’ that a party Prime Minister may face under President Gotabaya from the rival SLPP-SLFP combine. Instead, it is within the same party, where rival factions and leaders are extremely keen and exceptionally talented at scoring ‘self-goals’, and by the dozen. Not just at the top, down the party-line, at electorate and local government levels, the UNP is divided right in the middle, and further and farther, if anyone cared to check.
It is aspirational politics at one-level. It should be welcome for a healthy democracy. It should be welcome even more for a strong party. But for the top leadership to be divided in sixes and sevens is just not on, elections are no elections. This is the advantage that the ruling Rajapaksas have been having ever since Mahinda Rajapaksa became President in 2005.
Even when they were out of power, and their rivals in the CBK-Sirisena combo tried their level best, the cadres stuck to the former and moved increasingly away from the latter. Today, when CBK has been thrown out of the parent SLFP, which her parents founded and nourished, no cadre is crying for her. When Sirisena betrays his poll promises of 2005, again, no cadre cares.
TNA’s Northern Provincial Council Chairman, C V K Sivagnanam, has reportedly indicated the party’s willingness to consider working with the Rajapaksa Centre after the parliamentary poll results are known. One, they would want to see if the UNP made the grade. The other, Sivagnanam as an aspirant Chief Minister does not want to go the Wigneswaran way and take the war-ravaged population down with him.
That is a positive signal, the kind of one that then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given from the Government’s side when the Northern voters chose TNA as their party and Wigneswaran their Chief Minister. Mahinda R went out of the way to invite Wigneswaran to be sworn in by him personally (instead of the NP Governor). The idea was sending out the Centre’s willingness to work as closely with the Government that the Northern voters had elected, for their people’s uplift. That was not to be
Yet, the TNA may still be divided over working with the Rajapaksas even if Mahidna returns as PM, post-poll, as he is now and their friend in the UNP loses badly. There are those in the TNA who seem to be more loyal to the UNP and the international community than to the ‘Tamil cause’, which they stop with mouthing. Truth be acknowledged, there does not seem to be a Tamil leader at any level, who does not use the ‘Tamil cause’ to win a debating-point against his Tamil rivals, and do nothing about it in tangible terms that are achievable, too.
This battle, the Tamils will fight, first throughout the parliamentary poll campaign, and afterwards in the run-up to the provincial council polls, not long after. It will remain the same in the UNP too, to a greater or lesser degree…. Who then said, you can unbend the dog’s tail?
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)