"Sole-representation": its assertions and fallacies

by Malinda Seneviratne
If "Eelam" is Balasingham’s theme song, then "We are the sole representative of the Tamil people" is its chorus. Tragically, the chorus is not a claim but a desire and a dream that the LTTE has brutally pursued over the past two decades. Twenty years ago, Tamil Dravidians talked of "ethnic fratricide". When they realised that the true "fratricide" that was talking place was among the Tamil Dravidians themselves, these "academic" voices fell silent. The guns, it has been pointed out, turned sideways and inwards. The process even got a label: "traitorisation". When Neelan Tiruchelvam was gunned down, there was not a single Tamil Dravidian who dared condemn the act. His crime was constitutional development with G.L. Peiris. Today Balasingham is talking with this same G.L. Peiris. The crime of hypocrisy is nothing compared to the crime of acknowledging the political pluralistic reality, as far as the LTTE is concerned.

Eliminating dissenting voices constructs a fear psychosis. Then follows servility. Thus we should not be surprised when people like ACTC parliamentarian A. Vinayagamoorthy take umbrage at Anandasangari for refusing to give the LTTE a blank cheque by conferring them "sole representative status". Or when Chandrasekeran wants all Tamil Dravidians to answer to Balasingham. If anyone had any doubts about this, then his gagging of the TULF amid the Jaffna Library issue, should have settled them.

Self-proclaimed defender

Balasingham’s LTTE was created by the disintegration of law and order in the Northern Province since independence and the failure of the politicians to control the situation. Balasingham became the self-proclaimed defender of the Dravidian Tamil "homeland". His campaign has been sustained by the systematic ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Sinhalese coupled with a demonising of democratic political adversaries, leading to an equally comprehensive elimination of competition. Alfred Duraiappah, who was gunned down in July 1975 was the first victim. Prabhakaran called this assassination his "first military operation". From then onwards the history of the Tamil Dravidian "tragedy" in Sri Lanka has been one of Balasingham’s goons massacring "traitors of the homeland". Using this license to kill, Balasingham got Tamil policemen killed for being "suspected informants", Tamil activists of the SLFP as "traitors" and for similar reasons Tamils of the UNP.

Then came the turn of the TULF. Amirthalingam was shot in his Colombo residence while negotiations were being held with President Premadasa. From targeting unarmed political activists, Balasingham went on to target the armed groups. The leadership of TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF were slaughtered. The activists from these groups as well as the EPDP were prohibited from operating in the Northern Province. Balasingham’s own rivals within the LTTE were not spared. They were first branded as spies or traitors and then summarily executed. After the current cease-fire agreement was signed, over 60 members of organisations such as the EPRLF and EPDP have been killed.

Today, the operations of all Dravidian groups are confined to areas outside the so-called "Traditional Homelands". They are fighting for their "homeland" not with their people, but among the "enemy" living in the luxury and security afforded them by these very same Sinhala enemies.

All this goes to prove that Balasingham’s "sole-representative" chorus is stuck in a repeating groove. He will not have otherwise. Representation via democratic will is out of the question. He wants "sole representation" right now and for all time, perhaps not only for Tamil Dravidians living in Sri Lanka, but for the entire Diaspora.

Given the currently strong political position he enjoys, Balasingham essentially wants to pre-empt multi-party discussions and thus forbid democratic elections. He wants to acquire the possible "interim arrangement" and enjoy it all by himself.

For all intents and purposes, Ranil Wickremesinghe now finds himself a victim of this trap. If Ranil knew his history, he would recall that in the early 1990s, Nelson Mandela could also have declared himself as the sole-representative of the Black majority in South Africa. He did not do so. Mandela first resolved the internal political differences of the ANC through the 48th annual conference where 2,500 delegates participated. Balasingham resolved his differences with the Tamil Dravidians by first calling them traitors and then assassinating them.

Although the initial discussions in South Africa were bi-lateral, the process was broadened to "The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA)", where 19 groups covering much of South Africa’s political spectrum, including the government, the ANC, and Inkatha, were represented. The government, the ANC, Inkatha, and some 20 other organisations signed a national peace accord subsequent to the discussions. It was this peace accord that helped pave the way for multi-party negotiations on a post-apartheid political system for South Africa.

South Africa’s first truly non-racial democratic election was held on April 27, 1994. Nearly 20 million votes were cast and the ANC received an impressive 63 percent, just short of the two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to write the new constitution on its own without negotiating with other parties.

