With the Presidential elections around the corner, people claiming to be Tamil intellectuals are advising Tamils on how they should vote. We see and hear opinions being expressed in the media and on the internet. As a Sri Lankan, I ask myself who exactly are these “Tamils”, and whether they are thinking first as Sri Lankans and then as members of an ethnic minority living in this country, or are they thinking first as Tamils and then as Sri Lankan citizens?
In response to a letter of mine about the forthcoming election, a friend from my University of Ceylon days in the 1960s sent a general letter to me and all my batchmates of the Faculty of Engineering, advising us to “boycott the elections”.
I have decided to ignore his advice. I remember the late LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran (VP) giving the same advice to his fellow Tamils in 2005. Many of those Tamils who took his advice now regret not having voted. But they were helpless, because VP was holding a gun to their heads at the time. If the Tamils had not boycotted the elections, the outcome of the election might have been different.
Much has changed since 2005. Velupillai Prabhakaran and his army of well-armed murderers are no longer around to intimidate the voter. The voter today is free to cast his or her vote, thanks to Mahinda Rajapaksa.
What the voter must decide is what he or she will get by electing someone to the post of Executive President, with all the powers given by the Constitution drawn up by the UNP government of 1977 (we can leave the merits and demerits of the 1977 Constitution for another discussion, another day).
What right has anyone to tell one ethnic group – and remember that the Sri Lankan population is composed of several ethnic groups – to boycott the elections? Who are these people who want the Tamil ethnic group to ignore the elections?
As someone who has lived in Australia for more than 30 years, I would like to tell readers in this country that voting is compulsory in that country. The rationale is that you are either an Australian or an alien. Those who fail to vote must pay a fine or leave the country, because they have failed in a basic civic responsibility.
Are Tamils in Sri Lanka who do not want to vote prepared to leave Sri Lanka, now that Sri Lanka is one united country?
It has been observed that only a few Colombo Tamils have broken the silence they maintained during the days of Velupillai Prabhakaran, when VP controlled the so-called Tamil intellectuals by the gun and instructed them whether to vote or not. One of my Tamil colleagues from my university days has issued a statement, along with some others, including members of the Tamil National Party, exhorting Tamils to support General Sarath Fonseka – not the man who has made it possible for them to move about freely after 30 years of being terrorised by VP.
It is time all politicians in Sri Lanka thought in terms of the rights of the people to live as one nation. This would include the dissolving of such parties as the Hela Urumaya, all Muslim parties, the TNA, and so on. There should be no parties based on race or religion. We should take Karuna as an example. Here is a man who once belonged to an armed racist group, and who gave up arms to join a national party and work for a unified Sri Lanka. From being a rebel fighter, Karuna has transformed himself, and is now a senior official of a national party.
Some of the so-called Tamil intellectuals have decided to go more towards the so-called rights of a racial group, and not the rights of all those who live in Sri Lanka.
The question Tamils should be asking before the election is whether a military government will be good for them. Ours is a military that is almost 100 per cent Sinhalese and led by Western-educated military officers.
Sri Lankan Tamils should remember the history of military dictatorships of the recent past, and note that the same things that happened under those regimes could happen in Sri Lanka too, under a military-type regime led by General Sarath Fonseka. As a nation, we should be very careful about the promises given by a man with a gun in one hand and all power in the other hand.
Tamil voters should stop dreaming of a separate state and start thinking about how they can contribute to Sri Lanka’s welfare, like the rest of the Sri Lankans.
Tissa de Silva,