We will not have a place in politics - Sivalingam
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
President of Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Nuwara Eliya District Parliamentarian Muthu Sivalingam said minority parties and small political parties will be affected by the new electoral reforms. Votes cannot be shared among the candidates.
If they bring this system to the Local Government, Provincial Councils and Parliament, minority parties will be badly affected. "The new electoral reforms will corner the minority political parties and we will not have a place in politics," he said.
Following are excerpts
of the interview:
There had been continuous protests staged against the decision to change the name of Thondaman Vocational Training Centre to Poolbank Vocational Centre. What action have you taken in this regard? Do you see any hidden agendas in connection to the sudden decision to change the name?
A: We have appealed to the President and Prime Minister. Our leader Arumugam Thondaman had met the Prime Minister in this regard and explained the situation. They have both agreed, after discussions with relevant parties, that the name will remain unchanged.
It is known to all that our founder leader Thondaman is a famous Up-country figure. Most important buildings or any other institutions are named after him. People of all three communities know about our leader. If there are motives to change the name of this popular figure, obviously it is a planned agenda.
Many people took to the streets and continuously protested against the decision. They have even protested in Colombo condemning the act to change the name of the vocational training centre.
There is a common opinion that electoral reforms will affect the representation of Up-country Tamils. Do you agree?
A: This is quite scary. When constitutional reforms were introduced during President J.R. Jayewardene's period, the proportional representation system was introduced to ensure representation of minority communities. Only after the proportional representation was introduced that the number of Up-country Tamil representatives to Parliament comparatively increased.
The new electoral reforms will corner the minority political parties and we will not have a place in politics.
Minority parties and small political parties will be affected. Votes cannot be shared among the candidates. If they bring this system to the Local Government, Provincial Councils and Parliament, we the minority parties will be badly affected.
While introducing new electoral reforms, they have increased the percentage of women representation. What plans have you got to increase the numbers of Up-country women entering politics?
A: We have three organs within our party. We have the administrative league which overseas national issues. We also have the youth congress and women's wing. So far, we have managed to at least have a female provincial councillor in every council we contested. Therefore, it will never be a challenging task for us to bring in more women representatives. We were always of the view that women's representation from Up-country is essential.
There are far more women estate workers than men. They face various challenges while performing their duties. Therefore, we have plans to increase the representation of women from our party.
There are criticisms that Up-country representatives have failed to submit a solid proposal to the Constitutional Reforms Steering Committee regarding a political solution for Up-country Tamils. Do you agree? What is your stand on this?
A: We did hand over a proposal on behalf of the Up-country Tamil community and our former Deputy Leader P.P Devaraj had submitted a separate proposal emphasizing the needs of the community. Therefore we cannot say that a proposal was not given to the Committee. However, special attention was not paid to the demands of Up-country Tamils in the interim report. When these demands are taken up for discussion, they talk, but action is quite slow.
We emphasized in our proposal, the necessity of a proportional representation system for minority communities. Our representation must be safeguarded and made transparent, that was essential for us as a part of Constitutional reforms. However, in the current context we do not see any development on that proposal. Things have changed.
What kind of a political solution have you proposed for
A: Tamils in the North and East are the majority in two provinces, thus their demands can be reasonable. But we are different, we live with the Sinhala fraternity.
Our civic rights, our language and lands must be protected. Constitutional reforms must primarily ensure these rights for Up-country Tamils. When the government is dividing lands, we also should have the right to obtain a reasonable portion. As I said, our proposal to the committee was based on essential and fundamental rights of Up-country Tamils.
Have you heard of the discriminations faced by
Up-country Tamils living in the North? There are allegations that certain politicians have cornered their representation in politics. Are you aware?
A: This is very true! When I was a Minister I managed to sort out some of their issues. I have personally spoken to State officials functioning in the North to solve their issues and some of them were able to overcome the discriminative situations. However, with the recent developments I have lost touch with Up-country Tamils living in the North, but I will sort out the mainstream problems and address them soon.
It should be noted that we did not take it up as a separate issue but a personal issue on an individual basis. None of the politicians in the area were concerned about Up-country Tamils who have settled in the North. Politicians took sides without understanding the real problems. Before the security forces grabbed the lands of people, lands of Up-country Tamils were grabbed by the others living in the North.
State Minister of Education recently said that Indian graduates should be recruited to fulfil teacher shortages in
Up-country schools. How far is it possible and practical?
A: Education is something that cannot be postponed. Building a house or buying a land can be postponed for four years, but the educational needs of a child cannot be postponed at any cost. Education should begin at the age of 6 and cannot be postponed until 8 years. Therefore to overcome urgent needs, it should useful to recruit Indian graduates.
During our times, most teachers were from the North and East. They were committed to teaching us. They did not show any discrimination. Currently the situation is different as they have begun to show discrimination. But during our times, those teachers were very keen on our betterment and around 10-20 per cent of the students were able to achieve their goals.
Therefore, teaching is a profession full of goodness. Of course there can be problems; we have large numbers of graduates, who are unemployed. However a graduate from Tamil Nadu can also fulfil the needs, since education is essential.
Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) recently managed to increase the number of Pradeshiya Sabhas in the Nuwara Eliya District. How do you view this?
A: We made attempts to increase the number of Pradeshiya Sabhas since time of our leader Soumyamoorthy Thondaman. These demands cannot be obtained immediately. We cannot suddenly achieve our demands by just talking to the government but by convincing them on the difficulties we are facing. When we were in the government we spoke to representatives and ministers regarding the same demand. This is our proposal. They managed to obtain their demands on time after all the discussions and arrangements we made with previous governments on other occasions.
There had been complaints from people affected by Meeriyabedda and other landslides that occurred during the same period that they are still living in temporary shelters and not permanent houses. How do you assess the situation?
A: According to assessments made during our time, it was concluded that an estate is in need of at least 250 houses but the representatives of the current government only provides 25 houses per estate. Isn't this injustice?
They are also providing these houses based on supporters of political parties. These houses are given only if they join a particular political party. If they continue with the same narrow mentality, people will never benefit.
Didn't you predict the landslides while you were in the Government? Why couldn't you build houses for the affected? What is the point in both parties complaining about each other when the people who voted are the ones affected?
A: When we were part of the Government, we managed to build houses and construct roads. We never favoured our party members or supporters. We provided houses only to the affected. I know it is wrong to blame each other. It is wrong if those in power complain unnecessarily. But we must speak on behalf of people. If is not us, who else will stand up for them?
What is your view of the current Government and their promises to Up-country people?
A: Not only this government, but none of the previous governments have managed to fulfil their promises. However, we must not deny the development activities achieved by various governments including the present one.
However, we have been emphasizing the need for 200, 000 houses in the region for the past 20 years. We managed to build the first separate house during the time of Thondaman. The government usually says there is a need for 200, 000 houses but makes monetary allocations for around 600 houses. Therefore, all governments have the same issue – they are not able to fulfil all the promises.
Email: [email protected]
Solution must be acceptable to Tamils Separate State is not a reasonable request - Former Army Commander, General Gerry De Silva RWP, VSV, USP
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