An Ineffective and Fragmented Political Opposition of Tamil Leaders

November 8, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

Reuters photo



Thambu Kanagasabai


In Sri Lanka’s last Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2015, the majority of Tamils and Muslims voted for the ‘good governance’ promised by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLFP led by Maithripala Sirisena who wisely broke free from the hold of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The International Community greeted the victories of these leaders with much relief resulting in the ouster of a hostile and dictatorial Rajapaksa.

The Tamils also felt relieved and hoped for the deliverance of promises made during the election campaign by the new leaders. The Tamil National Alliance [TNA] for the first time called on the Tamils and Muslims to vote for the coalition parties though Tamils were already determined to vote out Mahinda Rajapaksa for conducting the genocidal war with the support of 22 countries and caused the worst sufferings for the Tamils.

Now, after two years in power, the record of ‘good governance’ is disappointing and deceptive as a whole, except the removal of fear and insecurity among the civilians who now enjoy the freedom of speech and expression.

TNA’s Leader Sampanthan became the official Opposition Leader, a post which was earlier held by the Tamil United Liberation Front’s [TULF] late Amirthalingam during the UNP’s rule in 1977 by the late J.R. Jayawardene.

The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] in the 2006-2009 war who dominated the Tamil’s political scene and power has resulted in a complete change of equations. The fall from a commanding position of the Tamils has now resulted in a fall into divisive dismal politics and policies among the Tamil Parties and leaders.

TNA compised of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization [TELO] People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam [PLOTE] Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front [EPRLF] and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi [ITAK] opted to support the ‘good governance’ of coalition Government without joining it and without any written agreements laying down conditions of support.  Oral and gentlemen’s promises and undertakings were preferred and relied on by TNA despite the fact that earlier written agreements were treated with scrap values, while oral promises also suffered similar fate like Mahinda’s offering of 13+, with more powers in the 13th Amendment for the Northern Provincial Council] for the Tamils.


It has always been the habit and practice of Sinhalese leaders to pour out promises on occasions whenever they appear in the Tamil areas and cities, Jaffna, etc, and during election time. The classic example is former Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala’s promise in Jaffna in the 1950s to grant parity of status to Sinhalese and Tamil Languages. In general promises given to Sinhalese in the South are mostly honored to keep alive the chances of political success. Similarly the written Pacts made with Sinhalese leaders also suffered the same fate for political expediency and fortunes like:- Bandaranayake/Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957. Dudly/Chelvanayagam Pact of 1965, Indo/SriLanka Accord of 1967, Oslo Agreement of 2002, etc.

Political opportunism always prevails over political stability and national reconciliation. The present Government of ‘good governance’ deservedly justified the hopes of Tamils for a permanent and acceptable political settlement, viewing the historical but uneasy alliance of the two major political parties, UNP and SLFP who always earlier played the role of killing each others’ political proposals, true to the spirit of opposing them for political opportunism and gains.

These two parties with their absolute majority in Parliament along with the unconditional support of TNA appear to be wavering, bickering among themselves, showing the lack of commitment and political determination to end the ethnic problem once and for all. The present opportunity could be the last and if missed, it will never materialize in the future as ‘opportunity only knocks once and if missed it is lost forever’. It appears to be that this opportunity is being frittered away.

The past two year’s rule of the government is surely disappointing for all but more for the Tamils. As for the Tamils the writing was on the wall when the 100 day program first mentioned and included the settlement of ethnic problems and later deleted it as a non-priority.  The hopes of the Tamils and even the TNA’s expectations were dealt a blow by this deliberate action which was in fact like the Tamil proverb “the sound of bells comes first signalling the after arrival of elephant”. True to the policy of following the precedents of earlier Sinhalese leaders, several and various promises were made by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil to Tamil leaders, Tamil demonstrators, Tamil delegations even to the International Community and foreign dignitaries. Some of them are related to the release of political prisoners and the fate of missing and/or disappeared persons and seized civilian lands.

As expected these promises remain unfulfilled so far and hopefully they will remain as they are now, ignored and considered as casual.


TNA’s leader Sampanthan who is also the Leader of the Opposition crowned with the leadership of Tamils reposed full trust and confidence on the dual leadership of President Maithri and Prime Minister Ranil. He also made strong and convincing statements with full confidence that an acceptable political settlement would be forthcoming within 100 days and then promised it before the Diwali in 2016 and then again before the Diwali in 2017.  Now he is expressing his hope to celebrate the next 2018 Diwali with happiness and joy, believing that the evasive political settlement will materialize by then. On all occasions, he requested for patience and not to spoil the present climate which is seemingly muddy and pessimistic.

