War on terror revisited: An irrevocable miscalculation
Posted on July 2nd, 2012

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

July 1, 2012, 7:50 pm

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UNP Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema lambasted the LTTE for engineering the defeat of UNP presidential election candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2005. The staunch Wickremesinghe loyalist alleged that the LTTE had deprived the UNP leader of a certain victory by preventing Tamil speaking people living in areas under LTTE control from exercising their franchise. Had there been an ali-koti givisuma (an agreement between Elephants (UNP)and Tigers) as alleged by the UPFA, the LTTE would never have caused Wickremesinghe’s downfall (LTTE action belies ali-koti pact””…”””…”The Island of Nov 21, 2005).

Mahinda Rajapaksha polled 4,887,152 (50.29%), whereas Ranil Wickramasinghe obtained 4,706,366 (48.43%).

Wickremesinghe never commented publicly on the LTTE move, which helped the then PM to defeat him by 180,786 votes.

Responding to queries raised by The Island, Samarawickrema asserted that Wickremesinghe expected approximately 450,000 votes from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. According to him, the UNP anticipated about 70 per cent of the total number of votes polled by LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the April 2, 2004 parliamentary polls.

Samarawickrema said that he couldn’t understand why the LTTE and the TNA had undermined Wickremesinghe’s presidential bid.

Milinda under fire

At the first meeting of the decision making Working Committee (WC) following the Nov 17, 2005 poll, Milinda Moragoda was accused of prompting the LTTE decision. Moragoda, who had been a key member of Wickremesinghe’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE consequent to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) reached on Feb 23, 2002 (Hot air at Sirikotha over LTTE polls boycott order””…”””…”The Island of Dec 1, 2005). A section of the WC alleged that Moragoda’s interpretation of the split caused by Karuna in March 2004, as a UNP achievement had irked Prabhakaran.

Moragoda also declared that the Navy had been able to sink two LTTE ships carrying arms, ammunition and equipment in March and June 2003 with the support of international intelligence agencies. He dismissed UPFA allegation that Wickremesinghe was planning to downsize the military.

(Dr. John Gooneratne, who served in the Peace Secretariat from Jan 2002 to May 2006 told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission[(LLRC]in Sept 2010 in that the CFA had come into operation on Feb 23, 2002, though many believed it happened Feb 21, 2002).

Wickremesinghe prevented the WC continuing the discussion as Moragoda was being crucified for destroying his political career.

TNA leader, R. Sampanthan told The Island on the night of Nov 15, 2005 that the decision taken on Nov 9, 2005 at Kilinochchi to boycott the election would remain. Speaking from Trincomalee, the veteran politician claimed that nothing worthwhile could be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates. Both Sampanthan and Batticaloa District MP Joseph Pararajasingham said that Tamil speaking people weren’t at all interested in the Nov 17 poll. (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance””…”””…”The Island of Nov 16, 2005).

A few days before the polls, TNA MP Sivajilingham told the state-owned ITN that persistent Opposition claims that a victory for then PM Rajapaksa would lead to an imminent outbreak of large scale hostilities was baseless.

Why did the LTTE undermine Wickremesinghe’s presidential bid?

On the day of the polls, CWC heavyweight R. Yogarajan said that Wickremesinghe could still beat Rajapaksa comfortably in spite of the LTTE move (LTTE boycott will not deny Ranil victory””…”””…”The Island Nov 18, 2005 issue)

Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) publicly condemned the LTTE move. He regretted that those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces had been deprived of their right to exercise universal franchise. Speaking on behalf of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), he alleged that the CMEV had received information that the LTTE had prevented people from crossing the Muhamalai and Omanthai entry/exit points to cast their votes at cluster polling booths. (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil “”…” The Island Nov 18, 2005).

Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council (NPC) asserted that the LTTE may have backed Premier Rajapaksa as it would have been easier to negotiate with him once he was elected President. Perera said that the LTTE may have feared that Wickremesinghe would be able to bring international pressure on the group or may be the LTTE didn’t want the two provinces to vote for a Sinhala candidate (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil””…”””…”The Island of Nov 18, 2005).

