Presidential poll 2005 Prabhakaran's fatal mistake



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by Shamindra Ferdinando


Having assassinated UNP presidential election candidate, Gamini Dissanayake on the night of Oct 23, 1994 to ensure PA candidate, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s victory at the Nov 9, 1994 presidential election, the LTTE made an attempt on Mrs. Kumaratunga’s life three days before the Dec 21, 1999 presidential election. The abortive suicide mission was meant to guarantee UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory. Having survived the assassination bid, Mrs. Kumaratunga won a second term by polling 4,312,157 (51.12%). Wickremesinghe obtained 3,602,748 votes, while JVP candidate, M. D. Nandana Gunathilake secured 344,173 votes.


Had the LTTE succeeded in its suicide mission, Wickremesinghe would have comfortably won the election. The UNP leader would have definitely reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to Norwegian facilitation to explore ways and means of bringing the LTTE back to the negotiating table. It would be pertinent to mention that Mrs. Kumaratunga engaged Norway in May 1999 to initiate a dialogue with the LTTE. The invitation followed consultations involving the government, the LTTE and the Catholic Church.


In spite of losing to Mrs. Kumaratunga, Wickremesinghe engineered a spate of crossovers, including that of Prof. G. L. Peiris in late 2001 to bring down Mrs. Kumaratunga’s government. The crossovers took place in the wake of SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff’s assassination on September 16, 2001 leading to his predecessor, Rauf Hakeem deserting the ruling coalition. Parliamentary election on Dec 5, 2001 resulted in victory for Wickremesinghe’s coalition. The UNP leader lost no time in inviting Norway to continue with its initiative. Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka released in September 2011 appreciated the Wickremesinghe approach. "The Norwegian team is aware of, and worried about the fragile power balance caused by political cohabitation in Colombo and the struggles it is likely to bring about, but the UNP victory also creates a much-needed breakthrough in the deadlocked process. The UNP is seen to be more flexible and pragmatic when it comes to the peace process. Building on the earlier back-channel dialogue with both Norway and the LTTE, Wickremesinghe moves quickly. On the night of his election, he calls Norwegian ambassador in Colombo Westborg and preparations resume. Wickremesinghe’s victory clears the way to proceed as the LTTE had advocated: start with a ceasefire, normalization and confidence building measures, while pushing the core substantive political issues backwards."


Wickremesinghe and Prabhakaran reached a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) on February 21, 2002.


After having six rounds of talks under the auspices of Norway, Prabhakaran quit the negotiating process on April 21, 2003.Amidst the deteriorating security situation, Mrs Kumaratunga on Nov 4, 2003, stripped Tilak Marapone, John Amaratunga and Imitiaz Bakeer of defence, interior and information portfolios. Mrs. Kumaratunga dissolved parliament on February 7, 2004 leading to early elections on April 2, 2004, the third general election in four years.


Sarath N Silva thwarts


CBK’s move


Having routed the UNP at the parliamentary poll, Mrs. Kumaratunga felt confident that she could continue till November 10, 2006 on the basis that her second term commenced on November 10, 2000, though the election took place on Dec 21, 1999. The then Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva declared that Mrs. Kumaratunga’s term would end on December 22, 2005, when Ven. Omalpe Sobitha thera on behalf of the JHU filed a fundamental rights application seeking Supreme Court opinion.


The constitutional provision that needed interpretation was 31(3)d(i) which stipulated that if an incumbent president was re-elected for a second term, he/she will: "hold office for a term of six years commencing on such date in the year in which that election is held (being a date after such election) or in the succeeding year, as corresponds to the date on which his first term of office commenced, whichever date is earlier."


Having sent Mrs. Kumaratunga home, Sarath Nanda Silva, now one of the fiercest critics of the Rajapaksa brothers, paved the way for a presidential election on November 17, 2005.


Having lost to Mrs. Kumaratunga at December 21, 1999, poll, Wickremesinghe remained supremely confident of defeating the UPFA candidate, the then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe had the backing of Western powers, the so-called civil society groups as well as the five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), an appendage of the LTTE. Wickremesinghe felt confident that the LTTE wouldn’t interfere with the electoral process in the then temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Provinces. The support extended by the SLMC and the CWC further strengthened Wickremesinghe, whereas Rajapaksa received the backing of nationalist political parties. Those who had been supportive of efforts to resume negotiations with the LTTE felt Wickremesinghe could kick start the stalled peace process. In fact, the TNA had assured the UNP leadership of Tamil speaking peoples’ support to defeat Rajapaksa amidst a propaganda blitz meant to portray Rajapaksa as a warmonger. Wickremesinghe had a formidable coalition which represented all three communities and he also commanded the support of the Catholic Church.


