Colombo Telegraph

Psephology Of NPC Election And Deconstructing The Politics Of The Social Architects

By Krishna Kalaichelvan

Dr. Krishna Kalaichelvan

“Until the Day of Judgement, the Augustinian teaching on the two kingdoms will have to face the two fold open question: Quis judicabit? Quis interpretabitur? [‘Who will decide? Who will interpret?’]…This is the big question posed by Thomas Hobbes.” – Carl Schmitt in Political Theology II: The myth of the closure of any political theology.

The recently concluded Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election has elicited a flurry of interpretations and analyses by various observers, in order to find out the ‘truth’ behind the electoral behaviour of Tamil people on the 21st of September. Not surprisingly, many of those interpretations are tinged with the ideology of those interpreters. In this piece of writing, I would like to address two major issues; firstly, the ahistorical reading of the 2013 election results as Tamil people’s “defiance” by denying the fact that the Tamils have always been voting with defiance, since 1950s onwards.  Secondly, The Social Architects’ (TSA) ludicrous analysis [1] of the NPC election must be critiqued in order to address some of TSA’s dangerously misleading interpretations and politically loaded statements.

Understanding the Tamil electoral behaviour

Even a superficial glance would reveal a particular form of Tamil electoral behaviour since 1956 general election: overwhelmingly they have been voting a Tamil political party with a principled message regarding Sinhala – Tamil ethnic conflict. This principled message is not a fixed content since 1956, rather it is identified at every election on the basis of which political party takes a dignified political position – regarding the ethnic question – vis-à-vis other Tamil political party positions.

There is one election that defies this description; it is the general election of 2000. That was the worst Tamil electoral performance in post-independent Sri Lanka; not a single Tamil representative was elected from Trincomalee district, the EPDP topped in Jaffna district and the first time UNP gained a seat in Jaffna district since 1952. This electoral outcome was due to mainly three factors, the TULF’s catastrophic cozying up to the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, during her ‘war for peace’ reign; secondly, after the killing of Kumar Ponnambalam, the ACTC emerged as a significant political force (only in Jaffna) in addition to the existing political parties, hence the Tamil political landscape looked fractured and the Tamil votes were divided among many parties; thirdly, then as a politician Douglas Devananda was allowed to function with more self-respect and dignity than now. It must be noted that these are not equally weighted factors, the first one is more weighted and the third one is least weighted. In fact this electoral disaster triggered the formation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in 2001.  (The Federal Party (FP) faced an electoral reversal at the 1970 parliamentary election following its equally disastrous experiment of forming a coalition government with the UNP during 1965 – 1970 period. This reversal was in the form of quality than in quantity; Tamil voters’ rejection of FP stalwarts Amirthalingam and E M V Naganathan was a clear message of refuting that experiment.)

That doesn’t mean Tamil voters had failed to express their position regarding Chandrika Kumaratunga government’s handling of ethnic question. In fact they clearly rejected the government’s approach of ‘war for peace’ at the 1999 presidential election, this time it was the Tamil voters from Vanni and Batticaloa, who disproportionately helped to uphold the notion of Tamil defiance. In the North and East, Chandrika Kumaratunga was ‘defeated’ by Ranil Wickremesinghe by 35,560 votes. Thus the people of Vanni and Batticaloa made sure that the North and East remain a distinct entity in the Sri Lankan electoral map, which is a salient feature since 1956.

The FP was dominating at the elections conducted from 1956 to 1970; the TULF dominated the 1977 general election; the EROS backed independent group dominated the 1989 general election; the TULF dominated the 1994 parliamentary election (That was only in the East, because Jaffna was under the LTTE control, hence the EPDP gained 9 seats with its few thousands votes from Jaffna islets); the TNA dominated the parliamentary elections held in 2001, 2004 and 2010. Therefore this ahistorical analysis that the Tamils have voted defiantly in 2013 is erroneous and reflects the authors’ intention to use the NPC election results for their ideological agenda.

