Dissenting voices rock TNA

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By 2017-11-12

BY Mirudhula Thambiah

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), currently the biggest coalition of Tamil political parties mainly representing the Tamil people of the North and East, is yet again facing a tug-of-war, as the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) has waged a war of words with the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK).

It is not the first time that the coalition had had misunderstandings among constituent parties. Since its initiation in 2001, there had been splits within the ranks of TNA. The Alliance was formed on 20 October 2001 by the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). Soon after the parliamentary elections in 2001, the TULF led by V. Anandasangaree stepped out from the coalition since they were not in a position to take a pro-LTTE stance.

With the withdrawal of the TULF due to difference of opinion, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) came into the scene by joining the Alliance in 2004 in time for the parliamentary election, during which the coalition contested under the ITAK symbol 'house'. Later in 2010, ACTC led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam left the TNA due to misunderstandings and formed the Tamil National People's Front (TNPF).

Now, the TNA is a coalition of four constituent Parties, the ITAK, TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF.
Constitutional reforms
An issue erupted recently with the EPRLF, when their Party Secretary and Vanni District Parliamentarian N. Sivasakthy Ananthan, was not permitted by the Opposition Leader and Leader of the TNA R. Sampanthan to speak during the Constitutional Reforms debate in Parliament.

The reason given by the TNA's authority is that EPRLF Secretary Ananthan did not participate in a discussion held among the Parliamentarians of the coalition regarding the Interim Report of the Constitutional Assembly Steering Committee, thus they unanimously decided not to allocate time for him during the parliamentary sessions.

Sivasakthy Ananthan told Ceylon Today, "I was not permitted to express my opinion at the debate regarding constitutional reforms during the recent parliamentary sessions. I wrote to the Speaker in this regard. Thus, the Speaker discussed this issue during the Party leaders' meeting held at the Parliament Complex. However, Leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran refused to allocate time for me.

"Later, the Speaker told me about the situation and that the TNA Leader is not in a position to permit me to speak. He said, this is an issue within our Party, therefore, to solve it within its ambit. I clearly told him that I am not in a position to solve the matter within the Party, thus I wrote to him. The Speaker told me if I declare that I shall function out of the coalition then he can provide time to speak, but he said he would not interfere in Party matters," he added.

Permission denied
Ananthan later appealed to Sampanthan, yet, he had denied permission. "Sampanthan said I did not participate in the two-day discussion regarding the Interim Report, where it was unanimously decided not to grant permission to speak to those who were not present. I told him that we cannot accept the Interim Report because it is against the manifesto of the TNA. "They did not allow me to speak because I would speak against the Interim Report. I told Sampanthan that we are a constituent Party of the TNA and I am the Secretary of our Party. He cannot deny my right. I treat him like a father, but he failed to regard me like a son," Ananthan said.
Meanwhile, EPRLF Leader Suresh Premachandran said, the TNA does not have a structure. "It does not have a forum to discuss important matters. On behalf of the TNA, Leader Sampanthan and Sumanthiran supported the Interim Report of the Steering Committee."

He added that the appendix included along with the Interim Report is only signed by Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. "The so-called TNA Leader Sampanthan never wanted to have discussions on these matters," he charged.
"The Interim Report had deviated from the mandate given by the Tamil people. In the last general elections we promised the Tamil people that once we come to power we shall fight for the North-East merger, as one political administrative unit and will struggle for the sovereignty and right to self determination of the Tamil people," he said.

North-East merger
He also alleged that the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly met 78 times, but Sampanthan had never discussed the North-East merger, or the federal system, it only states Orumitha Naadu in Tamil and Ekiya Rajya in Sinhala in the report.
"Sampanthan did not abide by the promises given to the Tamil people and did not follow the mandate obtained at the election. There is no point in going along with Sampanthan. On many occasions we discussed such issues within the Party, they were never ready to accept our claims. Therefore, the EPRLF decided not to go hand in hand with the ITAK or to contest any elections under their symbol," he asserted.

Premachandran also said, "Although we belong to the TNA coalition, we used to contest under ITAK and its symbol 'house'. During every election, we promote the ITAK symbol. However, by next election ITAK will take their own decisions without any discussion. They simply grab our party members to their party. A current Vanni District Parliamentarian was an EPRLF nominee but now he is functioning under the ITAK, this is evident that they grab our members. Therefore, in such a situation, how long can we function with the ITAK in the TNA coalition?" he said.

If the ITAK is not ready to have a healthy discussion over the constitutional reforms, what is the point in functioning along with the ITAK in a coalition? We must discuss if this will benefit the Tamil people. They have trusted us and given the mandate, he added.

