By Zahrah Imtiaz
While it is natural to see minority parties fielding minority candidates, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see major parties fielding minority candidates in majority areas. Lost between majority and minority factors, these candidates seek to strike a balance between having to keep true to their identities while trying to bridge the gap with the rest of their people.
The JVP this time has fielded Birhan Ismil Abdeen to contest on behalf of its party from Gampaha District while the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFFGG) Subramanuam Sasikumar will be the only Tamil candidate to contest from the Gampaha District.
The two candidates though very different in policy said they would take their chances and hope that people see their policies and not their ethnicity at the polling booth.
Following are excerpts:
All Tamils and Muslims will vote for me – United National Front for Good Governance, Gampaha District candidate Subramaniam Sasikumar.
? Under which party are you contesting in the Alliance?
A. I am from Mano Ganesan’s Party of Democratic Peoples’ Front (DPF) and this time we have joined the UNP to contest the election.
? As the only Tamil candidate in the district, do you believe that you have a chance of winning the Gamapaha District?
A. Definitely. All the Tamils and Muslims in the district will vote for me. The Tamils in the district have been orphaned all these years with no one to speak on behalf of them. Be it development or school admissions, they are kept away from the benefits. I believe I can work for them. That being said I will not just limit myself to helping just the Tamils, but all the people regardless of their race.
? What is your political background?
A. I am the Secretary of the DPF and have worked for the party for some time. I have also been involved in a lot of social work in the area. I however, have not contested an election prior to this.
? Why did you decide to enter politics?
A. I decided to come forward because I found that not many politicians truly worked for the people and I wanted to make a difference.
? The DPF of Mano Ganesan has always contested within Colombo or the up country, what made your party decide to expand its reach this time?
A. The DPF is a party that has a vote base of around 1.6 million and this time we have formed an alliance with the parties of V. Radhakrishnan and P. Digambaram to form a strong front like the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), for Tamils outside of the North and East. Thus, we formed the Tamil Progressive Alliance.
Our alliance this time will contest in Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura and Badulla.
? How would you compete with the other big names on the UNP list? Especially with names like Minister John Amaratunga who have been established in the area for some time now?
A. Yes it is hard for younger candidates to come up when contesting with older more established ones. The problem with this is that we also get stuck with the same old faces and ways due to this system. When the young don’t come, new ways and new ways of thinking, do not emerge. Our party has a mix of both experienced and young candidates but mostly young for a fresh start.
Only JVP can build national unity – Gampaha District JVP candidate Birhan Ismil Abdeen
? It is not often that one sees a Muslim being nominated as a candidate from the JVP?
A. The need of the hour is national unity and the JVP list of candidates in the Gampaha District is a clear portrayal of that. I believe that it is only the JVP that can build national unity in this country. If you look at our history, we have never fought on ethnic lines, we have fought for the rights of all peoples. And we are a party that has never been afraid of a challenge and we have tackled problems head on. I have been active in the party for the last 18 years and in my experience in the party, my race or religion have not mattered at all. We work as comrades and it is this culture of unity that the JVP can bring to the country. The JVP is also the only party which can bring the development we need for the next decade in our country.
? How many seats do you expect the JVP to win from the Gampaha District?
A. We hope that the people will vote for us in numbers greater than they did before. In our door-to-door campaigns and interactions with the people we have noticed that they are changing their minds. There around 80,000 Muslims in the Gampaha District and when they look to the JVP, they need to know that the JVP has options for them. We hope that they would vote for the JVP.
? If you want to be seen as a party and a candidate who appeal to voters beyond their ethnic and religious identities, why are you banking on the Muslims in Gampaha to vote for you?
A. No, I don’t mean for me but for the party. Before 8 January, a fear psychosis was created for the Muslims in the country. They were afraid to celebrate their culture and live according to the religion. The security of Muslims was uncertain but after 8 January that era ended. We were one of the parties which brought about that change and we have always been a party which spoke up for the injustices suffered by the Muslims. Even when parties like the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress chose to remain silent, we spoke out. I am not saying this as a Muslim, but as a JVPer.
? The JVP has always fielded Sinhala Buddhist candidates, but this year you have a mix of candidates representing all ethnicities?
A. The JVP has always been a party that has been able to adapt to the needs of the people while maintaining its core values. We have always had a mix of people in the JVP. Even in 1969, when Rohana Wijeweera started off, there were many Muslims and Tamils who supported him. Later on they remained in the periphery of the party but now that they see our campaign for national unity, they have come forward. All of us have been with the party throughout. The issue was that given the majority in the country are Sinhalese, their numbers were greater and they became more visible. It is good that the people now see that there is more of a mix in the JVP.
? Given that the election is being contested under the preferential voting system and that there are more famous JVPers contesting in Gampaha, do you think you have a chance of winning?
A. We do not come into politics with personal ambitions. We want to see our party succeed. There are 21 JVPers on the list and we are the only party which has spent equally on posters and cut-outs for all of our candidates. Vijitha Herath is our district leader and under his guidance we want to achieve a better future for our country. It does not matter to us, who gets into Parliament, what matters is that they deliver.