The ongoing episode involving the political prisoners who are locked up without going through the judicial process of trial, bail, conviction or release is simply a mockery of justice and rule of law inflicted by this ‘good governance’ The pathetic scenario concerning the three political prisoners whose trials which were conducted in Vavuniya and now ordered to be transferred to Anuradhapura is just another hallmark of this ‘good governance’ aided by the favourable Attorney General’s office.

The obvious unjustifiable fear is that the trial in Anuradhapura will lead to conviction influenced by the ethnic factors and spoiling and damaging situations for the prisoners and Tamil lawyers. This is another assault on the judiciary and the lack of faith on Tamil Judges or jury while expecting a sure conviction to follow if the trial is conducted in Anuradhapura possibly before a Sinhala Judge. The ‘good governance’ has thus indicated its ‘continuance of the policy of justice based on ethnic factors’. [It is to be noted these political prisoners were arrested on suspicion under DRACONIAN Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] and most of them are in jail for more than 10 years with delayed hearings and inaction of the Governments in power].


It is all the more sickening to note the disappointing TNA leadership to remedy this simple and unjust procedural step. It appears that he has now folded his opposition role and has opted to treat the promises given by the President as lighthearted empty statements with no value or seriousness while being careful to maintain the policy of collaboration and co-operation with the Government.

The TNA’s performance in the other serious matters affecting the Tamils is far from satisfactory. The Interim Committee’s Constitutional Proposals are just formulations and suggestions without any finality. The proposals like the rejection of a unitary form of Government and a shared sovereignty for the North and East have not been accepted by the committee which is confirmed by the TNA’s footnote to the proposals which bares the truth that there was no 100% consensus for the proposals by those participated excepting the UNP.

The TNA Leader is now asking Tamils not to mention the word ‘federal’ as it would antagonize the Sinhalese. It is to be mentioned that late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam formed the Federal Party advocating federalism as the final and only solution to the Tamils political grievances. Even the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in its judgement confirmed the position that ‘federalism is not separation and it would not lead to separation’, thus once and for all put an end to this unfounded controversy and confusion surrounding federalism which is prevailing among the Sinhalese.


It is all the more pathetic to note the unbelievable silence of TNA to launch an awareness campaign for the people in the South and mobilize the support of both Tamils and Sinhalese to endorse federalism, besides pressing the ‘good governance’ to take a meaningful steps towards a federal system justifying its position morally, legally and politically suitable for Sri Lanka.

TNA has also unreasonably failed to fully identify itself with the peaceful protesters campaigning for ‘the disappeared and missing’, ‘political prisoners’, and release of lands seized by the security forces’. TNA has now opted and chosen the role of spectators and as random face showing participants instead of acting as leaders to spearhead these campaigns. It appears that the affected Tamils as a whole are now brought down and forced to the position to initiate the protests and fend for themselves on their own as long as they can survive braving the heat, dust, cold and rain.

There is no doubt that this weak and aimless leadership of TNA has emboldened the ‘good governance’ to proceed with its own agenda of Buddhisisation and Sinhalaisation in the North and East of Sri Lanka [The historical and traditional homeland of the Tamils]. TNA holding the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ post is functioning neither as an opposition party to the Government’s program and decisions affecting the Sinhalese and Tamils, nor with any constructive moves to carry forward the struggle of Tamils giving vent to their feelings of grief, frustration and traumas accumulated during the last sixty years.

It appears that TNA has chosen to better support ‘Maithri and Ranil’ rather than allowing Mahinda to rise as the next ruler.

As for the Tamils, there is no gainsaying of the fact that all the Sinhalese leaders are united in pursuing the agenda of Buddhisiation and Sinhalisation but only disunited as to the intensity and scope in their pursuit of communal campaign with each one out classing and out beating the other to capture the political crown.

Maithri’s veiled warning to the protesters in Jaffna who protested against his visit by saying that “If you don’t support me you will allow only a ghost to emerge” shows his fear for Mahinda , but for the Tamils both are one coin with two faces but with same political value.


It is incomprehensible to note that the TNA leader has not achieved anything concrete so far after eight years of leadership given by the Tamils since 2009.

Their failings and omissions have to be highlighted for the sake of information.


1). TNA has neither passed a resolution confirming the ‘GENOCIDE’ nor there is any oral statement made to this effect so far. TNA by this unpardonable blunder have only weakened the Tamils cause in the United Nations, UNHRC and International Community while discouraging the West also to desist calling the war crimes as GENOCIDE.

2). TNA has failed to carry on a campaign to prosecute the war criminals either locally or outside or even initiating steps to prosecute them under the Universal Jurisdiction Clause. This inexcusable lapse is nothing but inflicting more wounds to the victims of war and to the dead and fallen youths and civilians, thus jettisoning the twin principles of accountability and justice.

