Uncertainty continues in Northern Provincial Council

Uncertainty continued in Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council on Friday, after discussions between Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan and Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran.

Following the Chief Minister’s recent move, asking two of the four ministers in his Cabinet to resign over corruption charges proved by an inquiry, and call to the two others to go on leave — despite insufficient evidence to prove them guilty — a large block of Council members withdrew their support. As many as 21 members wrote to the Northern Province Governor expressing “no confidence” in the Chief Minister. At least 15 of them are from the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), a key constituent in the TNA.

ITAK veteran Mr. Sampanthan spoke to Mr. Wigneswaran over telephone and the leaders tried reconciling their differences, a source in the Northern Provincial Council told The Hindu. “Once they reach an agreement and get the Council members’ support, the members will most probably withdraw the ‘no confidence letter,” the source said. However, as of Friday evening, the dissenting members were yet to withdraw their affidavits.

Meanwhile, another section of the Council, with 15 members, presented a letter to the Governor expressing support to the CM. When contacted, Governor Reginald Cooray said: “I am waiting to know the position of all 38 members of the Council before taking the next step.” Seemingly an internal squabble, the recent controversy has raised questions about the future of Sri Lanka’s Tamil politics, amid speculations of a possible split within the TNA. Many leaders in the Alliance are reportedly resisting such a split, citing ongoing negotiations with the Colombo government on a political solution to the Tamil question, through a new Constitution.

According to Premananth Thevanayagam, Editor of the widely-read Tamil newspaper Uthayan in Jaffna, the gulf between the ITAK and the CM has only been widening and “a patch-up is unlikely”. “It was the ITAK that fielded Mr. Wigneswaran in the 2013 provincial polls, but the CM’s position shifted drastically after that,” he said. In the August 2015 parliamentary elections, Mr. Wigneswaran campaigned for the critics of the TNA.

Ground support

Those backing Mr. Wigneswaran claim “swelling ground support” for the Chief Minister. On Friday, they called for a ‘hartal’ in the north, where scores of protesters invited him to be their leader. Carrying banners that read ‘Time to lead’, they hailed him for speaking up against corruption. On the other hand, the ITAK issued a statement blaming the CM for “protecting” corrupt ministers, by treating those who were found guilty and those who were not, the same way.

Friday’s hartal was a reasonable success in Jaffna, Mr. Thevanayagam noted, though it did not pull large crowds in the Vanni. Observing that the mobilisation should not be confused with electoral support, he pointed to the ITAK’s traditional electoral base in the north. “The analysts and talking heads you see on social media are not the ones who vote in elections. It is the working class and the lower income groups that vote in large numbers — and they do not rally behind individual personalities or venerate them. Our people vote verypragmatically.” (Hindu)

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