Pitfalls in the President’s Alliance with the EPDP

– A Visit to Kayts on Elections Day

by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

(July 23, Jaffna, Sri Lanka Guardian) The EPDP, supposedly a former armed group which continues to be represented by gun-toting cadres led by Minister Douglas Devananda, is the main Tamil ally of President Rajapakse. The violent EPDP seemed the only way in which the President can show Tamil support and therefore it has become his most crucial ally in warding off calls for war crimes inquiries on the grounds that Tamils support him.

Today’s long-postponed local government elections are crucial for the president. By winning this election in the North, he will show the world that the newly liberated people of the North are truly his supporters. What normally would have been a trivial election has spurred a sequence of high level government visits to the North by the President; several cabinet members are campaigning; shoes and jobs distributed; cash for votes was being offered at Chunnakam. The long neglected North is suddenly filled with rapidly developed carpet roads. As the President’s brother, Minister Basil Rajapakse, told an election rally: If you want development, vote for us.

But will it all work today? Resentment runs high among Tamils about the massacres in 2009 and even more about the denials by the President – zero casualties because our soldiers fight with the gun in one hand and the human rights charter in the other. It simply added salt to our wounds, and increased the bitter hatred for Devananda who repeats these claims while spreading his tentacles across every northern institution, and thereby getting the Tamil heads of these institutions he promotes to repeat these obscene claims.

While Devananda with several serious allegations of criminality seemed to have gained respectability up to last year, Wikileaks revelations through US embassy cables of his business deals in supplying Tamil girls to the army, and also the army’s own statements that his cadres are responsible for the night time robberies and murders in Jaffna (a revelation prompted in response to the public belief that the soldiers were culpable) have put him in new light. It is my assessment that he has become a zero in the eyes of the Tamil public except for hangers on wanting jobs and contracts.

Thus when the Devananda’s poll papers were rejected over a trivial mistake, the skeptical public felt that he had deliberately spoilt his papers to avoid exposing his true standing. The President had then insisted on a judicial appeal which reversed the decision which now has brought us to the inevitable test of the will of the people.

So today as we are at the polls, the government is throwing all its resources at Devananda, while he is trying every trick in the book to show that he has a Tamil base. The first trick was scaring off potential candidates who would contest under the Federal Party (FP,Tamil National Alliance) banner. Their meetings were broken up through beatings by the army. Younger party members feared they would be disappeared leaving mainly elders to contest. Meetings of the public in Jaffna were broken up – including an innocuous meeting of academics including myself trying to preserve and offer ancient documents online. Further, I have personally seen a police jeep full of government election posters. As I write, I have just received an SMS from the government-run Mobitel handphone system asking me to vote for the government although campaigning is legally over. Other subscribers have also received the same message.

Winning on the main Jaffna peninsula, however, is an almost impossible task for the Devananda. So to show at least some respectability, Devananda is focusing on the islands off the peninsula. Here through Sri Lanka’s naval presence, the EPDP was allowed to develop a base (because at the time they deserved protection from the LTTE). With this power in LTTE times Tamil National Alliance candidates could not step on to the islands and when they came to campaign they were even murdered. As a result the islands are the only basket where the government has all its eggs. It has therefore to be protected at any cost to show that Tamils support the killing of the LTTE and with them civilians during the war.

My trip today to the island of Kayts was to see how the polls go. I went with Prof. Sivachandran, the FP’s organizer for the town of Velanai who was frustrated and asked me as a non-party person to come and see how free the polls are. To afford us some protection, I took along a young white Canadian, a daughter of mine and her friend.

I found that the FP could not find polling agents from the islands.These polling agents familiar with the local population stand at the polling booths to ensure there is no tampering and voting is only by the actual voters. They feared that they would be murdered. So agentsfrom the mainland were identified but many of them did not turn up out of fear.

Voting seemed quiet with nothing untoward. As we approached we found the policemen hostile. Sivachandran was very nervous as EPDP cadres, identified as such by our local guide, came by and were nosing around. While election laws prohibit the use of posters, the Velanai Saraswathy Vidyalayam polling booth was plastered with notices of the President saying “I am your friend, I am your relation, Trust me” with
the picture of the President and his symbol (the betel leaf) with an X next to it.

Sivachandran and I complained to the policemen who had been facing us with their machine guns and speaking apparently about us. They argued that it is not their job to worry about or remove posters. I asked him then whether he was not neutral and sided with one party. The polling officer got nervous and called the police at the police station. After a long wait a Sub-Inspector Weerasinghe turned up. Having come from
Colombo on special duty he was not part of the EPDP’s Velanai mob and apologised that he had orders not to remove any poster with the President’s picture on it.

After a long discussion Weerasinghe called up his SP, Priyantha Weerasooriya, who was quite aggressive and asked me what authority I had to speak about the posters. I politely asked him, “I am a citizen. I see the laws of my country being violated. You are a policeman whose job is to uphold the law. What authority do I need to report this to you?” With that he became much more polite and the posters were removed by the police. With EPDP cadres aggressively looking on, we left by a detour, very mindful of our safety.

We met others, especially officials of the Centre for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) who told us a lot of what is going on there. Many new vehicles had arrived, some without number plates. A policeman without his number on his uniform had chased off Mr. Kulasekaram of CAFFE from another polling station, etc. At the Siriya Pushpam (Little Flower) school in Karamban, polling cards were being purchased from voters by the EPDP. This came to light when a woman screamed at them that she would vote for herself.

The president may “win” on the islands. But he would lose with us, the Tamil people. In the long term if he dealt with our truly elected leaders instead of criminals, and continued his development plans regardless of whom we choose as our leaders, his popularity among Tamils will only be on the upswing. His advisors must impress this upon him or we will have another insurrection on our hands.

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