LTTE prefers MR

It would be pertinent to study the circumstances under which the LTTE had ordered the TNA to abandon Wickremesinghe. Although the TNA felt that the decision was wrong and could help Rajapaksa win the poll, it realized the LTTE strategy. Prabhakaran probably felt that he could deal relatively easily with an inexperienced Rajapaksa troubled by an internal strife of the SLFP. The LTTE also believed that the new President wouldn’t receive the much needed international assistance needed It felt supremely confident of a swift and decisive military campaign, which could immobilize the military in two years. One-time chief of LTTE procurement, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias “ƒ”¹…”KP’ in his first interview with The Island, after his extradition from Malaysia, had entertained such an idea. The LTTE believed that it had the wherewithal to achieve its military objectives.

Prabhakaran had been ready to launch eelam war IV in early August, 2005. The LTTE would never have ordered the assassination of then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005 without being fully prepared to initiate a large scale offensive of its own. The group obviously believed that it had the conventional fighting capability regardless of the Karuna split.

The GoSL pushed the EU to proscribe the LTTE in the wake of the Kadirgamar assassination. Instead of listing the group as a terrorist organization, the EU imposed a travel ban on LTTE representatives visiting member states. The announcement was made on Sept 26, 2005. But the group was allowed to visit any other country (EU travel ban falls far short of Lanka’s plea””…”””…”The Island of Sept 30, 2005). The LTTE insisted that the EU action wasn’t acceptable. It warned the GoSL would have to face the consequences unless Norway persuaded the EU to lift travel restrictions (LTTE front warns: Lift EU ban or face war””…”””…”The Island Oct 10, 2005). Interestingly, the threat was made by the Jaffna University Students Union.

Silence of IC

Had the international community taken tangible action following the Kadirgamar assassination, the LTTE wouldn’t have dared engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the presidential poll to pave the way for war. Instead, the LTTE was allowed to pursue its strategies both here and abroad. In the wake of the EU travel ban, the LTTE demanded recognition by the EU, while ordering the Tamil Diaspora to organize protests in Brussels on Oct 24, 2005 in support of its move. The LTTE refused to acknowledge that the travel ban had been imposed consequent to Kadirgamar assassination.

The LTTE operated on the premise that whatever the consequences of its strategy, it had to be pursed.

The UNP leader had the support of all, including then President Kumaratunga and her brother, Anura Bandaranaike. The NGO community loved Wickremesinghe, whereas Rajapaksa was portrayed as a hardliner, whose ascendency to executive authority could set the stage for eelam war IV.

Had the LTTE not interfered in the electoral process, the outcome could have been different. The Opposition candidate had the support of the US, with US based influential Sri Lankan having Senators, Joseph Biden Jr and John McCain move a bipartisan resolution, if released ahead of the poll in its original form, could have caused serious damage to Rajapaksa’s presidential bid.

The resolution referring to Sinhala extremist parties had been made in the context of the JVP and JHU throwing their weight behind Rajapaksa. The resolution also made a reference to “ƒ”¹…”non-democratic foreign powers’. Citing the threat posed by Sinhala extremists and “ƒ”¹…”non-democratic foreign powers’, the two Senators called for international intervention in Sri Lanka’s electoral process. They obviously failed to realize that the LTTE’s game plan was very different from what was pursued by the UNP and its international supporters.

The US-led Western powers obviously felt that the resolution of Sri Lanka’s conflict primarily depended on victory for Wickremesinghe at the Nov poll. The SLMC and the CWC, too, endorsed this position. They considered Rajapaksa an impediment and believed that his victory at the poll could derail the peace process. Only the LTTE-TNA combination changed its stand at the eleventh hour, much to the surprise of the UNP leadership.

As the then UNP Chairman Samarawickrema pointed out, Wickremesinghe’s success hinged on the Tamil vote. In fact, the LTTE must have discouraged even those living in areas outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces from voting for Wickremesinghe.

UNP Deputy Gen. Secretary, Tissa Attanayake accused the government of being silent on the LTTE polls boycott move. Dr. Jayalath Jayawardana alleged that Rajapaksa had benefited from the LTTE move. (Govt. tight “”…”lipped on LTTE terror on polls day””…”””…”The Island of Nov 23, 2005). What Attanayake and Jayawardana did not realize was that the LTTE manipulated the electoral process to help the candidate who it thought could be tackled easily. The LTTE underestimated the Rajapaksas, particularly the newly elected leader bringing in his younger brother, Gotabhaya as the Defence Secretary in place of Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardene (New Def. Secy “”…”The Island of Nov 23, 2005).

