Repressing representation

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Since February 2002, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has killed 61 members of Tamil political parties. Now, they may have sole discretion when it comes to appointing Tamil members to the interim council.

Terming it a violation of fundamental rights, two of Sri Lanka's prominent Tamil political parties are threatening to move court against the government's proposal to allow only the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to nominate members to an interim council for administering the shattered North and East provinces.

The government has given the LTTE, which is yet to contest an election, the sole discretion of appointing Tamil members to the proposed council.

The controversial plan states that the remaining members will be nominated from the ruling United National Front government, the key Opposition party, People's Alliance and Sri Lanka's leading Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

The aggrieved Tamil parties — the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) which boasts two seats in Parliament, and the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) — claim that if the interim council is established with just LTTE nominees, it will deprive other Tamil parties and civilians in these provinces of their fundamental rights.

Former EPDP Member of Parliament (MP) and party spokesman S. Thavaraja, protests that “the LTTE has not contested a single election, but calls itself the sole representative of the Tamils. Even the international community has condemned LTTE violence against civilians and rival political parties.”

Since entering into a truce with the government in February 2002, the LTTE has killed 61 members of Tamil political parties. Prime amongst them is the deputy leader of the EPRLF, S. Subathiran.

Adds Thavaraja, “Under these circumstances giving the LTTE the sole discretion to choose nominees is a grave violation of principles of political pluralism, and a major letdown for the Tamil community, which hoped the government would not give into LTTE demands and kill political pluralism in the North and the East.”

The EPDP won nine seats in the 1994 general elections, becoming the Tamil party with the maximum number of seats. Its leader Douglas Devananda held the office of Minister of Northern Development under the PA regime from 1994-2001.

In the October 2000 elections it bagged five seats, and boasts two MPs in the present Parliament.

Senior EPRLF leader, Thiranavakaran Sridharan, alleges that “One thing we know is that the LTTE will never genuinely enter the peace path. It's just buying time to strengthen its military machine. It's very unfortunate that the government did not mention the name of a single Tamil party in Parliament to nominate members to the interim council.”

Sridharan adds that the architect of the government's interim proposals, Constitutional Affairs Minister, Professor G. L. Peiris, was in South Africa just prior to preparing them, yet he failed to take any tips from their experience. South Africa formed an interim government comprising some thirty parties including a few tribal groups.

Sridharan stresses that it is the responsibility of the international community to exert pressure on the government and the LTTE to allow Tamil parties to participate in a democratic process of nominating members for the council.

He warns that if no changes are made in the composition of the interim council, the EPRLF will be forced to file a fundamental rights case against the government.

Sri Lanka's main Tamil Marxist group, the EPRLF, was in power in the now defunct Northeast provincial council established in 1987 after the Indo-Lanka Accord.

While the EPDP and EPRLF are opposed to the government proposal, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), known as an LTTE proxy, is not opposed to it.

Declares TNA parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham, “It is mainly due to the LTTE's armed struggle that the government admitted that Tamils in this country are not treated equal to the Sinhalese. So the LTTE has every right to nominate Tamil nominees to the council.”

Another Tamil party, Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), also feels it would have been better if Tamil political parties were given a chance to nominate members to the council. But it is not ready to move court against this.

Says PLOTE leader D. Siddharthan, “I feel it is too premature to comment on the composition as the LTTE is yet to come out with their response.”

When questioned on the government's decision, a cabinet minister closely associated with the peace process refused to comment, holding that as Minister Peiris had formulated the proposals, he would know best.

The latter, though, was not available for comment.

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