Is Sri Lanka “careering back to where it was” after election?

August 14, 2009

Sri Lanka’s bloody 25-year conflict with the Tamil Tigers ended in May but commentators reflecting on the country’s first post-war elections last weekend expressed little optimism about a peaceful future for the Indian Ocean island.

The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance swept to victory in Sinhalese-dominated Uva province and scraped a win in Jaffna, while the Tamil National Alliance — political allies of the defeated rebels — won control of Vavuniya. Both Jaffna and Vavuniya are just outside the shadow state which the Tigers controlled for decades.

“The victory in Jaffna, the heartland of the country’s ethnic minority Tamils and birthplace of militancy, will give the government a chance to claim it as an endorsement of its handling of ethnic relations, postwar rehabilitation and a rejection of separatism,” Krishan Francis of the Associated Press wrote in the Washington Post.

But the results do not fully reflect public opinion in these war-battered regions, with more than 77 percent of the Jaffna voters staying away and only half of the Vavuniya voters casting ballots.

The London-based Financial Times pointed out that it was hard to know what really happened in the elections – foreign journalists were banned from the north, just as all journalists were during the final stages of the war.

“But the real purpose of the poll seems to have been to test the popularity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa before he calls an early general election to secure a second six-year term, in the afterglow of military victory,” the Financial Times wrote in an editorial.

The newspaper added that the notion of devolution to deal with Tamil grievances had been taken off the table and the government no longer wishes to discuss minority rights, only individual rights within the new national identity it intends to forge.

US and British officials fear this may involve the forced dispersal of Tamils across the island so they can no longer cluster, said the broadsheet.

“Put simply, while the conflict has ended, Sri Lanka is careering back to where it was when the conflict began. Its precarious identity as a mix of ethnic and linguistic, cultural and religious influences is in danger of being swept away by a triumphalist wave of Sinhalese chauvinism,” the FT said.

ELECTIONS HELD TOO SOON

According to the Christian Science Monitor some analysts believe the elections were held too soon after the end of the war for people to vote and for democracy to be truly tested.

“Certainly, normalcy in the battle-scarred north is a long way off: Nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians are being forcibly held by the government in camps near Jaffna and Vavuniya,” wrote Mian Ridge. “Both towns are still surrounded by government checkpoints, and are largely inaccessible to non-residents. Even residents can’t leave without permission.”

Ridge added that foreign – and many Sri Lankan – journalists were not allowed to cover the elections and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that the decision to bar the media “dashes any hope of a transparent election.”

Sudha Ramachandran from the Asia Times said the Jaffna and Vavuniya elections were seen as an important indicator of the mood among the Tamil people in the north.

“Some have interpreted the ruling party’s strong showing in Jaffna as a sign that the Tamils are endorsing Rajapakse’s approach to the conflict in Sri Lanka,” said Ramachandran. But she pointed out that this interpretation amounts to little given the poor voter turnout, especially in Jaffna.

Charles Haviland from the BBC added that poor turnout was not just down to apathy amongst Tamils, but because much of the area is depopulated with about 300,000 Tamils detained in nearby government camps after the war, and others either dead or displaced to other parts of the island.

[Nita Bhalla covers South Asia for AlertNet. She is based in New Delhi.]

[Photo - A boy cycles past a soldier on a street in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka May 10, 2008. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi]

6 comments

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The Polls in the Northern Part do not give a clear picture as to whose way the tamils are moving, weather it is for ruling UPFA, or Tamil National Alliance, or Tulf led by Mr. Anandasangari etc. But it gives an idea that democracy is slowly moving into this war battered area. It will take time to see the full impact of the ending of the conflict. But definitely the picture is very clear, with the government’s ongoing development activities in the province, its GDP growth levels going to go up. nearly 70 bank branches both private and public is expected to be open very soon in the area. already various companies are making plans to enter the fray. fisheries restrictions has been entirely removed and fishermen in the area are freely engaging in their livelyhoods. road transporation is slowly opening up between the north and south of the country.

Recently a private airliner ( deccan) operating inside the country told that passengers that they carry to northern part has increased and among them are mainly investors both local and foriegn.

Government started operating few buses from capital colombo to Jaffna and that is going to be a routine activity very soon.

Apart from that police stations are also been opened in many parts of the region to establish law and order.

These are positive signs and will stay in good stead in the coming months which will help revive the people of the area both interms of socially and economically.

What the government should further try to do is to establish the civil administration in full scale in the region and settle the IDP’s in the camps in their homes very soon.

Sri Lanka is well oncourse for a peacefull country. May be idealogies of different sections will remain as it is, but those idealogies, aspirations in no way will take us back to the era of “deadly terrorism”. becuase no body here wants it.

