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Whither the Elections in the East?

“The people of the East, irrespective of whether they are Muslim, Tamil or Sinhalese have witnessed these armies, who professed to have come to liberate them. There have been at least ten such armies, as some would still remember , starting with the LTTE, EPDP, EROS, EPRLF, PLOTE, the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) ,the TMVP Karuna Faction, the Sri Lankan Army, the STF and now the Pillayan Group. In fact, there have been so many, that people have lost count of the names and numbers.”
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by Kumar Rupesinghe


(May 09, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Not for the last twenty years have the people of the Eastern Province witnessed such a large presence of politicians in each Divisional Secretariat. The region is just inundated with politicians going in Pajero jeeps with large contingents of security personnel roaming around the streets and lanes of the East. For the citizens, it has become a circus; for some, it is a joke played on them to be bestowed with so much attention. The majority of the people are very cynical about the politicians’ new found interest in their wellbeing. They have witnessed all this previously when politicians came with empty promises.

The elections are being held with the assumption that the Government will be able to sustain its military campaign in the Wanni and secure Kilinochchi by defeating the LTTE. This itself is a bold assumption but the indications from the battle field suggest that the military battle will be protracted and there is no immediate evidence to assume that the Government will secure a military victory within the deadlines imposed by General Fonseka.

The people of the East have in the last twenty years only witnessed many marauding armies in their countryside, who then invaded their homes, raped their women and abducted their men, who were never seen again. The people of the East, irrespective of whether they are Muslim, Tamil or Sinhalese have witnessed these armies, who professed to have come to liberate them. There have been at least ten such armies, as some would still remember , starting with the LTTE, EPDP, EROS, EPRLF, PLOTE, the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) ,the TMVP Karuna Faction, the Sri Lankan Army, the STF and now the Pillayan Group. In fact, there have been so many, that people have lost count of the names and numbers.

What is different this time is that the current elections are being held in the wake of the so called liberation of the East from the LTTE by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Government of Mahinda Rajapakse, as a result of the victory over the LTTE in the East is now attempting to consolidate its military gains through political means. It is a bold experiment, but fraught with many questions. It should be noted that the elections are being held in the East after the JVP obtained an order from the Supreme Court to the effect that the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces through the Indo Lanka Accord was illegal, thus paving the way for the de-merger of the two provinces. Further, it was during the period of the CFA that regional differences between the Tamils in the North and those in the East surfaced , which could be said to have shaken the very foundations of the merger. It was these very same differences among the Tamils that played a role in the defection of Karuna from the LTTE, which aided the Government in defeating the LTTE in the East, paving the way for the holding of the Provincial Council elections.

At present, the battle lines for this contest are clearly drawn between the UPFA Government and the UNP alliance with the SLMC. The UNP is arguing that a vote for them will be a vote against the dictatorship of the Rajapakse regime with its attendant human rights violations and the increasing cost of living. At the same time,

those who are pro- government are arguing that voting for the UNP –SLMC coalition would lead to a Muslim Chief Minister being voted into power , which would drive the Muslim areas of the Eastern Province towards Muslim extremism. They also point out that the majority of the people being engaged in agriculture, they would stand to benefit by a victory of the UPFA, which has ensured a good price for rice.

For the Government, it is an effort to make a showpiece of the East as a development model ,which would be the envy of the world. It is assumed that after the military victory in the Wanni that the Government will have a similar Provincial Council in the North. An Interim Council has been now set up in the North to pave the way.

The election will be a test case for the Government which has to win the elections, as a defeat in the East will be a disaster for its future position in the country. Given the rise in the cost of living, war generated inflation and rampant corruption, the people will read such a defeat as a signal for similar defeats in other Provincial Council elections. Therefore, the Government forces will do everything possible including rigging the elections to win it. Already preparations for rigging the elections are being reported with large numbers of ballot papers, over 180 lying in the post offices; rumours are rampant of people being intimidated and their ballot papers being taken away; efforts are allegedly under way to secure the votes of the refugees by impersonations and the presence of politicians from the ruling party who are known for their expertise in election rigging is exacerbating the problem. Further, the large handouts, the use of government vehicles etc. are reported from all the three districts. This manner of large scale election rigging will have serious consequences for the future course of events in the country.

For the UNP – SLMC alliance, it is also an important election. For the UNP, a victory in the East will encourage their efforts to destabilise the Government in the South. At the next budget debate , it will provide the necessary encouragement to defeat the Government ,which will force the Government to hold general elections yet again. Such a victory will also encourage other parties to vote against the Government. With the split in the JVP, the Government would not be able to secure a majority as it did the last time, with the support of the JVP. For the SLMC, its leader has staked his entire political future in resigning from his seat in Parliament to contest the elections in the East. It is an opportunity for him to regain his lost credibility with depleted and stolen numbers in Parliament and unite the Muslims under the banner of the SLMC. As such, the stakes are obviously very high for all parties.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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