The international community, particularly Norway and the UNP, never bothered to examine the LTTE-TNA action ahead of the presidential poll. Although the UNP in response to The Island queries expressed the need on the part of the EU to take action against the LTTE, it never pressed for international action targeting the LTTE. Norway remained silent on the issue. An expensive post-war examination conducted by Norway never bothered to delve into the LTTE strategy as well as Norway’s response as the facilitator (UNP seeks EU action against polls-day LTTE terror: Norwegians keep mum””…”””…”The Island of Nov 24, 2005).

The LTTE was never asked to explain its decision to deprive Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote.

The UK presidency of the EU, while congratulating the newly elected President said: “We deeply regret reports that people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were prevented from exercising their democratic right to vote by the actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”

The former Austrian Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, while regretting the LTTE move, said: “This is in complete contradiction with our repeated calls that they should allow for greater pluralism and democracy in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.”

No probe

The civil society should inquire into the circumstances under which the LTTE created what it believed was an environment conducive to an all out attack on the government. In hindsight, the LTTE strategy was simple. It intended to provoke the new President to quit the CFA by launching a series of devastating attacks on the military. The LTTE was of the opinion that the President was more likely to respond to attacks on the military than the assassination of individuals. The LTTE also realized that the JVP and the JVP, which supported Rajapaksa’s campaign, would insist on a military response, regardless of the consequences. The LTTE thinking should be examined on the basis of its readiness for an all-out war by August 2005. The LTTE needed an excuse to launch an offensive. The JVP and JHU believed the President would retaliate as soon as the LTTE targeted the army. Much to the surprise of those who believed in the President resorting to arms in the wake of LTTE attacks, the government acted patiently. In spite of all provocations, President Rajapaksa delayed a conventional military response, though intelligence services were allowed to maximize the LTTE split. A surprised LTTE leadership gradually stepped up pressure on the government. The LTTE felt that the President would have no option but to take up the challenge and hence pave the way for multi-pronged assaults simultaneously on the Eastern and Northern provinces. But the President didn’t go on the offensive till August/September 2006, though limited military action was set in motion subsequent to the closure of Mavilaru anicut in June/July 2006.

(The next installment on July 4 will discuss how the President consolidated his power in parliament, in the face of the LTTE military challenge).

7 Responses to “War on terror revisited: An irrevocable miscalculation”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    This is factually incorrect.

    LTTE did support Ranil at the 2005 election.

    Army closed the Muhamalai border as in any other election except the 2004 election. But LTTE allowed people to cross the Omanthai entry/exit point to vote and come back. If LTTE was for a boycott they would not do it. But it had to be closed by the army due to a confrontation by pro-government paramilitary groups.

    Tamil people in army controlled areas in Jaffna and Batticaloa were genuinely not interested in the election. Most of them saw no difference in their lives between the two main candidates as far as they were concerned. Jaffna was besieged either way, peace or war. Batticaloa same thing. Karuna split happened during Ranil’s time which brought regular death and violence. LTTE peace talks with Ranil collapsed in September 2003 and there was no further hope in Ranil for the people. Some other Tamils were hoping the LTTE to restart war and they had given up all hope on the “Sinhala Only” election (all candidates were Sinhalese).

    Vanni recorded the highest voters turnout at the 2005 election at any presidential election after 1983. Vanni had the second highest UNP lead against the UPFA in the country! It is absurd to claim LTTE engineered the UNP’s downfall.

    There was a “ali-koti” agreement. It was signed on 22 February 2002!

    What the UNP miscalculated was the LTTE and Tamil people’s gratefulness. They have proven they have no gratefulness whatsoever. Amirthalingam, Thiruchelvam, two Maheswarans and many other previously pro-LTTE politicians were killed by the LTTE. This is the lesson UNP failed to learn. UNP expected LTTE to positively help them which the LTTE did by killing Lakshaman Kadirgamar which was a massive benefit for the UNP but on the democratic front, LTTE was handcuffed by the army which closed borders.

    Similarly the 1970s SLFP administration showered many benefits on Tamils in 1977 they voted against SLFP in favour of TULF.