De Klerk’s party won a surprising 20 percent of the votes because of substantial support from Coloured and Asian voters who feared ANC domination. The ANC won substantial majorities in seven of the nine newly established provinces. It was after all this that the issue of constitutional reform was taken up. That was the character of Mandela’s leadership in transforming South Africa’s political system.

The Good Friday Agreement

In Northern Ireland, the issue was one of transforming the political structure pertaining to a provincial entity. Here too, Gerry Adams of the Sinn Fenn, the political wing of the IRA, first held bilateral talks with Tony Blair. The British and Irish governments agreed to negotiations that included representatives of all the major political parties in Northern Ireland and Ireland. It was after this that Gerry Adams sat with other stake holders as equal partners to resolve their differences. The Good Friday Agreement was signed by eight of Northern Ireland’s ten political parties and by the co-sponsors of the negotiations, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

In elections to the assembly, held in June 1998, the Ulster Unionist Party won the largest number of seats, followed by the Social Democratic and Labour Party. The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein were placed third and fourth, respectively. As head of the largest party in the assembly, UUP leader David Trimble became the new provincial government’s first minister. SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon, a Catholic moderate, was elected Trimble’s deputy first minister. Support for the IRA-as measured in votes for Sinn Fein-has remained at about 12 percent of the entire Northern Ireland vote and less than 4 percent on the island as a whole since 1980.

Although it was the IRA that fought, and although its violent campaign pushed the British Government to enter negotiations, in the ensuing settlement, its political wing, Sinn Fenn, came fourth in the election. Is this the eventuality that Balasingham fears? Is this why he wants this sole-representative label so badly? Isn’t his logic one of seeking legitimacy for an argument against elections? The IRA found out that its popularity was a mere 12% of Northern Ireland? Does Balasingham fear that his would be even less, a pathetic showing that the absence of numbers at the recent Pongu Thamil "celebrations" in Vavuniya predicts?

In both cases, the concerned parties faced elections and they got the measure of public support. Neither Gerry Adams nor Nelson Mandela said "only us". In both cases, through a process of democratic transition, warring parties gave up violence and faced the electorate. Balasingham, although promising that the LTTE would accept democracy and allow all parties to function in the North and East, observes this "commitment" in its breach.

Now there is talk of bringing Nelson Mandela to Ireland to grace the occasion of Balasingham’s internal discussions. Balasingham and Mandela and indeed the paths these two have taken in conflict-resolution, are as the earth is to the sky. Mandela renounced violence, signed a peace agreement, allowed multi-party negotiations and faced elections. Balasingham is nourished on assassination, breaks agreements (including the MoU), gags other political groups and shuns elections.

This is all the history and background that Ranil Wickremesinghe needs to know when he enters discussions with the sole-representative-minded Balasingham, apart from the fact that he cannot call himself the "sole-representative" of the Sinhala people. If he concedes Balasingham’s demand that he (Balasingham) is the sole-representative of the `Tamil Dravidians living in Sri Lanka, then Ranil could at best say "I represent the non-Tamil Sri Lankans". The truth is, he has not right to say even that. He got only 43% of the vote, and that too not was not made up of 100% Sinhalese. What is more important is that opposition groups won more votes than his party did. And yet, when he signed the MoU and acceded to demand after outrageous demand of Balasingham, he acted as though he was in fact the sole-representative of the Sinhala. He is probably marking time until he becomes the president, hopefully.


Balasingham may get away with his sole-representative claim because he has massacred anyone who disagrees, but Ranil does not have that luxury. For the moment. In terms of arriving at a reasonable political transition that includes comprehensive constitutional reform, this bi-lateral phase has run its course. It is time to move on to the next phase: multi-party discussions with specific time-frames aimed at early elections.

In South Africa it was the elected representatives that took on the task of constitutional formulation, that resulted in the permanent constitution. In Northern Ireland, it was the elected regional assembly that acquired powers from the British Parliament. The process was not and could not be a one-off affair. It happens gradually and in stages.

In Sri Lanka, the negotiations are held in secret, the demands of vested political interests are entertained and granted, there is no public consultation, no transparency, and no time-frame. In effect, it constitutes a political ploy, under cover of a heavy blanket of censorship. In fact not everyone in the government is privy to what is being discussed, offered and granted.

The government does not have the mandate to do whatever it wants, and certainly not behind the backs of the people. A referendum was held on the Good Friday Agreement. Would Ranil Wickremesinghe dare test the support for his MoU, or anything else for that matter, in a referendum?

What the people should demand is that the entire process be channelled through a public consultative mechanism. There is no one around who has the authority to claims sole-representative status, least of all Balasingham and Wickremesinghe. Admitting this would be admitting not only that democracy does not exist but that it is not even desired.