By Elilini Hoole –
By Sept. 22, 2013, the day after Northern Provincial Council elections, we will know who will be elected to fill the 38 seats (Jaffna 16, Mannar 5, Mullaithivu 5, Kilinochchi 4, Vavuniya 6, and 2 bonus seats). A good turnout is expected this season. As the first Provincial Election for the Northern Province after the EPRLF’s Varadaraja Perumal was elected Chief Minister of the then merged North-East Province, the province has a chance to design actively its future and choose its leaders.
Talking to my friends and colleagues, I realize that many are excited to vote, but many more are dejected, and wonder what difference it will make if politicians care about little more than power.
Nonetheless, voting is a responsibility. Each vote is a voice. Votes are cast to show support, and yet disapproval as well. During the parliamentary elections of 2011, many voted for the TNA, not because of faith that the TNA would bring change, but merely because they wanted to express their disapproval of the Betel Leaf. I hear the same sentiments echoed this year as well. Sadly, no politician has yet taken responsibility for the poor and impoverished communities that dot the Northern Province. I wonder, who is truly worthy of our votes?
In the past, typically turnout in the North had been 70% – 80%. Since the war, turnout has dropped. During the parliamentary elections in 2010, only 28% of registered voters turned up, and in the 2011 local government elections 32%. I remember the EPDP, in 2011, exploiting war victims and transporting busloads of paid rural villagers to polling booths hoping for large voter turnout in their favour; but the villagers voted for the TNA anyways. In one of the villages I visited just weeks after resettlement, EPDP candidates visited the severely impoverished villagers. After many speeches, the candidate wrote several cheques for over 1,000/= (which is quite a lot for families with no income living in stick hovels). But it turned out the cheques were consistently written with invalid dates so that they could not be cashed. This year, similar events are being reported.
Bribes, promises and false hopes are used to corral voters. Furthermore, among the government’s women candidates is Geetanajli Naguleswaran from Kilinochchi. Naguleswaran, like many other widows living in the Vanni, is the widow of an LTTE member who surrendered in 2009 and has not been heard of since. Yet Naguleswaran is now campaigning for an NPC seat under the UPFA. She insists that those who have received appointments from the UPFA as preschool teachers and civil guards (without advertisement of course as a bribe) should campaign and vote for her. One such person, a day or two ago, was urged to take to a campaign stage and give a speech for Naguleswaran. However, she had instead urged voters to vote for the TNA. As a result, she was taken aside and beaten.
Elections in the North
Politicians have long forgotten to serve the people in the Vanni, yet every season they return to make political speeches to raise hope and gain votes. Like with elections across the country, promises of jobs, electricity, permanent housing &c undermine the true democratic spirit.
Unlike the previous elections the public is enraged by stories from Wikileaks (as reported in Colombo Telegraph) of Douglas Devananda dealing in the slave trade of children, and the Bodu Bala Sena threatening to take over the North for Buddhism within 2 years using 200,000 volunteers.
Two cables from the US Embassy dated 2007, reported in Colombo Telegraph, by the then US Ambassador Robert Blake have emerged over the past 3 days. These cables have proven to be very relevant to the NPC elections on Sept 21. The first implicates the EPDP in forcing young women into prostitution, servicing 5 to 10 Sri Lankan soldiers a night for 100/=. The cable also implicates the EPDP in working with corrupt officials in order to sell kidnapped children to international buyers in India and Malaysia. Government agent K. Ganesh partially confirmed these allegations.
The second cable indicated EPDP head Douglas Devananda’s penchant to murder those he dislikes. It revealed that President Rajapaksa was concerned for the safety of J. Sriranga of the Minnal TV program, warning him that Douglas Devananda “Will kill you,” and that he should, therefore, leave the country immediately taking on a diplomatic position in Norway that he would offer.
Knowing all this as the President does, I am pained to see him continue his alliance with Devananda, even appearing on the same platform and asking us to vote for the EPDP. Although, I personally am not keen to take sides as each person should choose his own candidates, the abhorrence I feel at these revelations makes me ask these questions: Why should the President want us to vote for such a candidate on Saturday? What does it say about the President? My confidence in the political system further deteriorates when murderers lead the nation and when the head of the state allies himself with, in his own opinion, a man capable of murdering Sriranga who belongs to the President’s own group.
In the past the LTTE and the GoSL have taken extreme pains to stifle democratic diversity. However, it is refreshing to see that, after years of abuse by successive administrations, the people are refusing to be intimidated this season. Youth are said to be ready to challenge EPDP thugs and military intelligence officials – as happened on Sept. 18. Intelligence officers in Meesalai, smashed a vehicle of a TNA candidate. Even in the face of violence, the youth were courageous enough to photograph the incident and file a report.
With little action being taken against election irregularities, people in the North, and across the country, have little confidence in the Commissioner of Elections, Mahinda Deshapriya. Certainly doubt is deepened by the still unexplained gap in his whereabouts while the votes from the last presidential elections were being ‘counted’ and the allegations about what happened during that time. This year, 70 cadets have been brought into Jaffna supposedly to learn how to count ballots. There is suspicion as to what really they are being brought to Jaffna for.
The public is therefore relying on the Chief of the Elections Monitors from SAARC, N. Gopalaswamy, who is a former Indian Elections Commissioner. The public have a chance to report directly to him. Gopalaswamy has been alerted about the cadets and to where and how rigging will be done by the UPFA – i.e. the islands (particularly while the boxes are being transported by boat), bush areas like Manalkaadu and rural areas surrounding Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu towns. Unfortunately, Gopalaswamy is not familiar with the geography of the North and that raises worries about how effective he can be.
Even still, a good turnout is expected. The Gajendrakumar-Kajendran group, which opposed the elections, has released a statement that even though they have no confidence in the system they are asking the people to go out and vote for the TNA. This too will increase the turnout. The TNA says that they are expecting at least a two-thirds majority.
While I wish the TNA were more effective and involved in assisting displaced persons, given the alternatives, I too feel a vote for the TNA is a better option. I am also impressed by TNA MPs, like Sumanthiran, who speak openly and coolly in parliament against the injustices faced by the people and openly apologized to Muslims for the ethnic cleansing they faced in the North. If more strong, principled candidates like this are voted in to the NPC, the future looks good for the North.
The Responsibility of a Vote
Whether voting is a privilege or right, it is certainly a responsibility. Voting with care for candidates informatively selected is essential to safeguard the future of our country. When we vote for a candidate, we select a candidate whom we believe is responsible enough to promote our interests and secure our rights.
Our vote is our voice.
Go out and vote!