3). TNA has maintained inexplicable silence over the ongoing process of Sinhalisation and Buddhisisation. It appears they have left this matter to the affected locals to protest in places where Buddhist Viharas are built and Buddha statues are erected. This silence of TNA could be considered as consent to the Government’s program, justifying the saying that ‘silence is consent’.

4). Furthermore Sam and Suma appear to be controlling the ITAK as well as the TNA. This is seen when the other partners in the TNA [TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE] have started to openly criticize Sam and particularly Sum for taking decisions without their approval, not even consultation with them. Sampanthan’s recent step motherly treatment of EPRLF MP Sivasakthi Ananthan as an outcast in the Parliament during the debate on the constitutional proposals by denying and stifling his democratic rights to speak while allowing all the other TNA MPs smacks of his dictatorial attitude. Above all this unjust action confirms his utter disregard to maintain the unity of TNA, thus falling into the hands of Maithiri/Ranil’s ‘divide and rule policy’. The duo have thus broken the TNA’s unity and discipline along with their strength to speak with one voice. Undoubtedly, the duo have fallen into the historical ‘divide and rule trap policy’ of Sinhalese leaders. The often heard pleas and cries of suffering Tamils for a united front and united voice seem to be falling on the deaf ears of TNA.

5). TNA has so far never initiated any mass and popular protests against the Government for their delay, refusal and denial of justice and remedies for the grievances of Tamils which have been accumulating for the past sixty years, particularly after the genocidal war, Above all it is a pity that TNA has no agenda or program of action to pursue the goals and aspiration of Tamils. It appears the recent statements of TNA are confirming their abandoning the election pledges of Federalism and North & East merger while accepting the unitary form of Government and endorsing Buddhism’s foremost place in the Proposed Constitution.

6). TNA leadership is also making wavering and confusing statements on the Interim Committee Proposals, sometimes saying “we will fight for federalism and merger of North and East’ and on another occasion ‘a united country with federal aspects’, while Suma says ‘There is no possibility of North and East merger’. Sam and Suma are also blowing hot and cold over the clause giving Buddhism its foremost place’. While in Parliament, Sumanthiran in one breath advocates the insertion of ‘secular state’, in another breath he says ‘we will accept Buddhism’s foremost place if the Buddhists want it’. This is nothing but confusing and self-contradictory.


It is further disappointing to note the dismantled TNA and the subdued and meek opposition expressed by TNA which is not the hallmark in the political history of Tamils. Viewing the TNA’s unacceptable and poor political performance and consequently weakening the causes of the Tamils, who are also ignored by Security Council and United Nations so far, a solemn duty has fallen on the shoulders of students and their leaders to rise up and take control of the politics and destiny of Tamils. Power of students has to be recognized, embraced and accepted by all the Tamils to carry forward the struggle for accountability and justice.

Sacrificing some time and energy for this noble cause will go down in the history as sacrifices to save the Tamils from extinction through the process of assimilation which is underway in the North and East. Duty and burden also lies on them to make the Government and the International Community realise the strength of opposition which is now treated by the Government as nuisance or no value.  Sam & Suma’s much applauded speeches in Parliament during the debate on ‘Interim Committee Proposals’ focused on the need for an acceptable solution ending with entreating and humble pleas to the Government to consider the importance of solution to the national question. However, it has fallen short without indicating or mentioning the action plan of TNA in the event the Government fails to honor the pleas and deliver an acceptable political settlement proposals, which situation is going to be certain to materialize viewing the past political somersaults of past Sri Lankan Governments’, who have been adept in delivering promises only to be followed by breaches.


Above all whether the proposed new constitution will have a ten month safe delivery without abortion is doubtful and far from certain viewing the rising tide of irrational and communal opposition from various quarters in the South like Mahinda front, Mahanayakaès front and other chauvinist outfits and groups who are breathing fire and fury and helping themselves with the bogey of separation as their trump card.

With a wavering and disunited TNA,  which is not exploiting its present political strength and status, it is left for the students, Tamil Civil Groups, Intellectuals and Diaspora to lead the Tamils as one force while seeking the support and intervention of International Community.

It is better late than never for the TNA to initiate and pursue a concerted campaign for the universally and UN recognised people’s right of self-determination which has been kept alive in all the political manifestos of all Tamil political parties since 1976 including the present TNA.

The much expected hope and optimism that the existing historical coalition of major parties in Sri Lanka, UNP and SLFP would bring out a permanent and acceptable political settlement for the Tamils has proved to be an illusion as the reality is  that the South political parties will never be able to free themselves from the entrenched ‘Maha Vamsa’ mindset and the resultant process of  Buddhisisation and Sinhalisisation agenda set in motion from 1948 by the late D.S. Senanayake which is continuing unabated, unhindered, undeterred and uninterrupted  in the North and East.


