The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) swept the recent local elections in the Northern Province, winning the popular vote by huge margins in all five electoral districts of the North and all the Tamil majority local council bodies baring three in the Jaffna Islets, namely Kyats, Delft and Velani. The Jaffna islands have long been a pocket borough of and tightly controlled by Minister Douglas Devananda and the islanders have consistently voted for his EPDP. The TNA electoral effort in the North was spearheaded by its stalwarts General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah and senior Member of Parliament, Suresh Premachandran.
TNA electoral landslide(s) in the North
The TNA victory was a virtual landslide in the Northern Province. They carried all five districts with a huge majority of the popular vote. Specifically, Jaffna district with 71 percent, Kilinochchi with 68 percent, Mulaitivu with 82 percent, Mannar with 59 percent and Vavuniya with 55 percent. By contrast the ruling UPFA despite an unprecedented campaign in the North, with significant state patronage, secured barely 30 percent of the popular vote. That vote too was largely the Muslim vote which went almost entirely to the Muslim parties allied with the government. It is a weakness of the TNA that they demonstrated no electoral appeal in the North amongst its Muslim population, the other Tamil speaking community of the North and more importantly in the East. The local government elections are now the third occasion, when the electoral map of Northern Sri Lanka, stubbornly refuses to become UPFA. At both the Presidential election of 2010 and the General elections last year, the Tamil people largely voted with the TNA. The implications of the local government elections for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka are as follows.
(i)If the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections are held in the foreseeable future, the TNA would win the same handsomely, becoming the first and only provincial council to be opposition controlled. But such a council must be allowed to function freely.
(ii)The TNA have demonstrated through several elections now that they are the democratically elected and politically legitimate representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East and hence credible interlocutors with the government regarding the issues of the North and East. Accordingly the structured dialogue between the Government and the TNA should make progress.
(iii)The democratic process in the Tamil areas demonstrates the post war polarization of Sri Lankan society along ethnic lines, with the Sinhala majority South being staunchly pro government while the Tamil majority North is equally staunchly anti government. Bridging this ethnic based political polarization is the challenge of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Former President CBK Speaks
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has generally adopted a low key and low profile role in Sri Lanka subsequent to her relinquishing office at the end of two terms, in contrast to a much more active and significant role on the international stage through both the Clinton Global Initiative as well as through the Club de Madrid, that exclusive association of former heads of state and government that harness their elder statesperson stature to address the various unresolved big issues of the community of nations from global warming to the HIV pandemic.
However the former president broke her silence at the Justice Palakidnar memorial oration over the weekend to address the current local issues. In a speech consistent with the policies of her presidency which received the mandate of the people over two presidential terms, she stated the following about securing peace, after winning the war. “For winning peace implies bringing in and including the others (minorities) fully and honestly not only in development, but also as full and equal partners of the processes of government to power-sharing”.
The former president echoes sentiments which are in keeping with the stated positions of other SLFP stalwarts. There is significant support within the SLFP, as well among some of its allies such as the traditional left parties, the Muslim parties and the up country Tamil parties for using this window of opportunity to have a political solution which can deal with the effects of the war and the causes of the ethnic conflict and thereby secure a just and durable peace with dignity for all Sri Lankans. The government should use its mandate from the South to reach an agreement with the TNA who have received a clear mandate, yet again from the North.
(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)