    Again in 2004 Tamil people rejected UNP despite the ceasefire in favour of massive support for the TNA with 22 seats most of them were previous UNP seats.

    Comparing the 2004 General Election defeat which was the worst UNP defeat by then, UNP was very lucky to get 4.7 million votes in 2005.

    If LTTE wanted Tamils to boycot the election CWC, UPF and SLMC which had MoUs with LTTE would not have asked their voters to vote for Ranil. It was a gimmick to fool the Sinhalese and Muslims into believing there was no LTTE-UNP understanding (when there was dated 22 February 2002) which would save the UNP.

  2. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Is not it true that the elected mayor of Jaffna, murdered by Prabakaran was Alfred Duraiappa, an SLFP politician?
    Is not it true that the North and East elected more or similar number of SLFP candidates, as that of the UNP in pre-prabakaran elections?
    Is it not true that the People of the Northern Province were trying to escape the tyranny of the LTTE, such as robberies, killings, rape, child abductions for LTTE forces, extortion in the form of taxes etc and their votes would not have gone to either the LTTE or an LTTE supported party and this was shown by the vast majority of Northern voters who did not even participate at the Presidential or the last general elections, allowing Mahinda and TNA to win the North by default. We do not know whom they would have voted if Prabakaran did not intervene.
    Prabakaran did not prevent voters from voting to allow Mahinda to win, but he realised and did not want to embarass himself if the UNP failed to get a majority and/or if the voter turn out would be pathetically low, even after his instructions to vote.

  3. herman Says:

    Dilrook,

    we’re not privy to the secret deals between MR, RW and LTTE before the 2005 election but one thing is certain MR had a “deal” with LTTE!

  4. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Though the LTTE controlled to a great extent the Northern people physically, the LTTE did not control the conscience or inner feelings and desires of this civilised and educated community, just like all SriLankans are, even though economically poor.
    In as much as the majority of the southern voters would not have taken instructions from the JVP on whom to vote for and prolong their agony whilst Wijeweera was alive, the majority of Northern voters too would not have obeyed LTTE instructions and prolonged their agony, once inside a properly protected voting booth.
    I DO NOT believe any citizen wishing a life of peace and communal harmony, would endorse the very forces destroying such peace and communal harmony and vote for their candidate. We must not insult the Northern voters by treating them as rubber stamps of the LTTE under Prabakaran and Ranil would have got their votes, had Prabakaran instructed.

  5. Dilrook Says:

    Herman:

    No.

    Basil’s attempt to come to an understanding with the LTTE through Tamil Chelvam and Mano Ganesan failed because the latter refused to help the SLFP as he was working tirelessly for the UNP at that time.

    As a result the SLFP came to an understanding with EPDP and TMVP.

  6. Dilrook Says:

    Sooriarachi:

    It was not LTTE instructions that made most voters abstain. It is the futility of voting for either. They had enjoyed all the benefits of peace and knew they had come to the end of the road.

    Northern voters have been voting for ITAK (FP and now TNA) even before Prabakaran was born.

    In November 2005, LTTE was not in control of the Jaffna district except the Kilinochchi electorate and another one electorate. Over 80% of Jaffna voters were in army controlled areas at that time.

    In Vanni 85,874 people voted which is the highest voter number ever and percentage after the war started in 1983 around 38%. This is way higher than the total Sinhala and Muslim voters in Vanni. LTTE was on control of Vanni more than Jaffna even army controlled Vavuniya town and the surrounds with regular threats and violence.

    Total votes.

    1999 – Vanni – 64,180 (31%)
    1994 – Vanni – 40,053 (22%)
    1988 – Vanni – 19,677 (13%)
    1983 – Vanni – 73,186 (61%) of which only 61,665 votes for Sinhala candidates.

    Given these facts and figures I cannot understand how the LTTE-MR myth stands.

    http://www.slelections.gov.lk/pdf/2005%20Presidantial-District.pdf

    The same pro-UPFA actors of 2005 were active in 2010. TNA supported Fonseka and northern people will vote for even the army commander if TNA says so.

  7. herman Says:

    Dilrook,

    I’ve a very strong suspicion that MR may have used the “back door” to LTTE thru TNA. MR’s action thru his governance of late is perhaps payback of some sort to TNA!

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