Freedom of expression and fundamental rights

The lesson of the election result of Digamadulla

Kamani Hettiarachchi

The candidates of the political parties and the independent groups are busy with campaigns when an election is called. All of them want to win, and their speeches, promises, expenses and interactions with the voters are oriented towards their target.

Patriotism and heroism are subtly manipulated to achieve political targets. They try to touch the hearts of the people through their statements on the nationality, religion and motherland etc. The candidates become clever actors and swift heroes during elections. However, their practice after the election victory is entirely different.

In our election history, there are instances the voters have defeated and silenced the false heroes. This article aims to highlight one such attempt that was defeated by people at the 2020 general election.

“I am more dangerous than coronavirus.  During the war, in a single night, I killed thousands of soldiers during battles in areas like Elephant Pass and Kilinochchi. Yes. Karuna Amman is a man of that caliber and he is a dangerous guy.” This controversial statement was made by Vnayagamurthi Muralitharan aka Karuna Amman, the present leader of Tamil Maha Sabha party.

The person who made this statement was the former leader of the armed wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). He has been functioning in the democratic political mainstream at least for 10 years now holding various political positions. He contested several elections previously, and he can be considered a seasoned politician who can understand the behaviours in the political terrain.

Karuna Amman’s statement was made not in an internal discussion of the party, but a political rally of the Tamil Maha Sabha Party held on June 15th. He was a candidate of the party that contested under the symbol of the ship for Ampara (Digamadulla) district.

This statement cannot be considered a slip of the tongue. The focus of the discussions in national politics were diverted to his statement after that. The political, religious and social leaders made statements condemning and criticizing Karuna Amman’s statement. Protests were held in various places in the country. Social media carried numerous stories. Karuna Amman’s statement was the main topic of the day. Complaints were lodged in police and Criminal Investigation Department seeking the arrest of Karuna Amman. Demands were made to his party to abolish his candidature.

Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan’s aim might be the same. He might have wanted to focus attention to his lukewarm election campaign a new vigour through this controversial statement.  He wanted to divert Tamil votes to his account through rousing racist sentiments among people.

One thing is clear. He could gain publicity worth of millions of rupees through this statement.

Digamadulla district is an electorate with some unique characteristics. The majority of the population of the district is Muslims who live in harmony with other communities. The population in Ampara district is 648,057 while 282,484 (43.59%) of them are Muslims. The Sinhala population is 251,018 (38.73%) while Sri Lankan Tamils comprise of 112,750 (17.4%) of the population.

The number of registered voters in Digamadulla district was 513,979, and of them, 402,344 cast their vote. The 385,979 valid votes were distributed among 20 political parties and 30 independent groups that contested the election. It was the district in which the highest number of teams contested in 2020 parliamentary election. The electorate has ten seats in the parliament whereas 510 candidates tried for election.

Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan’s statement can be analysed mathematically as well in this context. The general behaviour of the Sinhala voters in this election did not change in Digamadulla district. The majority of the Sinhala votes distributed between Samagi Jana Balavegaya and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and while the latter was more substantial.

Karuna Amman was not popular among the Muslims due to the actions he had taken against them during the time of the LTTE control in the area. Therefore, he could not keep his hopes on Muslim votes either.

Following is the result of the election in Digamadulla district.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna       126,012

Samagi Jana Balavegaya                102,274

All Ceylon Tamil Congress              43,319

National Congress                             38,911

Akila Ilankai Tamil Maha Sabha    29,378

Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi           25,255

United National Party                      6,455

Jathika Jana Balavegaya                 5,868

Karuna Amman understood that he had to depend entirely on the votes of the Tamil people to elect to the parliament. The competition was high due to the traditional political parties that were contesting the election. In this backdrop, the controversial statement made by Karuna Amman heated the political campaigns. It was his last trump, and eventually, he was able to bag 4,123 votes more than one of his competitors, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi although he failed to elect.

Karuna Amman’s defeat is not only his individual loss but a defeat to the hate politics in the district. It was a clear message to the politicians and the leaders. In that sense, the election result of Digamadulla was vital for the politics of the entire country.

We tried to get the response of Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan via telephone for three questions on this topic but failed. Following are the three questions:

  1. What do you think now about the controversial statement you made during the election campaign?
  2. Was it advantageous or disadvantageous to your campaign?
  3. Was it a strategic statement?
The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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