By Goshan Che –
A Response To – Psephology Of NPC Election And Deconstructing The Politics Of The Social Architects
This is my response to some of the points raised in the article, Psephology Of NPC Election And Deconstructing The Politics Of The Social Architects by Dr Kalaichelvan. Please do not take this as an attempt to offer cover for the TSA’s interpretation of the election results, which came under heavy criticism, in the aforesaid article. This is simply an effort to offer a counter point, to some of the issues raised in Dr Kalichelvan’s article.
Though the analysis is sound for the most part and is right to criticise the way in which the TSA has interpreted the NPC vote, the author is also guilty of ignoring certain variables in Sri Lankan elections. The effect of violence or the threat of violence in Sri Lankan elections is one such variable. In a addition, there is also the phenomenon of “Boru Chanda / Kalla Vote”, in palin english vote rigging.
For any electoral result to correctly reflect the will(s) of the people, the environment in which the elections took place must be such, that the people were able to express their will, freely. For example, when the LTTE were in power, most elections in the north and east were, a one horse race. The candidates who stood on anti TNA platforms were not even allowed to campaign. One can only imagine what message that would have sent to anyone who was even contemplating voting for any party other than the TNA.
The same is also true of the EPDP and the iron grip it had over the Jaffna islands, until this recently concluded election. Put against this line of tainted elections, stretching back to the early 80s, I am sure many would agree that the recently concluded elections in the north was, by far, the fairest. So to treat all Sri Lankan elections since the 50s as similar creatures and to compare their voting patterns and to arrive at conclusions, ignoring the effect of actual/perceived political violence and vote rigging, is a major flaw in TSA’s as well as Kalaichelvan’s analysis.
Furthermore, though it is not correct to say that the electorate has shown “defiance” in the way TSA has interpreted the results, it is however correct to say that the voter has in fact shown defiance. The choice in front of the voter was quite clear cut. Vote for the UPFA and endorse the status quo (that is economic development instead of political rights) or vote for the TNA and usher in a local body, that will fight for your political rights as well as striving for economic betterment.
This choice has to be put in the context, that the voters in all other provinces have opted for the UPFA’s status quo model, although the Tamil dominated electorates did show a muted defiance to this model, in the last eastern provincial elections. So the first defiance is to the all powerful UPFA, to say to ruling coalition “we will not accept economic incentives as an alternative for political rights”.
The second instance of showing defiance comes at a deeper level and is related to the war victory of the UPFA government. It is no secret that the popularity of this government in the rest of the country is largely due to its war victory over the Tigers. It is also correct that at the street level, many Sri Lankans – Tamil and Sinhala, see this victory as a victory of the Sinhala people over the Tamil people.
Many in the south, especially the racist elements, believe that the war victory has ended the ethnic conflict in the country and the struggle by the Tamils for political rights has died alongside the Tigers. So, here again, the voter is showing defiance. The defiance here, to the rest of Sri Lanka and to the wider world is, you may have won militarily but our struggle for political rights and regional autonomy within a united Sri Lanka is alive and kicking.
The third and perhaps the most important instance of defiance is against the separatist elements both inside and outside of Sri Lanka. For the first time since the late 70s, a major Tamil political formation has rejected (implicitly) the idea of a separate state and positively endorsed the idea of finding a solution, within a united Sri Lanka, with the country’s territorial integrity preserved. Though this went largely unreported in the Sinhala/English media, there was a great upheaval amongst the Tamil diaspora and the nationalistic Tamil politicians of Tamil Nadu, on account of this apparent climb-down by the TNA. In his interview tothe BBC, Seeman, the leader of the Naam Thamilar outfit, compared TNA to cats and said they have no rights to give up the separate state demand of the Tigers. A similar and more despicable personal attack was directed at CV Wigneswaran by Kasi Ananthan, a firebrand poet in self imposed exile, in Tamil Nadu. Kasi Ananthan described Wigneswaran’s attempts to give up the demand for a separate state as treacherous and termed the man a scoundrel. The web space was awash with similar sentiments from extremist Tamils, living abroad. It is also reported that certain sections of the diaspora worked their phones and encouraged voters in the north to vote TNA but to cast their preferencial votes to anyone other than CV Wigneswaran. Against this backdrop, the northern voter has shown defiance to the secessionists abroad, by voting in the TNA with a 5/6 landslide and Wingeswaran- with unprecedented number of preferential votes, for a Tamil, ever in Sri Lankan elections.
Dr Kalaichelvan also criticises TSA for describing as “some” the 80,000 or so extra votes for TNA in Jaffna whilst giving undue weight to the fact that 10,000 UPFA voters showed apathy. What both TSA and Dr Kalaichelvan fail to factor in, is that this election was by far the most fair election of the three elections compared in this example, and perhaps the minimal influence of vote rigging could be the most credible explanation for the drop in the UPFA support base.
In conclusion, though Dr Kalaichelvan is correct to argue the TSA’s analysis is flawed and even laughable at times, his own analysis is not entirely free from flaws or at the very least, is guilty of omitting from consideration pertinent factors.
*Goshan Che is a political observer who prefers to remain anonymous