Joining Coalition for polls one matter, joining SLFP another

By Chris Kamalendran

Minister Douglas Devananda who was virtually forced to contest under the UPFA symbol for the upcoming local council elections in the North and now invited to join the SLFP, says, his party cannot be dissolved until a permanent settlement is found to the problems faced by the Tamils.
“The EPDP was built on our blood, aspiration and dedication and it was founded for the peaceful existence , freedom and political rights of our people,” Mr. Devananda said in an interview with the Sunday Times. Excerpts:

Minister Douglas Devananda hugs Senior Advisor to the President MP Basil Rajapaksa soon after the launch of the bus service along the A-9 Jaffna-Kandy highway last Wednesday. Government Agent Jaffna K.Ganesh is also in the picture. Pic by Priyantha Hewage.

Is it correct that you wanted to contest under the EPDP symbol but had to give up the idea?

Since we are a political party in our own right there was nothing wrong in our desire to contest under the EPDP symbol—the harp. However, on realising the environment of the day we have decided to contest under the betel leaf symbol to maintain politics of mutuality with our guiding motto being, “Voice for rights and hand for friendship”.

But, does this mean that smaller parties will not have a chance and will be dominated by the bigger parties.

In a true democratic environment all parties should have the right to function freely, whether they are big or small. It is not a healthy sign when bigger parties dominate smaller parties.

Now that you have been invited to join the SLFP, what is your response?

Joining a coalition to contest the election under the UPFA symbol is one thing but joining the SLFP is another matter entirely The EPDP was built on our blood, aspiration and dedication and it was founded for the peaceful existence, freedom and political rights of our people. We cannot dissolve our Party until a permanent solution is found to the problems faced by the Tamil people.

This is the first election you are facing following the end of the war. How do you view the prevailing environment compared to previous elections.

It is quite progressive. In previous occasions the freedom to vote freely was hindered by the threat of the gunpoint. There is no room for such a situation to recur at this election. However, the fear of the past has not disappeared completely from the minds of the people.

But already there have been incidents of threats to newspaper establishments including the burning of newspapers in Jaffna. Any comment?

The media too has a role in directing the people in the right direction. Yet some have failed in this duty and setting fire to newspapers is not the way to correct mistakes. Such acts should be vehemently condemned and we cannot allow these threats to the media to continue.

Why do you think the people in the north will vote for the UPFA?

As far as Sri Lanka in general is concerned there is the possibility that the people will vote for the SLFP because it won the war. In the north and east there are other reasons too. The people know that it is only by joining hands with the government that it would be possible to find a way for political rights and take forward development work. Therefore when the EPDP as a strong political party joins the SLFP there is a greater possibility of the people voting for the SLFP.

How do you feel about your opponents, particularly Mr Anandasangaree who is contesting under the TULF, which was at one time a popular party in Jaffna?

Enemies are our best teachers. We learn from them as well. Regarding Mr. Anandasangaree everyone knows he was popular only in Kilinochchi. His statements are a clear indication that the people are on the side of the EPDP.

One of the main issues in the north is that of the internally displaced people. Can you comment on the conditions in the camps

It is a sad state but condemning the situation will not solve their problems. We are working hard to resettle our people in their own homes and until such time we are providing them with relief. We have identified the elders in the IDP camps and they are being looked after by the Ministry of Social Services

But, some families complain that even the reunification of families who are in different camps is slow.
There will be many complaints but the situation is changing gradually. We too are concerned that families are separated. We will soon find the means for them to live together.

The government says the delay in resettling the people in the north is due to landmines, but what about the people, particularly the elderly who want to travel to the south and live with their families.

Demining is one of the causes. Permission has been granted for old people to leave the camps. We are taking care of some of them ourselves. We continue to have discussions with the government regarding the various problems faced by our people in the camps. There will be changes soon and priority will be given to the old, maimed, sick , the mentally affected, pregnant woman and families that have been separated.

You have been pushing for a political settlement all along, but now it seems that a solution will not come until the next Presidential election. Any comment?

Action can only be taken in accordance with the given context and everyone must understand this. Like all political leaders the President too may have plans. We have to wait and see. However, we will make preliminary efforts to find a political settlement.

What about the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. What is your stand.

An election should be held soon in the north similar to that in the east. It should be a just poll. Full powers should be granted to the provincial councils. A two third majority in parliament will not be needed for this. This would help to find a solution to our political rights.

You have said the 13th Amendment must be fully implemented. Don’t you feel the government is dragging its feet on the matter due to pressure from Sinhala hardliners?

The 13th Amendment can be seen as the starting point for those who are left with nothing. Sri Lankas history shows especially in the South, the opposition opposes anything put forward by the government. There will be some opposition to this move too but I believe the government can implement it.

Recently, the President said he can put forward proposals for a solution after holding a Presidential election. What are your comments?

We also learnt about this only through the media but the President has said on many-an-occasion that he will give more than the 13th Amendment. It may be delayed but we are hopeful that the 13th Amendment would be effected. The President has assured this when speaking at international fora so we are hopeful that it would be implemented. I don’t believe that he would wait for the presidential election to implement it, but would do it before that.

When you talk of grievances of the Tamils, what are the priority areas that need to be addressed immediately?

The resettlement of the people in IDP camps in Wanni must be given the utmost priority. Following this, the A9 road must be opened for the public to use it without any hindrance and the northern provincial council polls must be held soon after the resettlement of the people so that they can elect their representatives.

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