Sri Lanka: Left-Tamil alliance contests elections


The Left Liberation Front is contesting 19 seats in the April 8 parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka.

The LLF, an electoral coalition comprising the Nava Sama Samaja Party, Tamil National Liberation Alliance, and the Socialist Party, stands for the right of self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people, freedom for political prisoners and an end to the state of emergency.

The NSSP and the SP are Marxist parties based in the predominantly Sinhalese south of the island of Sri Lanka. The TNLA is a Tamil nationalist party based amongst the Tamil people of the north and east of the island.

Tamils have faced discrimination and oppression since the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948. One of the new government's first acts was to deprive Tamil plantation workers, whose ancestors had come from India more than a hundred years before, of citizenship rights.

Then in 1956, Sinhala (the language of the Sinhalese majority that have dominated independent Sri Lanka) was made the sole official language — discriminating against all Tamils, including those whose ancestors have lived on the island for thousands of years.

Peaceful protests against such discrimination were violently repressed. This led to growing support among Tamils for the creation of an independent state in the island's north and east.

An armed struggle was launched to achieve this goal. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought a war for independence for nearly three decades.

The Sri Lankan Army finally defeated the LTTE in May 2009 in a brutal offensive. An estimated 30,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last five months of the war.

After the end of the conflict, 300,000 Tamil refugees were imprisoned for months in concentration camps. Most are now supposedly free to leave, but many are unable to return to their homes, either because they have been destroyed or because they are in areas designated by the Sri Lankan army as "high security zones".

Sinhalese dissident journalists and human rights activists have also been arrested or murdered.

Despite the war's end, the state of emergency declared during the conflict is continually renewed. Disappearances continue — 17 cases were reported to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in the first seven weeks of 2010.

A split has emerged among the Sinhala ruling elite in the aftermath of the war. General Sarath Fonseka, head of the army during the final onslaught, contested the January 26 presidential election against the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa won the election — partly due to fraud and intimidation, and partly because of his control of the state media.

Following the election, Fonseka was arrested by military police. The government said he would be court-martialled, although the charges against him are uncertain.

Divisions arose within the Tamil National Alliance over how to relate to the Fonseka campaign. The TNA, which won 22 seats in the 2004 parliamentary elections, has been the voice of the Tamils in Sri Lanka's parliament.

But following the defeat of the LTTE there has been disagreement in the TNA about perspectives and tactics.

Most TNA MPs called for a vote for Fonseka in the presidential election, while a few supported Rajapaksa. The justification was the necessity of choosing the lesser evil between the two candidates likely to win.

However, some TNA MPs refused to support either. One of them, M.K. Sivajilingam, ran as a candidate in the presidential election.

Most Tamils either boycotted the poll or were prevented from voting. In the Tamil city of Jaffna, the voter turnout was only 18%. Those Tamils who did vote generally supported Fonseka.

During the campaign, Sivajilingam held joint election meetings with Vickramabahu Karunaratne, the presidential candidate for the NSSP. Sivajilingam and his supporters have now left the TNA and formed the Tamil National Liberation Alliance, which is working with left groups through the LLF.

Another group, which has left the TNA and is contesting the coming parliamentary elections on a program of Tamil self-determination, is the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam.

Other Tamils critical of the TNA position on the elections remain in the TNA, seeking to win TNA support for their position.