Most importantly, Wickremesinghe had the backing of an influential section within the then ruling SLFP. Mrs. Kumaratunga went to the extent of publicly endorsing Wickremesinghe’s policy vis a vis the national issue and was also in agreement with the UNP leader on the resolution of the national issue on the basis of a federal concept. The then Foreign Minister Anura Bandaranaike worked overtime to undermine Rajapaksa’s government. Bandaranaike attacked those who courageously backed Rajapaksa’s candidature. Wickremesinghe brought one-time UNP General Secretary, B. Sirisena Cooray and influential businessman Thilanga Sumathipala to run his campaign in the North Central Province comprising Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts. They didn’t make any impact there.


CBK appeals to Norway


Mrs Kumaratunga, in her capacity as the president, requested the then Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondvik to ensure the LTTE didn’t interfere with the electoral process. The request was made on the sidelines of UNGA sessions in New York in late September 2005 (Norway to facilitate presidential poll-The Island September 2005).


Yogarajan speaks to LTTE leaders


Contrary to the expectations of the UNP, the LTTE deprived Wickremesinghe of the northern vote to ensure his defeat. Veteran politician, R. Yogarajan, MP in a brief interview with this writer on Nov 22, 2014 explained the LTTE move as well as the UNP’s efforts to persuade the LTTE not to interfere with the electoral process. Had the LTTE listened to reason, perhaps, eelam war IV would never have taken place, Yogarajan asserted. "We knew something was amiss when the LTTE ordered public servants not to exercise their franchise at postal voting during the first week of November, 2005. All of us were seriously concerned. On the advice of the CWC leader, Arumugam Thondaman, I requested LTTE political wing leader, Thamilchelvam not to interfere with the electoral process. Thamilchelvam declined to cooperate. He also turned down my request for an urgent meeting with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to discuss the matter. I was to accompany Thondaman. But Thamilchelvam insisted there is no point in visiting Kilinochchi as the decision cannot be changed under any circumstances. Thamilchelvam faulted the UNP for not making a formal request to the LTTE leader. We never wanted the LTTE to tell the people to vote for the UNP candidate. The UNP expected the freedom for those who wanted to exercise their franchise to do so. Subsequently, we met a senior delegation of TNA representatives at the CWC headquarters to discuss ways and means of convincing the LTTE. Though the TNA realized our plight, it couldn’t do anything. TNA MP Nadaraja Raviraj raised the issue with the LTTE on the UNP’s behalf. Raviraj made a genuine effort. But the LTTE ignored our plea."


An unidentified gunman shot Raviraj, a human rights lawyer, at close range at around 8.30am on November 10, 2006 as he got into his car after giving a TV interview in Colombo.


The MP died later in hospital. His bodyguard was also killed. The TNA blamed the government for the killing.


Yogarajan revealed that the UNP expected as much as 500,000 votes from the Northern Province to enable Wickremesinghe to secure a 375,000 majority. Responding to a query, Yogarajan said he explained to Thamilchelvam the LTTE’s decision wasn’t fair by Tamil speaking people living in the South. "They yearned for Wickremesinghe’s victory though the LTTE strategy didn’t take that into consideration."


The political stalwart asserted that the LTTE may have felt that had Wickremesinghe won the November 2005 presidential poll with a comfortable majority, it couldn’t have justified the resumption of hostilities. Obviously, the LTTE believed Wickremesinghe’s strategy was meant to entrap the organization.


The TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, announced the decision to boycott the presidential poll. The announcement was made on November 10, 2005 in Kilinochchi. Confirming the LTTE directive, TNA Batticaloa District MP Joseph Pararajasingham and Trincomalee District MP and TNA leader R. Sampanthan told the writer on the night of November 15, 2005, that nothing worthwhile could be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance-The Island November 16, 2005).


Some blamed the then UNP MP Milinda Moragoda for causing Wickremesinghe’s defeat. They felt Wickremesinghe earned the wrath of Prabhakaran due to his close associate and colleague, Milinda Moragoda’s declaration that the Norwegian led peace process caused the split between Prabhakaran and Karuna. But the LTTE wouldn’t have engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat merely on the basis of an interview given by a former member of Wickremesinghe’s negotiating team. Instead, Prabhakaran undoubtedly believed that Rajapaksa would unwittingly created the conditions for him to resume a large scale offensive across the northern frontlines. Prabhakaran seemed to have believed that he could overwhelm the army in about two years during Rajapaksa’s presidency.


