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LG Poll under the gun

Image: Cadres of Military Wing in Tamil Makkal Viduthali Pulighal better known as the Karuna Faction.

“Prabha self-centred, so we joined the Govt” - TMVP canvasser


by Thava Sajitharan in Batticaloa

(March 01, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka Guardian) Batticaloa, the now scared city of the “singing fish”, is on the ready for the local polls. The efforts to restore ‘democracy’ under the gun are palpable in the region. One can feel the intensity of the military presence in the region as one enters Valachenai - an eastern gateway town located 30 km away from Batticaloa.

The polls are slated to be held on March 10 in the Eastern province to elect members to nine local bodies after the government recaptured the territory from the clutches of the Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year.

According to T. Krishnananthalingam, Assistant Commissioner of Elections, Batticaloa district, 270421 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise at this election. Overall, 831 candidates are in the race for 101 seats in the district.

The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) - the registered political party of the LTTE’s breakaway Karuna faction - is vying for the 25 seats of the Batticaloa Municipal Council in alliance with the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) under the betel leaf symbol. For other local government bodies, the TMVP is contesting on its own under the boat symbol.

The Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) are aligned together for the polls and contesting as an independent group under the Apple symbol. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in the only Muslim party that has fielded its candidates for polls.

‘Regionalism’

Noticeably, among these four Tamil political parties that have had at some point in the past engaged in armed struggle in the island’s two and a half decades of conflict, only the TMVP has done away with the term ‘Eelam’ in naming their political party. The TMVP does not advocate the notion of Eelam either.

Is This Election For People or TMVP – SLFP?
The TMVP, in its election campaigns, advocates ‘regionalism’ stressing that they are the only Tamil political party whose ‘origin’ is from the Eastern province.

On the long road stretch, from Valachenai to Batticaloa, one gets to see the elaborate political offices of the TMVP set up in every village. Posters containing attractive slogans such as ‘Vote for boat, it will take the wounded Tamils to the shore’ have been put up by the TMVP.

Vavunaitivu rally

At a TMVP rally held on Thursday at Vavunativu, one of the surrounding villages in the Batticaloa district that used to be held by the LTTE, the speaker revealed that according to the agreement the TMVP entered into with the UPFA, an “Eastern Development Organization” would be established in the event of the TMVP losing the mini polls. The organization would be under the total control of the TMVP, said Ragu, a member of the TMVP who addressed the gathering.

“Prabhakaran is a self-centred man. We realized that he was never going to do us good and decided to join hands with the government. We want to bring development to our region” he said.

“We have learnt lessons from past experience. Aligning with the ruling party will be beneficial to us” he said.

Image: Senior members of TMVP

An old woman who listened to the speaker asked fearlessly why he was criticizing the LTTE having been with the LTTE for all these years. “Why can’t we all live together” she asked prompting a burst of laughter in the crowd.

Around 50 people had been gathered at a temple premises for the rally. Suranga alias Jegannathan Jeyaraj, the 23 year-old TMVP candidate contesting in Vavunaitivu told us he joined the LTTE when he was seven.

“I am now with the TMVP. I went to India in 2003 and spent two years in Bangalore following computer studies” he said.

Public mood

It is difficult to discern the mood of the public on the elections.

A.Theyvamalar (34), a resident in Maamaangam, interviewed during a house to house campaign of the EPRLF, expresses hope that the election would bring back normalcy but says she is not so enthusiastic about the mini polls. When asked if she believed people would be allowed to vote freely on March 10, she smiles and says tentatively “yes”.

Each candidate has been provided with two policemen for security. The policeman who was on duty escorting the EPRLF candidate in the election campaign in Maamangam was generous enough to spare few minutes and share his thoughts with us.

“Many candidates have sent back the policemen assigned to them for their safety as they were not wealthy enough to feed the policemen. They are supposed to look after the policemen and provide food for them” he said, not wanting to disclose his identity.

TMVP confident

S. Nagarasa, a candidate of the TMVP in Valachenai claims he was with the LTTE as a cadre for 20 years.

“We no longer believe that attainment of Thamil Eelam is possible. It is only a mirage that the LTTE keeps on dreaming of. We are contesting the mini polls on the pledge that we will strive for development of the region and for restoration of peace among our people”.

Asked about the death threats allegedly issued by the LTTE to TMVP candidates, he dismisses them scornfully. “It’s the little Tigers trying to bully the old Tigers” he says, with a laugh.

“We are confident that we will win the polls” he adds.

However, according to Erasaiyah Thurairatnam, the chief EPRLF candidate of the ‘Apple’ alliance in Batticaloa, the TMVP has enough reasons to be ‘confident’ about victory.
As we step into his office on Lake Road, he speaks in a complaining tone to someone on the phone about the atrocities committed by the TMVP cadres connected to the election campaign.

“They are carrying weapons and intimidating the public in the rural areas. Of course, they are not doing it within the city limits of Batticaloa” he complains.

“In Arayampathi, they threatened some women who came to our election rally —- pointing a gun at them. They warned those women not to vote for anyone other than the TMVP candidates or else they will lose their husbands” he says.

“They put up posters while being armed” he adds.

Thurairatnam says several incidents concerning electoral violence go unreported as the TMVP - the ally of the ruling UPFA - is responsible for most of the incidents.

“The police are reluctant to accommodate our complaints. We have gone several times to the police stations to lodge complaints. But they always try to pacify us. They ask us to solve the problems peacefully. They do not take any action against the perpetrators” he complains.

According to Batticaloa Police, over 25 incidents of election violence have been reported so far from several areas in the district during the past three weeks.

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