Not willing to discuss
Premachandran claimed that Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were not willing to permit his party Secretary Sivasakthy Ananthan to speak during the recent constitutional reforms debate because they assumed that he would criticize the Interim Report. "When they are not willing to discuss with us, my party took a decision to speak in Parliament regarding the pros and cons of the Interim Report. We have all the democratic rights to raise our voices in Parliament. Even that was not accepted by Sampanthan. Under the circumstances we decided not to function with the ITAK and not to contest any upcoming elections under the ITAK symbol.
"TNA was founded by ACTC, TELO, TULF and us, not the ITAK. After some time the ACTC and TULF left the TNA. Now our party is facing issues. I will not say that we want to leave the TNA, but we are not ready to work with the ITAK," he stressed.

He alleged that only Sampanthan and Sumanthiran mostly decide for the entire coalition, and other parties are not consulted. Therefore, they have decided to contest on their own at the upcoming elections under their party symbol 'shoe flower'. "If not, we will form an alternative alliance under a common symbol. We are a registered political party after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. In the current context Tamil people are fed up of ITAK. Therefore, with the recent developments we decided to contest separately."

However, TNA spokesman Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran denied EPRLF allegation that decisions are taken only by Sampanthan and him within the coalition. "Decisions are not taken by the two of us, it is taken at different levels with regard to the Constitutional Assembly matters, and it is the two of us who represent the TNA at the Steering Committee. We do all the negotiations at the Steering Committee. However, before parliamentary sessions we will have a parliamentary group meeting and we brief the parliamentarians about the developments at the Steering Committee. Therefore, it is wrong to say that we take decisions. I handle most of the foreign relations, and when I'm abroad meeting diplomats, we cannot be having party meetings to discuss all that. I have been given responsibilities and I consult Sampanthan for important matters. There are instances when I have taken up positions or issued statements. But, it has been always reported back to the parliamentary group."

Contesting separately
Opposition and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said he is unaware of the EPRLF's decision to contest separately, and he did not think they have taken any such final decision yet. "I will comment on this further," he said.

He added Ananthan did not participate in the two-day workshop regarding constitutional reforms and the parliamentary group unanimously decided that anyone who did not participate should not be allocated time in the name of the party.
He further said it is incorrect to say that all decisions were made by him and spokesman Sumanthiran. There is no such move within the party.

Premachandran also said, "Although we belong to the TNA coalition, we used to contest under ITAK and its symbol 'house'. During every election, we promote the ITAK symbol. However, by next election ITAK will take their own decisions without any discussion. They simply grab our party members to their party. A current Vanni District Parliamentarian was an EPRLF nominee but now he is functioning under the ITAK, this is evident that they grab our members. Therefore, in such a situation, how long can we function with the ITAK in the TNA coalition?" he said.

If the ITAK is not ready to have a healthy discussion over the constitutional reforms, what is the point in functioning along with the ITAK in a coalition? We must discuss if this will benefit the Tamil people. They have trusted us and given the mandate, he added.
Premachandran claimed that Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were not willing to permit his party Secretary Sivasakthy Ananthan to speak during the recent constitutional reforms debate because they assumed that he would criticize the Interim Report. "When they are not willing to discuss with us, my party took a decision to speak in Parliament regarding the pros and cons of the Interim Report. We have all the democratic rights to raise our voices in Parliament. Even that was not accepted by Sampanthan. Under the circumstances we decided not to function with the ITAK and not to contest any upcoming elections under the ITAK symbol.

"TNA was founded by ACTC, TELO, TULF and us, not the ITAK. After some time the ACTC and TULF left the TNA. Now our party is facing issues. I will not say that we want to leave the TNA, but we are not ready to work with the ITAK," he stressed.

He alleged that only Sampanthan and Sumanthiran mostly decide for the entire coalition, and other parties are not consulted. Therefore, they have decided to contest on their own at the upcoming elections under their party symbol 'shoe flower'. "If not, we will form an alternative alliance under a common symbol. We are a registered political party after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. In the current context Tamil people are fed up of ITAK. Therefore, with the recent developments we decided to contest separately."

However, TNA spokesman Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran denied EPRLF allegation that decisions are taken only by Sampanthan and him within the coalition. "Decisions are not taken by the two of us, it is taken at different levels with regard to the Constitutional Assembly matters, and it is the two of us who represent the TNA at the Steering Committee. We do all the negotiations at the Steering Committee. However, before parliamentary sessions we will have a parliamentary group meeting and we brief the parliamentarians about the developments at the Steering Committee. Therefore, it is wrong to say that we take decisions. I handle most of the foreign relations, and when I'm abroad meeting diplomats, we cannot be having party meetings to discuss all that. I have been given responsibilities and I consult Sampanthan for important matters. There are instances when I have taken up positions or issued statements. But, it has been always reported back to the parliamentary group."

Contesting separately
Opposition and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan said he is unaware of the EPRLF's decision to contest separately, and he did not think they have taken any such final decision yet.
"I will comment on this further," he said.

He added Ananthan did not participate in the two-day workshop regarding constitutional reforms and the parliamentary group unanimously decided that anyone who did not participate should not be allocated time in the name of the party. He further said it is incorrect to say that all decisions were made by him and spokesman Sumanthiran. There is no such move within the party.

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