Malik Samarawickrema on LTTE move


An angry Malik Samarawickrema, the then Chairman of the UNP said that Wickremesinghe could have easily won the election if the northerners were allowed to exercise their franchise. Samarawickrema queried the absurdity in allegations as regards a secret agreement between Wickremesinghe and Prabhakaran in the backdrop of the LTTE depriving the UNP leader of a sure victory (LTTE action belies ali-koti pact-The Island November 21, 2005).


During the last week of November, 2005, Moragoda came under fire at a meeting of the decision making Working Committee over his controversial interview about a week before the presidential poll. Moragoda was accused of causing Wickremesinghe’s defeat (Hot air at Sirikotha over LTTE polls boycott order-The Island December 1, 2005).


Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka commented on the LTTE project that led to Wickremesinghe’s defeat and the eventual annihilation of the once proud LTTE conventional fighting force. The Norwegian report: "Ironically, Wickremesinghe’s defeat is determined in the Vanni. The LTTE decides to enforce a boycott among Tamil voters, thus tipping the balance to Rajapaksa, who wins with a margin of less than two per cent."


Authors of the Norwegian report, while admitting they weren’t certain of what caused the LTTE to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat, mentioned three probable reasons, namely taking revenge on Wickremesinghe for snaring the group in an international peace trap, realization that only a hardliner could enforce change in southern politics and a possible financial or other arrangement with the then Prime Minister Rajapaksa ahead of the polls. The report quoted President Rajapaksa in January 2006 as having told the then Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim to thank Prabhakaran on his behalf for helping him to win the election. Solheim did as he was told when he met Prabhakaran in Kilinochchi just a few days after his meeting with the President in Colombo.


Rajapaksa polled 4,887,152 votes (50.29%) to win the election with Wickremesinghe coming a close second. The UNP leader obtained 4,706,366 votes (48.43%).


The following results of electorates in Jaffna district is evidence of the devastating consequences of Prabhakaran’s order. Wickremesinghe polled 98 votes in Kayts (total registered voters 52,986), 91 in Vaddukkoddai (total registered 62,781), 148 in Kankesanthurai (total registered 67,133), 256 in Maipaly (total registered 68,783), 267 in Kopay (total registered 63,752), 52 in Udupiddy (total registered 55,499), 25 in Point Pedro (total registered 47,188), 33 in Chavakachcheri (total registered 62022), 198 in Nallur (total registered 70,251), 301 in Jaffna (total registered 62,089), and 100 in Kilinochchi (total registered 89,454). Wickremesinghe also obtained 1405 postal votes. Of a staggering 701,938 registered voters in the Jaffna electoral district, only 8524 risked their lives to exercise their franchise. Wickremesinghe could obtain only 5523, though according to Yogarajan UNP/Opposition strategists believed their man could obtain as many as 500,000 votes. Rajapaksa polled 1967 votes.


Although the situation in the neighbouring Vanni electoral district had been much better when compared with the Jaffna electoral district. Of 250,386 registered voters in Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu electorates only 85874 exercised their franchise. However, the situation in the LTTE stronghold of Mullaitivu, was as bad as Jaffna with the Mullaitivu electorate in spite of having 66,596 registered votes recording 902 votes.


The extremely low vote in Mullaitivu underscored Prabhakaran’s hold on Mullaitivu. In the Vanni electoral district Wickremesinghe polled 65,798, whereas Rajapaksa obtained 17,197 votes.


In the Eastern Province, Wickremesinghe received overwhelming support though the LTTE-TNA boycott order discouraged some people from exercising their franchise at the expense of Wickremesinghe. Even in Batticaloa electoral district where Wickremesinghe obtained 121,514 votes, only 154,615 had exercised their franchise though there were 318,728 registered voters. Rajapaksa managed to obtain 28,836 votes in the Batticaloa district.


Had the LTTE allowed the northern electorate to vote, Wickremesinghe would have emerged victorious at the November 2005 presidential election. It had been a grave miscalculation on the part of the LTTE that led to the demise of an organization which even stood up to the mighty Indian army during Oct. Interestingly, the LTTE’s operation had been tremendous as it achieved what it desired: ensured Wickremesinghe’s defeat. Prabhakaran helped Rajapaksa, in the mistaken belief that the new Commander-in-Chief could be isolated and finished off, perhaps within two years as Kumaran Pathmanathan aka KP told the writer soon after he was brought to Colombo from Malaysia. According to Pathmanathan, Prabhakaran believed he could secure a militarily unbeatable position within two years. Instead, a relentless combined security forces campaign led to the eradication of conventional LTTE fighting capability in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, within two years and 10 months.


To be continued on December 3


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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