Interviews

Came forward for the rights of minorities: M.K. Sivajilingam

Former Parliamentarian M.K. Sivajilingam told The Sunday Morning that it is high time a candidate was put forward to fight for the rights of the minorities.

Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning:

What made you decide to contest the presidential election?

This is the eighth presidential election of Sri Lanka that is going to be held. Even after the seventh presidential election, there has been no solution to the issues faced by the Tamil people; not even a temporary solution. It is like when crossing a river, how people would get together to safely cross like brethren but after crossing the river, all groups go their separate ways like they don’t know each other. That’s the same with the presidential election. During the election period, the Tamils support whichever party that promises to resolve our issues but as soon as the election is over, the Tamils and their problems are forgotten.

You are seen as a politician with hard-line Tamil policies which are not in line with Tamil interests. So in that context, if you are made president, would it divide the country?

I have never spoken of dividing the country. Also, I have no expectations of becoming president. I have always called for a united Sri Lanka where our communities live in peace and harmony. But if the Sinhala-Buddhist majority does not want that and wants to evict us from our homeland, then we will have to seek alternative solutions.

What I’m urging is for the Sinhala-Buddhist majority not to do so and be accepting of the other communities. We accept and acknowledge that the Sinhalese are the majority and that Buddhism is the religion of the majority. But, we don’t want to be treated like second-class citizens in our own motherland. That is our plight. That is what we are demanding to change.

Do you have the support of the mainstream Tamil political parties such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), or even former Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran?

Before the election, there was talk that all the Tamil political parties should get together and put forward a common Tamil candidate to address the issues of our people.

Civil society groups, religious groups, and others discussed this with R. Sampanthan (Leader) of the TNA, Wigneswaran, and other mainstream Tamil political parties. But this did not happen. No one came forward to go ahead with this.

When this failed, I held discussions with various parties including that of V. Anandasangaree, the TELO, and even Wickramabahu Karunaratne’s party, but no one wanted to go ahead with a Tamil common candidate.

Therefore, I decided that I would contest the election. I have no intention of telling people whom to vote for. I’m only interested in finding a solution to the issues of the Tamil’s – even a temporary one.

So, do you have their support?

None of them have extended their support yet, but there are various discussions going on in Jaffna, especially at the Jaffna University. Let us see what developments take place.

As you know, a president of a country would need to lead not just one community but the entire country. How do you hope to obtain the support of the Sinhala majority at the election?

Like I said before, I’m not expecting to become president. We know that the average Sinhalese people are good people. That is why during Black July, the Tamil death toll didn’t go to tens of thousands. That is because many good Sinhalese people protected Tamils. Only a handful are racially motivated. We know that a majority of the Sinhalese are good people who live in harmony with other communities.

Initially, so many criticised the provincial council system. But now, everyone is praising it because government services can now be obtained in one’s own province and there is no need to go to Colombo to get things done.

People are asking for more and more autonomy for the provinces. That is why a federal system would benefit the whole country. That is all we are asking for. The war is over and no one wants to divide the country. It is now time for all of us to unite and live as Sri Lankans.

Where do you hope to get your funding for your election campaign?

I get funding from my supporters but not much. I had a press conference recently but there aren’t enough funds for another press conference. If I get enough funding, then I will do my best to canvass votes and travel to the various regions. But I receive funds only from those who want to give me.

(SG)