Eastern PC election: A race between Muslim parties

Cheap artane castle MSM AyubThe former Lanka Guardian Editor and a respected journalist, late Mervin de Silva while testifying before the Mosad Commission appointed by the former President Ranasinghe Premadasa in early nineties said that Sri Lankan leaders had pushed a politically passive community into active politics by inviting Israelis to train the troops.

He was referring to the Muslim politics that by then had started influencing the national politics following the advent of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) into the mainstream politics. Before that there was no Muslim politics as such except for the mostly Colombo based and provincial elite Muslims contesting at elections under the two main parties, namely the United National Party(UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

By now Muslim politics has become so vital a component of national politics that the main Muslim political party, SLMC is usually called the A?a??A?king makerA?a??A? as in the case of Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC). With the announcement of the election for the newly created Eastern Provincial Council which was de-merged from the Northern Provincial Council by a Supreme Court ruling in October 2006 on a petition filed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the significance of Muslim politics has ascended to a peak

This can be attributed mainly to the composition of the province which consists 33 percent of Muslims and the possibility of Muslims being the decisive factor in electing the rulers of the Province at the May 10 election, in the light of Muslim votes are apparently going to be less divided than the other two communities would be.

There are so many parties with Sinhalese leadership and Sinhalese nationalism in the fray and the two main parties and the JVP contesting on three fronts have the capacity to draw Sinhalese votes in bulk. Tamil votes would be drawn mainly by the Pillaian group and a portion of votes may be bagged by the UNP while a considerable number may be influenced by the LTTE either by way of persuading the people to abstain or winning them through its political party, PeopleA?a??a??s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) which was registered with the Commissioner of Elections in 1989 during peace talks.

Although Muslim votes too would definitely be divided, Ashraff has so peculiarly inspired the majority of Eastern Muslims that they do not turn their backs to the SLMC even the high ranking leaders of the party would do so. This was why Rauff Hakeem could boast at the conclusion of the Batticaloa district Local Government election that SLMC has won 82 percent of the Muslim votes cast.

Another reason for the Muslim factor to be more in the limelight than the Pillaian group in this election, at least for the moment is that the Pillaian- United PeopleA?a??a??s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) marriage was long solemnized and it was a closed issue by the time of the announcement of Eastern Provincial Council election.

The UNP, as the opposition neither had any leverage nor did at least attempt to lure the group, while the SLMC, seemingly undecided kept the whole world in suspense as if open for auction. Knowing very well the advantage of being the talking point SLMC leaders readily and positively responded when Government leaders invited for talks in spite of their talks with the UNP had gone a long way ahead.

When Muslim ministers convened all Muslim political parties for a meeting claiming they want to form a Muslim alliance for the Provincial Council election in order to have a Muslim as the Chief Minister, the SLMC consented without questioning as to why the ministers are going to deprive the Government of Muslim votes in this crucial election and also as to why the Government did not utter a word against the Muslim ministers attempting to divest it of some of the precious votes.

As a seasoned politician Hakeem knew of the advantage of being in the limelight through this move too, although he did not want such an alliance which cannot win given the combined strength of the UPFA and TMVP. However, Hassan Ali, SLMC General Secretary had confided with a Daily Mirror journalist that the Ministers are up to drag the talks until the nomination day, so that the SLMC would not be able to finalize any strategy with the UNP against the Government.

Former Deputy Minister MLAM HisbullahA?a??a??s cross over to the ruling party from the SLMC and the more stunning resignation of SLMC stalwarts including its leader Hakeem to contest at the less important Provincial Council apparently turned the race into one between the Muslim ministers and the SLMC

Communal attacks against the SLMC or any other minority party by leaders of majority community might help them to secure more support from the respective minority community. Already there has been one such attack that the SLMC is going to be a threat to Sinhalese and Tamils in the East, which if it continues will arouse Muslim sentiments in favour of SLMC. These kinds of communal provocations would identify Muslim feelings with the SLMC which in turn will convert them into votes and ultimately Hakeem will be benefited in his effort to ascending to the chief administrator of the province.

History has proven this point very vividly in the central hills long ago. The CWC and its former leader late Saumiyamoorthi Thondaman was repeatedly attacked for winning over A?a??A?everythingA?a??A? for estate Tamils and attempting to carve out a separate state called A?a??A?MalayanaduA?a??A? at the expense of Sinhalese. The grand old man once retorted to this writer that there is no need for anyone to carve out a Malainadu afresh, for it exists from the day God created the world. Malainadu in Tamil means hill country.

Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman was awarded with these kinds of A?a??A?creditsA?a??A? such as winning over A?a??A?everythingA?a??A? for the estate Tamils despite the fact that the estate sector has won the A?a??A?medalsA?a??A? through social indicators for lowest education, highest malnutrition, highest drunkenness, highest child mortality etcetera. However when he was attacked from outside the estate community emotionally set to defend him and he continued to be the king of the hills until his death.

Late Ashraff also had such benefits of vilification by outsiders.

Haste shown by the Government in slashing HakeemA?a??a??s security in a way implies the importance and the seriousness of SLMC for the Government. However, the attempt by the state to prune HakeemA?a??a??s security soon after he along with SLMC General Secretary Hassan Ali and Politburo member Basheer Segudawood resigned from the parliament will sometimes be another benefit for the SLMC, unless it leads to some disaster. This sometimes might help Hakeem to continually to be in the spotlight and thereby draw Muslim sympathy towards him.

Despite the fact that the Muslim factor has become a vital ingredient in the making of national politics and perhaps the most reckoned with element by all major parties at this Provincial Council election, it is seen by many as a fragmented force.

Because within two decades since mid-eighties the 1.5 million strong Muslim community has produced a series of political parties ironically agaist the wishes of the founder of the first Muslim party, the SLMC.

The founder of the SLMC late MHM Ashraff called on the Muslim community at the day of inauguration of the party on November 26, 1986 at the A?a??A?Pasha VillaA?a??A? in Maradana, Colombo not to create a second Muslim party in an event where the SLMC leadership fails to address the problems of the Muslim community, instead he suggested to throw the incumbent leadership away and find dynamic new leaders capable of facing the challenges of the day.

But to the utmost dismay of many in the Muslim community the second Muslim party emerged in three months in the name of Muslim United Liberation Front (MULF) led by MIM Mohideen who later joined the SLMC when Ashraff was in Chandrika KumaratungaA?a??a??s cabinet. With the death of Ashraff in an air crash over Mawanella in 2000 a plethora of Muslim parties have sprung in rival to the SLMC.

The National Unity Alliance (NUA) which Ashraff formed with the intention of gradually switching to national politics from communal politics, departed first from the SLMC with AshraffA?a??a??s widow Ferial heading it, and leaving the SLMC solely to the leadership of Rauff Hakeem, AshraffA?a??a??s confidant.

This occurred when President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked Hakeem from the ministerial portfolio on June 21, 2001 for reasons known only to her, and Hakeem left the Government taking the sacking as a despiser on the party. However some SLMC leaders including Ferial Ashraff remained in the Government as ministers, deputy ministers and officials of various government and semi- government institutions and converged under NUA as a distinct party.

The Ranil Wikremesinghe regime between December 2001 and February 2004 saw another few splits in Muslim parties including in the SLMC. The then Deputy Minister MLM Athaullah broke away and formed the National Congress (NC) while businessman Naseer Ahmed created the Democratic United Alliance (DUA) distancing himself from the SLMC.

Then it was the turn of NM Shaheed PC to come up with his own party, All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC), resigning from the Muslim Congress. Three SLMC parliamentarians, Rishad Badiuddeen, Najeeb A Majeed and Amir Ali who wanted to join the Chandrika Kumaratunga government parted with the Muslim Congress in October, 2004, ensuing which the infamous Kumari Cooray episode was staged. They also joined the ACMC.

Thus controversies over leadership, national list parliamentary seats, cabinet minister posts etcetera led to springing of a bunch of splinters and offshoots from the stem of SLMC.

By now there are around a dozen Muslim political parties in the country each claiming that it is the real heir to A?a??A?ThalaivarA?a??A? Ashraff and was trained in AshraffA?a??a??s school (pasarai). Each profess that it is the genuine guardian of the community A journalist from the East once attributed this mushrooming of Muslim parties to A?a??A?ambitions that infused by the A?a??A?ThalaivarA?a??A? into the ordinary peopleA?a??A? who before the advent of the SLMC could not even imagine to be elected at least to a village council that existed few decades ago.

Today most Muslim leaders who profess to be god fearing are in a position to drag The Almighty Allah, Holy Prophet and Holy QurA?a??a??an or any other sacred concept in Islam into their politics, even reciting qurA?a??a??anic verses on public platforms, purely to exploit the piety of the ordinary voters and grab money making positions.

Almost all of them agree on the problems of Eastern Muslims, especially on the land problem in the Pottuvil electorate and threats by the armed Tamil groups in Batticaloa and Trincomalee, but the question whether they can agree on solutions to those problems, given the divisions among them, in the face of the election is something only time will answer.

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