Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe Woos Tamils Ahead Of 2024 Election – Analysis


National Peace Council calls for wider consultations to come to a consensus on the a solution to the Tamil question  

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who intends to fight the next Presidential election at the end of 2024, is not only busy putting the fallen Sri Lankan economy back on its rails, but is also assiduously cultivating the minority Tamils, who were sidelined by his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe has held discussions with the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), the premier Tamil party of the Tamil-dominated North and East, to find a lasting solution to the vexed Tamil question. 

There has been no progress till date with the Tamil parties putting some preconditions that are difficult to concede (such the unification of the Northern and Eastern provinces to give the Tamils a ‘Homeland’). But the talks are being kept up by both the President and the ITAK.

Wickremesinghe is keen on delivering something to the Tamils ahead of the 2024 Presidential election when he will need their votes. And the aging Tamil Supremo  R.Sampanthan is sworn to settle the matter in his lifetime.

The National Peace Council has welcomed the President’s direct engagement with the Tamil political parties, which it said, has been positively received both nationally and internationally. 

“There are media reports that he will expand his engagement to include the Muslim and Malaiyaha Tamil political parties.  We call on the President to inform the people about his intentions in this regard, and the government to engage on the issue with the opposition political parties, so that the agreements reached are inclusive and have a maximum of support from all the ethnic and religious communities in the country,” the Peace Council said in a statement on Thursday.

Massacre Day Allowed to be Observed   

Signaling his accommodation of Tamil sentiments, Wickremesinghe allowed the community to observe the anniversary of the massacre which took place at the fag end of the war against the LTTE at Mullivaikkal  in the Northern province. 

In contrast to earlier years, when the event was opposed using army troops, and the Tamils would indulge in manifest defiance, this year there was no commotion. While the Tamils had Hindu priests perform rituals for the souls of the dead, there was no menacing troop deployment. 

In Colombo, a small group of Sinhala extremists belonging to the ‘Sinhala Ravaya’ did try to disrupt a service in memory of the Tamil dead at the Borella cemetery . And the police did ask the organizers to abandon the service. But when a Tamil catholic priest assured them that no violence was planned, the police allowed the service to be held.

Tamil Demands

The Tamils have many unfulfilled demands such as the tracing of those who had surrendered or were captured and made to “disappear”; the evacuation of troops from the Tamil areas;  the return of private lands of Tamils seized by the government and troops during the war; and the release of terror suspects in jail for long due to unending legal proceedings.

While not committing himself to meeting any of these demands, Wickremesinghe is preventing Buddhist monks from using the Archaeological Department to claim Tamil areas as ancient Sinhala areas. On hearing that Buddhist monks are funding the Archaeological Department to excavate areas to prove their point, Wickremsinghe told the monks in no uncertain terms that the Archaeological Departnement would excavate only  government identified places and only with government funds. 

Gubernatorial Appointments

In a recent move, Wickremesinghe  appointed Governors for three provinces with two aims – to please the Tamils and strengthen his position in the government

 On Monday, he had sacked Governors Jeevan Thiagarajah (Northern Province), Adm.Wasantha Karannagoda (North Western Province ) and Anuradha Yahampath (Eastrn Province). On Wednesday, he replaced them with Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena (North Western province), PSM Charles Northern Province), and Senthil Thondaman (Eastern province).

It is said that the President removed Northern Province Governor Jeevan Thiagarajah because he was not getting on with local Tamil politicians. He was too officious.

Given his military background, the North Western Province Governor Adm. Karannagoda was not getting along with provincial civilian officials. Additionally, Karannagoda’s  continuance in the post had become untenable after he was designated by the US State Department on charges of human rights violations during the war, especially the enforced disappearance of 11 youths from Colombo. Karannagoda’s ouster should pave the way for reconciliation with the Tamil minority. 

Same is the case with Anuradha Yahampath, Governor of the Eastern Province. She had alienated the Tamils with her close identification with the Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian cause. She used to assist Adm. Sarath Weerasekara, A Sinhala radical, when he visited Geneva to plead the cause of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The ousted Governors were appointees of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim.

The current appointees answer to President Wickremesinghe’s politico-electoral needs. Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, a Sinhala Buddhist politician from South Sri Lanka, is close to Basil Rajapaksa, a leading light of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which supports President Wickremesinghe in parliament.

PSM Charles is known for doing the bidding of the government of the day. But she is also a good administrator with experience in rehabilitation of war refugees. She is one of the few Tamil civil servants who had risen to the top in recent history. She is expected to vibe with the Tamils of the Northern Province. 

Senthil Thondaman is an active young politician from the Indian Origin Tamil community belonging to the Ceylon Workers Congress and the illustrious Thondaman clan. Senthil is close to the Rajapaksas, especially Mahinda Rajapaksa. He also has good ties with DMK leaders in Tamil Nadu. 

With the three new appointees, being close to Mahinda and Basil Rajapaksa, President Wickremesinghe is assured of the continuous support of the SLPP in parliament. Wickremesighe hopes that such support would be extended to his candidature in the Presidential election expected to be held in 2024.

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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