Tamil

To Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa's Head is through Sinhala Voters

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, Month 2009 (ID. 2009-11-02)
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1. Background Information
[Those familiar with the background information on Sri Lankan ethnic conflict as it stood near the end of 2009 may skip to Section 2]

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa made many promises to the international community, especially the donor co-chairs United States of America (USA), European Union (EU), Japan and Norway, before the fourth ethnic war between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) started in 2006 (Eelam War 4). One by one he broke every promise and waged the war with utter disregard for minority Tamil civilian lives. Eelam War 4 ended with many thousands of Tamil civilians dead and a quarter of million Tamil civilians put into internment camps under appalling conditions. Some western reporters compared these camps, called "welfare villages" by the government, to Nazi concentration camps. [Interested readers may visit websites of human rights organizations for more information on civilian deaths and conditions of the camps.]

Pleas from the United Nations (UN) and western democracies to release the Tamil civilians from the camps were met with angry protests and insults from the Sri Lankan government. With diplomatic backing and financial assistance from China and India, Sri Lankan government thumped its nose to countries and leaders criticizing the ill treatment of Tamil civilians.

Is there a way for the western democracies to put pressure on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to release the IDP from camps and settle them in their native villages? Is there any way to put pressure on President Rajapaksa to seek an equitable solution to the ethnic problem confronting the island ever since its independence from British rule some 60 years ago? (IDP - internally displaced persons)

2. How to Put Pressure on the Sri Lankan President?

The only ones who can pressure President Rajapaksa are the Sinhalese voters of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese voters have shown no empathy for the sufferings of minority Tamil civilians. (We are thankful for the few Sinhalese who spoke up. God bless them one and all.) Most Sinhala voters do not care if Tamil children starve in IDP camps or they die of diseases due to the crowded conditions, poor sanitation and shortage of medicine. But they do care about their welfare and conditions of their own day-to-day living. 

If the Sinhala masses are hit with some discomfort in their day to day living and it becomes clear that things would go back to normal for them only if Tamil civilian sufferings are remedied, there surely would be pressure on President Rajapaksa from Sinhala voters. That is the only way to Rajapaksa's head. Pleas, criticism and financial inducements from the international community have no effect on the president. Only way to President Rajapaksa is through Sinhala voters and Sinhalese voters are concerned only about their welfare.

Sinhala voters are not innocent bystanders. They are the cheerleaders for President Rajapaksa even as he waged the war with no regard for Tamil civilian deaths and then interned quarter million Tamil civilians. Remember, Sri Lanka is still a democracy for the Sinhalese (although not for the Tamils because their population is only a fraction of the Sinhalese). Sinhala  politicians can win elections by being rabidly anti-Tamil in their rhetoric; tougher their stance on Tamils, more the votes they garner from Sinhala voters. Former Sri Lanka President J. R. Jayewardene once said, "I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people.. now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here.. Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy." (Daily Telegraph, July 11, 1983)

Western democracies have already cut or suspended many financial aid programs to pressure the Sri Lankan government. They may further cut trade concessions and put trade sanctions. We do know that no international economic sanction is possible because of Chinese veto in the United Nations Security Council. Yet western democracies can put pressure on Sri Lanka through their own trade restrictions and other appropriate measures that would hit Sinhala voters. Then, and only then, would Sinhala voters ask President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the sufferings of Tamil civilians and also consider a meaningful political solution to the six decade long ethnic conflict.

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[Summary: Trade restrictions and economic sanctions are the only realistic way to pressure Sri Lanka on human rights and solution to Tamil ethnic discrimination.]

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