The last time it happened, the SLFP had been mauled in the 1977 polls and the TULF became the legitimate Opposition party in Parliament. Decades of war later, the TNA, the party of the Tamils at present, has emerged as the second largest political grouping, pushing the UNP to the third place in the two-stage local government polls. The message is for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLFP leader of the ruling UPFA that he heads.
At various stages in the devolution discourse after Rajapaksa became President and party leader, the SLFP has been talking about district-level power-sharing, from time to time. The TNA that has swept the local government polls in the Tamil-speaking North and the East has campaigned for provincial devolution.
In the words of TNA spokesman and parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran, the Tamils have voted for a “dignified political settlement”. The party had said as much during campaign time, too. In the context of the continuing talks between the Government and the TNA on a post-war political solution, it implies a Provincial Council with Police and Land powers, among others.
The results of the local government elections have shown that the UNP has lost out. According to the Election Secretariat the UPFA has secured a total of 512 seats, TNA 183, UNP 137, JVP 13 and TULF 12 in this second phase. The older TULF contested the polls in the company of the TNA, and their total now adds up to 195 against 137 for the UNP. The
The TNA’s poll-related complaints about the excessive use of money power and muscle power by the Government side in all elections conducted since the conclusion of the ethnic war, including the recent one, would imply that the Alliance may have found more reasons to justify the demand for Police powers. It is also a warning signal to the Tamil community that politics of the Provinces, like that at the national-level, all along, could well go the same way, whoever comes to power.
Yet, for the Government to argue that the Provinces cannot be trusted with Police powers, in the light of experiences elsewhere – particularly in neighbouring India – is a product of abysmal ignorance. The TNA too needs to acknowledge that the Sri Lankan State and Government, as different from the Sinhala polity, will have their reservations in the immediate aftermath of the war. The post-war anxieties are mutual, they cannot be one-sided.
A balance need to be struck. Incremental devolution on Police powers may be the order of the day. On Land, the Tamils need to be clear if they are talking about the retention of the ‘Desa-valamai’ practice pertaining to individuals, or the vesting of all State-owned land in a Province in the Provincial Government, or both.
The TNA has asked the rest of the world to read the local government polls. The results have shifted the focus away from the Diaspora-driven agenda, which is unclear at best. Competing media campaign favouring the Tamil cause in recent months could not but highlight the democratic polls in the North and the East, with their share of democracy deficiency, involving misuse of the State machinery.
On a day when the TNA had won the polls and was asking for a ‘dignified political settlement’ (within a united Sri Lanka, as the Alliance has always held in the post-war months), the Opposition DMK in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu sought a referendum in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. To what end, the party was not clear. Earlier, the State Assembly had passed a resolution, at the instance of AIADMK Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
It may thus be time that the Sri Lankan State took the TNA more seriously than at present – and kept the focus on a negotiated settlement. It cannot allow the Tamils in the country to feel alienated one more time.
N .Sathiya Moorthy