Posted by Prasanna Rodrigo | Report as abusive

The recent report by Asian Centre for Human Rights is worth noting about the Sri Lankan government’s yet another tactic to hoodwink the weakest.

“There are fears that President Rajapaksa may seek an amendment of the 13th Amendment to strip the provincial councils of Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka of police powers and issues relating to land. There are also fears that the President is planning to implant Sinhalese in Northern and Eastern provinces on a pretext (borrowed from the ‘peaceful rise’) of promoting communal harmony and ethnic co-existence.”

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to Geneva, H.E. Dayan Jayatilake who staunchly opposed the LTTE and prevented any international censure at the UN Human Rights Council too has been removed for writing in favour of the 13th Amendment.
If the war was against the LTTE and not the Tamil minority then these actions are unlikely to serve the cause of reconciliation.

Posted by Russ | Report as abusive

“According to the Christian Science Monitor some analysts believe the elections were held too soon after the end of the war for people to vote and for democracy to be truly tested.”

Does the church still believe the earth is flat? How about Charls Darwin’s theory of evolution? Before we aregue on whether the elections were held too early or too late I think better answer those questions ;)

Is the Monitor a religious news organization?
For 100 years, the Monitor has been published by the Christian Science church, formally known First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Mass. But Monitor content is professional, balanced, and impartial news and features, with the exception of one religious article that has appeared each day since 1908, at the request of the paper’s founder.

The Monitor’s staff writers and editors are professional journalists who adhere to the highest standards of journalistic ethics. Both Christian Scientists and non-church members work here. The Monitor is read and trusted by people of all faiths and belief systems.

Posted by Nalin | Report as abusive

The war is over and much needs to be done.

Some ideas for us Sri LAnkans to ponder over.

1. Is there a need for the Majority Sinhaese to change in their attitude towards other non Budhist EThnic groups?

Answer:- Yes undoubtedly. Being amajority does not reduce the position of a person in the minority. All people are equal.

2. Do the Tamils have right to carve ot a Seperate State?

Answer: No, none at all. Work with the Government towards peace and prosperity of a ONE SRI LANKA.

We have a long way to go

Posted by James Corea | Report as abusive

I am very bullish about Sri Lanka getting back on track, but have my reservations as to how long and in what form these transformations will take place.

The President has got perhaps the best opportunity EVER to solve the Tamil crisis, but seems to be dragging his feet on the issue. He must realise there’s a small window in which he has to get the IDP’s back to normalcy. Depending on Government hand-outs is not what the proud and resilient Tamils would want to do.

It appears that he’s led by his Defence Secretary brother on the need to keep these people in camps in the guise of “security considerations”, including demining and identifying ex terrorists. While this might necessary to a certain extent, the world awaits this happy event of the release of these unfortunate people back to their homes.

The priorities are:
to open the A-9 road to Jaffna for regular civillian traffic,
the repair of the railway line to Kanakesanturai via Jaffna (which is crawling along at a snail’s pace!),
the release of the IDP’s (at least into more humane situations than at present),
the repairing of (and establishing of)the infrastructure in the affected areas,
the lifting of curfews in ex conflict areas,
stopping the culture of impunity where certain politicians in association with thugs, police and the Forces intimidate and kill dissidents without fear of prosecution etc

Combined with this must be the firm resolve to politically settle the situation once and for all to the satsifaction of the aggrieved parties. A lot of the extremist northern and southern political parties don’t need to come into the equation as they are marginalised anyway.

We MUST get away from this culture of appointing Committees and Commissions at the drop of a hat. There’s enough on the table to make a decision, and the President has to have the cojones to take the decision.

Otherwise, the title of your article is very appropriate

Posted by Suresh Murugaser | Report as abusive

This election neither free nor fair!!! Just few days before the so-called elections, paramilitary exerted pressure on the press to publish racist’s Sri Lanka Government sponsored news. Refusal was met with Jaffna newspapers set on fire, journalists and editors mercilessly assaulted, press workers warned to keep away from work. No wonder only about 20% joined the queues which were under surveillance. I am certain that the election was rigged. Racist’s Sri Lanka Government could have “won” all the 23 seats but 13 give them a majority and creates the impression of credibility. You label TNA as pro-rebel but fail to mention that Racist’s Sri Lanka Government is pro-Arya-Sinhala-Buddhist and anti-Dravidian-Tamil. You say “Analysts say the popularity of racist Sri Lanka Government has once again been proved “. Surely the man holding 300 000 Tamils in concentration camps simply cannot be popular. Elections must not only be fair but must appear to be fair. What about credibility of elections in Zimbabwe placed number 2 on the Failed State Index? Sri Lanka is rated “Dangerously” Failed State.

Posted by Gadin | Report as abusive