It is relevant to quote Thirukurral no. 448-


This bemoans the fate of a king who will perish without the guard of men who can criticise him, even though there is no one to destroy him.






Thambu Kanagasabai

Thambu Kanagasabai LL.M (London) – Former Lecturer in Law, University Of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Editor review


  1. Shiva December 03, at 18:00

    Author is absolutely honest and true in his writing what he believes in as he possess in-depth knowledge and aware of ground situation in Eelam. Politics is a failure is most countries today as they main focus is to win election and be in power irrespective what is best for their nation, ensure dignity, respect of all races, religion and equality. Singapore is a role model nation that is built on very strict discipline, hard work, equality, respect to all, strict law enforcement, Politicians non business or outside business activities and Eelam Tamils are proud of this proud nations jointly with Chinese. Sri Lanka was an advanced position at the time of independence from British colonialism than Singapore but Sinhala Apartheid racist chauvinistic leaders made mockery after mockery and ruin the nation with violence, bloodshed, mass destruction, loss of lives and finally genocide as International community is either totally incompetent, supported the oppressor regime, failed to take action to stop war crimes and genocide as well as not brought perpetrators to accountability and Justice. Thanks to WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden who exposed dark-side of politics to the world and no surprise if a authoritarian or lunatic is elected as a result of failed leaders repeated get elected. India's last strong and famous leaders, Late Indra Priyadharshini Gandhi, loved by most including Tamils aided, armed and trained Tamil youth to struggle against Sri Lankan oppressive regime as she strongly believed that Sri Lanka state sponsored oppression was brutal, violent, criminal and wanted Justice and dignity to Tamils. Over 100 million Tamils all over the world and Tamil is considered one of the first languages on earth but does not have their own nation as a result of Western colonialism and now time to struggle democratically to have their own nation in Tamil Nadu and Eelam to live in peace, respect, dignity and with democratic values. Tamils' rich history illustrates how they lived and their glory including Tamil king built world famous Angor Wat in Cambordia.

  2. kumarathasan December 03, at 06:10

    The TNA does not seems to be aware of unaware of all previous Sinhalese political leadership and does not want to hurt the feeling of the new regime. But TNA must understand the sufferings and feeling of the Tamils. No encouraging words from the government's side regarding missing people, return of lands to the legal owners, plight of the political prisoners etc. It is high time to end the honey moon with this regime and take necessary steps to find ways and means to find justice to the Tamils. Better late than never:

  3. Shiva December 01, at 21:27

    Author is an authority on Tamils' struggle for Justice, rule of law, freedom, equal right and fundamental rights as he was in the legal profession academically and professionally. Tamils struggle for freedom and independence as a result of Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid racism, state sponsored war criminals and genocide with impunity, forced disappearances, torture and cold blooded murders going on unabated. Tamil youth taken up arms as Tamil politicians failed and strong and famous Indian leader, Indra Gandhi realized Tamils are victims of Sinhala Buddhist racism and state terrorism and determined to put an end to state oppression and to win rights for Tamils. Hope for a strong and charismatic leader in India like Indra Gandhi to give support Tamils legitimate struggle for freedom and independence. Else, India will experience another freedom struggle in India sooner than later. Thanks to technological advancement, Tamils are doing well in North America and will help to achieve peace and stability for Tamils in Eelam and Tamil Nadu (Nadu in Tamils means state and not a province)

  4. Shiva December 01, at 21:01

    Sri Lanka is one of the worst oppressed nation on earth that used corrupt practices with international community using sex and money to support in their genocidal agenda. One day world will become to senses like WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden exposed the truth / ground situation and a leader like Indra Gandhi in India will help achieve Tamils' struggle for Justice. Tamils sufferings are a result of Western colonialism mockery that merged Eelam with Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid land. Only time will tell and due to technological advancement even India in closer to break up like prior to Colonialism.

  5. vboo November 23, at 11:01

    shame that Tamils still going after a unrealistic dreams instead make them equipped with good education and economy with Sinhalese. you guys never won this war.just be realistic

  6. kumarathasan November 14, at 07:00

    Excellent article will full of details and information the lapses of the Tamil Leadership and the critical situation Tamils facing in the country now. He also explains in detail the steps the TNA should take in future for the Tamils cause and the TNA's indifferent attitude towards those who are on the streets fro months claiming for their legal lands, missing loved ones, and the latest unjust court order against the three political prisoners etc. The new proposals does not clearly state what is for the Tamils. But without any concrete proof the TNA is trying to sell this proposals to the Tamils in the North and East.

  7. kulendiren2509 November 13, at 01:38

    There is a saying in Tamil " ??????? ???? ?????? ????? ?????? " ( unlike beating the enemy no solution could be found. That was VP's policy It is the tactics for liars like Sinhalese


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