Feature Article

British Tamils must pick candidate, not party

[TamilNet, Sunday, 25 April 2010, 15:19 GMT]
With Britain’s general election less than two weeks away, campaigning is in full swing. In an election that is too close to call and with many constituencies where British Tamils' vote can be decisive, the vital question facing expatriate Tamils is where best to place their votes? "As British Tamils, we have in this country, every opportunity to make our voices heard. By participating with enthusiasm in the forthcoming general elections British Tamils can work towards a just and stable future for Tamils in Sri Lanka," argues TamilNet political commentator in UK.

Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown le
Leaders of British Parties: Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), David Cameron (Conservative) and Gordon Brown (Labor)
The commentator further writes:

The simple answer is that Tamils should pick the candidate in each constituency who is the best on the Tamil issue. In the absence of a clear policy position from any of the three main parties, Tamils should not make their decision on the basis of party platforms.

Voting by candidate rather than party also makes the most sense given that none of the parties is assured a strong majority in the next parliament. Opting for the best candidate on the Tamil issue can ensure that there is a strong cross party voice for Tamils in the next parliament.

At the official policy level there is very little to choose between the three parties. However, the governing party for the past thirteen years, the Labour party, has of course the most to answer for. Since Labour came to power in 1997 British policy towards Sri Lanka has steadfastly backed the Sri Lankan state despite the visible cost to the Tamils.

The Labour government enthusiastically supported President Chandrika Kumaratunga's disastrous 'war for peace', proscribed the LTTE while the Norwegians were exploring peace, and also lobbied strongly for EU proscription of the LTTE while the peace process was ongoing.

Britain also led international efforts to give President Mahinda Rajapakse the green light to resume the war in 2006 and stood idly by while Sri Lanka massacred Tamils in Vanni and the East, including using British-supplied armaments.

Both Prime Minister Tony Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown, held well publicized meetings with President Rajapakse, even as human rights abuses spiralled.

Finally, when the slaughter in the Vanni reached a crescendo in the early months of 2009 the UK government did not make an unequivocal statement – in contrast to the United States. Not even when tens of thousands of Tamils demonstrated in front of parliament.

Those protests did, however, open a new era of interaction between British Tamils and the UK’s political parties and state.

Although there is now a growing engagement on the Tamil question by the Labour party this cannot readily compensate for the wreckage of the past thirteen years.

There is therefore no longer a question of a block Tamil vote. However, the Tamils do have strong friends in the Labour party and they should be supported as a means of urgently addressing Labour's utterly discredited Sri Lanka policy.

As the main UK opposition party the Conservatives have not fared much better. Although they cannot be held directly responsible for the disasters of British policy they have also failed to oppose Labour's position on Sri Lanka in any serious way.

If anything, the Conservatives have been even more insistent in viewing Sri Lanka purely through the anti terror framework and have, therefore, until recently, been utterly insensitive to the issue of Sri Lanka’s structural genocide.

The recent progress in engagement between the Conservative party and Tamils should be encouraged, and Tamils should give every support to those Tory candidates who have taken a principled position on the Tamil issue – just as they should support those Labour candidates with a clear stance on the same.

The Liberal Democrats have traditionally been more outspoken against Sri Lanka’s violence against the Tamils. There are a number of Lib Dem MPs who have taken clear and consistent positions on the Tamil issue who also deserve the Tamils' ongoing support and encouragement. However, the Liberal Democrats can do more, a clear commitment in favour of Tamils’ self determination. Such a position is in keeping with the larger Liberal Democrat ethos.

As the campaign heats up, many candidates in areas with a significant number of Tamil electorate are directly canvassing Tamil voters. In locations where the Tamil vote can make a real difference, Tamils ought to vote for the candidate who has the best record on the Tamil issue, irrespective of party.

Tamils should support candidates who will be effective voices on the Tamil issue not just in parliament but also within their own parties. Those candidates who have worked hard to lobby their own party leaderships in support of the Tamil issue should especially be supported.

Conversely, those candidates who have been associated with the anti-Tamil polices of the UK government in the past thirteen years should not be able to call upon Tamil support. This applies especially to those who served as ministers and thus actively supported Sri Lanka.

The most important thing however is that British Tamils' participation in British politics continues its upward trajectory. Whatever the outcome of the election and whichever candidates wins in any particular constituency, if British Tamils participate in large numbers that alone will take the Tamil issue forward in the coming years.

As British Tamils, we have in this country, every opportunity to make our voices heard. In contrast to the situation faced by our people in Sri Lanka, we can freely participate in the electoral process, make our opinions known, vote in full confidence of a rigorous and fair electoral mechanism, lobby our representatives and canvass support for the Tamil cause without fear of intimidation and oppression.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have no such luxury and as the results of the last parliamentary elections on the island shows most Tamils have lost faith in the democratic process. In Britain the reverse is true: Tamils are engaging in democratic processes as never before, as exemplified by the massive turnout for Jan Jananayagam's electoral campaign and the Vaddukoddai referendum.

By participating with enthusiasm in the forthcoming general elections British Tamils can work towards a just and stable future for Tamils in Sri Lanka. By voting here, now and in the coming years, we will make a difference over there.


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