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R. Sampanthan | C.V. Wigneswaran

After negotiations between Sampanthan and Wigneswaran, the latter agreed to reverse his decision on the two ministers who had not been found guilty. Soon, Sampanthan announced that ITAK members would withdraw their motion of no confidence 

What was the recent crisis in Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council in Jaffna?

As many as 21 of the 38 members of the Provincial Council in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority north said that they had no confidence in C.V. Wigneswaran, their Chief Minister. The members’ move not only threatened his office briefly, but also signalled a possible split in the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that runs the Council. The TNA is also Sri Lanka’s main opposition party.

Why did the Council members withdraw support?

They were protesting the Chief Minister’s action on a recent report that inquired into allegations of corruption and maladministration facing the four ministers in the Council. The report found two ministers guilty and pointed to insufficient evidence to prove charges facing the other two. While the CM asked the two “guilty” ministers to resign, he urged the other two to go on leave to facilitate another inquiry. A large bloc of members found the response unfair.

Was the conflict only about the CM’s response?

Their opposition to the leave forced on two ministers was the culmination of growing tensions between the Chief Minister and the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), to which most of the dissenting members belong. It was the ITAK, the main constituent of the TNA, which chose former Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran as its chief ministerial candidate for the historic Northern Provincial Council election in 2013. ITAK members, who form a large bloc in the Council, said the CM did not take them into confidence. Supporters of Wigneswaran, on the other hand, accused ITAK of protecting corrupt ministers.

Why did this put the TNA’s unity at risk?

The TNA is an amalgam of four political parties with different political histories and positions during the civil war. Some of the constituent party leaders differ with ITAK veteran and TNA leader R. Sampanthan on some issues, and accuse him of being “very close” to the Colombo government. Mr. Sampanthan has been engaging the Colombo leadership on constitutional reform which he sees as a crucial step in achieving an acceptable political solution to the national question. The Chief Minister has adopted a relatively confrontational approach with the Centre. He also co-chairs the Tamil People’s Council, an organisation that includes critics of the TNA such as the hard-line party Tamil National People’s Front that the CM backed in Sri Lanka’s August 2015 parliamentary polls. On the recent controversy in the Council, three TNA constituents initially appeared to back the CM but later mediated a compromise between him and the TNA leader.

How did the controversy end?

After negotiations between Sampanthan and Wigneswaran, the latter agreed to reverse his decision on the two ministers who had not been found guilty. Soon, Sampanthan announced that ITAK members would withdraw their motion of no confidence. The CM urged the ministers not to interfere in an impending legal inquiry.

What are the challenges ahead?

Sampanthan has the task of pushing the Colombo government to take steps towards an acceptable political solution, even as the Constitution-making process drags. The NPC, which is criticised for its lack of initiative in the north, faces the mounting challenge of reviving the economy and people’s livelihoods in the north, even as it addresses key post-war challenges pertaining to enforced disappearances and the return of military-occupied private land.

 

(The Hindu)