Wigneswaran’s new party: Debut at PC polls or Presidential election?


By C. A. Chandraprema

Former Chief Minister of the now dissolved Northern Provincial Council C. V. Wigneswaran made the long anticipated move to form a separate political party, last Wednesday, in Jaffna and announced the formation of the Tamil Makkal Kuttani, which translated into English means the Tamil People’s Alliance. The rift that was simmering within the TNA in the past few years has now come into the open. This will have implications not merely for the politics of the North but for Southern politics as well. From the time democratic politics based on universal franchise began in this country, the North has always been dominated by one political party.

From the years preceding Independence up to the mid-1950s it was the Tamil Congress led by G. G. Ponnambalam that called the shots in the North. From the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, it was the Ilangei Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), led first by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam and later by A. Amirthalingam, which did so. From the early 1980s to 2009 Northern politics was dominated by terrorist groups, primarily the LTTE. After the LTTE was defeated, the Tamil National Alliance, which was formed by the remnants of the old ITAK and some former armed groups, gained ascendency. After a decade of dominating Northern politics, the TNA is now under criticism for not delivering on their promises.

Between the parliamentary election of 2015 and the local government elections of 2018, the votes polled by the TNA in the Tamil heartlands of Jaffna and Batticaloa have drastically decreased. The Akila Illankei (All Ceylon) Tamil Congress led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam won two local governments institutions outright – the Point Pedro UC and the Chavakachcheri UC–– and won a lot of seats in many other local government institutions. It was under the ACTC that the dissident group led by Wigneswaran was for the most part accommodated. If we take the iconic Jaffna Municipal Council, the TNA won 16 seats and the ACTC 13. The TNA was able to get one of their members appointed as Mayor only with the support of the 10 Members of the EPDP.

The ACTC managed to make such inroads into the TNA vote base without Wigneswaran, the shadow leader of the group, being able to campaign for it. There is no evidence that Wigneswaran even made noises in support of the ACTC during the last local government election. Even though Wigneswaran does not have the charisma of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the performance of the ACTC was a bit like the Podujana Peramuna facing the local government elections without Mahinda Rajapaksa to campaign for it.

If the Wigneswaran-led political alliance manages to improve upon the performance they put up at the local government elections, there is the possibility that by the time the next parliamentary elections come around in mid-2020, it may be the largest Tamil group in Parliament, representing the North and East. Before the next parliamentary election, the Wigneswarn-led group needs another election which they can fight under Wigneswaran’s leadership and make their mark. If the government does not give them the provincial council elections that they are obviously expecting, Wigneswaran may be compelled to put himself forward as a candidate at the Presidential elections to show that the people of the North and East are with him.

Hence, the government should think twice before depriving the Wigneswaran-led group of the opening it seeks because the only alternative that may be available to them may be to put Wigneswaran forward as a candidate at the Presidential election. The TNA will not object if the provincial, council elections are delayed because the only way they seem to be headed is down, and if by some chance the Northern provincial council elections are held and they slide back further, they will almost certainly lose the ascendency in Northern politics they have enjoyed since the demise of Prabhakaran in 2009, at the next Parliamentary election.

Even if the TNA goes around the North and east accusing Wigneswaran of splitting the Tamil vote at the Presidential election to enable the candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to win, it is unlikely that such propaganda will have much traction among the Tamil people of the North and East because the TNA obtained their votes by promising them all kinds of things in case of Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, but they have delivered next to nothing.

It is, in fact, this feeling that has resulted in the TNA vote dropping by one half in the Tamil heartlands of Jaffna and Batticaloa. The presidential election of Jan. 2015 showed that over the decades, the ITAK has not changed much. At the 1977 parliamentary elections, the then TULF contested on the promise to the Tamil people that if they voted for the TULF, today, they would have Tamil Eelam tomorrow. We all know how things turned out thereafter.

What the TNA is now facing once again is the nemesis of not being able to deliver on its promises and competitors are gaining ground. There is the likelihood that Wigneswaran may face the presidential election as the Tamil candidate on the argument that an overwhelming Tamil vote for a Tamil candiate from both the Northern and Eastern provinces will show the world how the Tamil people feel. If this does take place, it will be the first time since 1977, that a Tamil leader will be able to make this point. So, unless the newly emergent forces in the North are given the opportunity that they are obviously seeking to upstage the TNA at the provincial council elections, the former may end up upstaging the yahapalana candidate at the next presidential elections instead, by fielding a Tamil candidate.

So, what is it going to be?

Is the government going to hold the provincial council elections and throw the TNA to the wolves, or is it going to put off the PC elections and then get upstaged by a Tamil candidate at the presidential elections and thrown to the wolves itself?

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