The results from the recently held Eastern provincial council elections have been brandished by Sri Lanka as a sign of wavering Tamil demand for self rule, and more perversely, that Tamils are now content with Sri Lanka’s rule. However, rather than signal a weakening of Tamil aspirations, the elections clearly revealed the true nature of the Sinhala state’s governance in the Tamil homeland; a mixture of violence, threats, intimidation and colonisation.
The elections were a far cry from the free and fair expression of Tamil sentiments that they were trumped up to be. Instead, as became clear through the campaign, they were marked by ongoing incidents of violence against candidates and voters with hundreds of government thugs dispatched to the Tamil homeland for the purpose. The well documented and choking colonisation of the East also served its purpose – providing a reliable Sinhala vote base for Rajapakse’s UPFA.
The brazenness of the intimidation during the campaign even prompted R. Sampanthan, the infamously timid leader of the TNA, to appeal to President Rajapaksa for “free and fair” elections to be allowed to take place. The appeal predictably failed and Sampanthan has recently released a statement slamming the “UPFA campaign of terror” and stating that it "violated all norms of democracy and good governance".
The purpose of the Sinhala state’s violent electoral campaign was very clear. Tamil voters were warned of “unpleasant consequences” if they opposed the UPFA and told in no uncertain terms that they voted for the TNA at their own risk.
In spite of this, the UPFA barely managed to secure 6,200 votes more than the TNA across the whole province. In these circumstances, each and every Tamil vote for the TNA must be recognised for what it is, an undeterred act of protest.
As recently stated in the open letter sent by Civil Society leaders from across the North-east to the TNA, the Tamil people fully understand that the provincial councils wield no power, with Colombo dictating all meaningful policy in the North-East. Tamil voters do not expect therefore that the TNA will be able to effectively govern through the councils. Rather, as the Civil Society leaders also noted, the elections were used by the Tamil people “as a vehicle through which they could express their anger and frustration against the oppression being meted out against them”.
This message must be heeded by the TNA; the party should now faithfully reflect the mandate that has been bestowed upon it.
In its attempts to find coalition partners the TNA must not betray the Tamil people’s call for justice. The UNP, for example, is hardly a credible partner in the Tamils’ ongoing struggle. For proof one needs to look no further than the likes of G.L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda, senior UNP leaders during the Norwegian mediated peace process who are now enthusiastic cheerleaders for Rajapakse’s policies.
As for the SLMC (Sri Lankan Muslim Congress) - a party in coalition with a regime that has shamelessly overseen the descration of several Muslim shrines and mosques in the past year alone - they are less than reliable to say the least.
The Tamil people deserve a determined leadership, a demand that has been repeatedly made by Civil Society leaders in the Tamil homeland. The TNA must now step up to the crease and deliver.
On the ground, the elections have changed nothing. Nevertheless, the state’s violent campaign to bolster its legitimacy over the North-East has been revealing. The elections have not only provided a clear reflection of how the Sri Lankan state will continue to rule over the Tamil homeland, including its blueprint for the recently announced Northern Provincial Council elections, but also the tenacity of Tamil aspirations that persist amidst escalating Sinhala oppression.
Moreover, yet again, it reveals the Sinhala state’s obstinate unwillingness to reform. The institutions of Sinhala ethnocracy cannot be changed by simply holding elections.
The state will continue to churn out such facades, in the hope of undermining calls for accountability. But until genuine accountability has been reached and justice served, there will be nothing free or fair about elections in Sri Lanka.