| by Victor Cherubim

(September 23, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Right down to the bell, there were doubts among Tamils everywhere, whether the Provincial Council elections will be held, in North Sri Lanka. The chance to vote for the first ever semi autonomous council, a quarter of a century after it was promised, was real. Actual verification confirmed that voters had one finger nail, marked with indelible ink after casting their ballot.

Creating doubt and delivering on just demands, is viewed as the new “creative imagination” in governance.

This exercise too, was theatrical. To add to the voting rhetoric, there were false editions of newspapers to confuse the public mind in Jaffna. And then there was the diversion to Stansted of a Sri Lankan airline bound from Colombo to Heathrow, with two British men arrested in Essex, for endangering the Airbus 330. Could it be Kafka imagination, running riot?

The monsoon weather, hours before the election with cloudburst of rain, too played its role. The expectations of the outside world were that the election will be a sham of democracy, that it would be a third world corrupt vote rigging exercise. Western nations are all too familiar of such elections as normal with political fumble, including malpractice, vote stuffing and the like. Besides, the use of state resources by government officials and the military, perhaps to government sponsored SLFP and EPDP candidates, to thwart a free and fair vote may have been improvised, in some instances and actual in others.

Some election monitors did however, bring out the fact that TNA candidates had been harassed, intimidated and even physically attacked, with one reported death.

But, with it all the voting was largely regarded by some experts, including Alan Keenan (International Crisis Group) as “an indicator of the state of the ethnic reconciliation and political progress in the South Asian Island after 25 year long civil war, which cost the lives of more than 80,000 people according to the United Nations.” He at least thankfully concluded that: “despite the campaigning, the actual voting and counting was likely to be largely free and fair.”

The end of the Yellow brick road?

It appears that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, comes out as the “Wizard of Oz” who has pulled a magical trick, first keeping the wolves at bay within his government, getting a moderate Tamil to lead the North and getting a shadow once an illusion, to show the world that he can deliver on his promises. Who will deny him the opportunity to showcase his talents, as he soon flies off to the United Nations General Assembly, New York?

The world always looks to people who can deliver whether, in business or in the business of government – either in war or peace. Of course, it has been at a tremendous cost. First, in ending the civil war, second, in bringing development to the region, thirdly in holding an election which was a dream. The people of Sri Lanka look for showmanship and President Rajapaksa is a great showman – requirement for being a Commonwealth leader.

Tamil wants and needs

Alan Keenan, has spoken for the Tamils laying out the principal demands of the Northern Tamil population:
  1. An end to the de-facto military occupation of the North
  2. Increased economic and livelihood opportunities as well as public funding for social services including social support for the serious levels of post war trauma
  3. An independent investigation into allegations of war crimes and mass disappearances in the final stages of the war
  4. An end to state sponsored cultural and demographic changes that threaten the Tamil character of the North and
  5. Political autonomy for the majority Tamil speaking areas of the north and east.
What Allan wants may not be what the government will give. Here, perhaps, we are in two different categories of reality –the space between two thoughts.

What the people want?

The majority of the people of Sri Lanka have always wanted a just settlement, but not at the cost of the division of the country, into two. The majority of the Tamil people, no doubt, have seen the vision between want and need.

Though the election to the Northern Provincial Council is a defining moment and a significant breakthrough, the people in the North are pragmatic enough to consider that the powers of the provincial councils are quite limited - by the rights of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and even by the will of the majority.

Perhaps, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) controlled Council, political observers maintain “will likely press to reduce the unprecedented political and economic power of the military in the north by trying to claim the significant powers over land and law enforcement that is given to provinces, at least on paper, under the Constitution.”

At best scenario the Northern Provincial Council will struggle to establish any significant degree of autonomous power, it may be able to slow or bloc some government policies in the North.

The immediate noticeable fact after the election will be the hope of some form of relief from harassment, intimidation and wonton malpractice. Human nature cannot be changed. It took thirty odd years to rid of the war. It will take some time to get used to some degree of peaceful co-existence.