As a corollary of this ahistorical, Tamil defiance argument, we are told that the Tamils’ vote at the NPC election was not for the TNA rather it was a vote for the “Tamil political aspirations”.[2] Everywhere in this world, at elections people choose a political party that reflects their aspirations, that is the very basis of liberal parliamentarism and multi-party elections. Hence this argument is merely a nitpicking exercise, has no analytical relevance.

Therefore we can conclude that the Tamil voters have consistently maintained a political stance with a clear identification of a lowest parameter that is compatible with a dignified Tamil life in the island. On the other hand, one could ask, is there any upper limit to this political stance? Or simply the sky is the limit, as suggested by the LTTE inspired Tamil nationalists. We should look at the 2005 presidential election for the answer.

The LTTE had consistently maintained that any electoral process under the Sri Lankan constitution is not acceptable and Sri Lanka’s electoral process has no relevance to its struggle. This was the stated position up until the 2004 general election, at that election LTTE changed its stance and mobilised its infrastructure to increase the voter turnout and delivered a record high performance for the TNA. This policy shift was largely influenced by the fact that the LTTE needed an electoral legitimacy to ease the international pressure.

“Accepting LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of the Tamil Eelam Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness.”

The above-mentioned words of the TNA’s 2004 manifesto amply explain, how badly the LTTE was in need of an electoral legitimacy.

However, at the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE’s tactical usage of 2004 parliamentary electoral process had come back to haunt them, because an overwhelming Tamil voter support for Ranil Wickremesinghe would have been interpreted as a negative verdict on the LTTE’s handling of the Norwegian facilitated peace process. By 2005, the LTTE was backtracking from its 2002 Oslo commitment to “explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”, [3] since an overwhelming Tamil endorsement of Ranil Wickremesinghe would have legitimized the 2003 Oslo Communiqué, the LTTE had no options other than to enforce an election boycott.

There was a far more important interpretation can be made from a putative Tamil endorsement of Ranil Wickremesinghe that the Tamil people do have an upper limit for their political stance; this interpretation will invariably destroy the LTTE’s foundational myth based on the Vaddukoddai Resolution and the 1977 electoral legitimacy. One could justifiably argue that the 1977 popular mandate for the Vaddukoddai Resolution could be interpreted that the Tamil voters didn’t impose an upper limit on Tamil political stance that includes secession. The missing point here is that the Tamils voted at the 1977 general election behind the ‘veil of ignorance’ in Rawlsian sense: Tamil people didn’t know what was waiting for them after the vote. But in 2005, with the experience of two decades of war and destruction and with the understanding of geostrategic deadlock, where nothing could be done beyond India’s wishes, Tamil people were willing to commit and explore a political settlement as per Oslo agreement.

Therefore, it is very clear that the Tamil people have consistently been maintaining a principled moderate position regarding the ethnic question in Sri Lanka. On the 21st of September, they have merely reaffirmed this position with a popular verdict.

TSA’s politically loaded analysis of the NPC election results

In their first analysis, “Tamils take control in provincial election landslide”, [4] TSA has stated;

“The people of the North have sent a clear message to the UPFA: “No amount of development can equate to living in dignity”…The NPC election results are a big victory for TNA. However, they are also a reflection of how dissatisfied people are with the present administration’s policies – meaning that the outcome of this election is a much a referendum on UPFA as it is an outright victory for TNA. More than four years after the war’s tragic ending, it looks like the Tamil community has voted with both its head and its heart.”

Elections are generally zero sum games, when one party loses the other one wins, elaborating this fact in a convoluted a manner won’t make it an intelligible analysis. It is the responsibility of the analyst to provide a tangible analysis of an election outcome.

What is discernible from TSA’s analysis is that they seem to be hesitant to concede a positive role played by the TNA and its leadership in reviving the democratic praxis at the civic level and culminating into a landslide electoral victory. TSA’s second analysis has taken a very hostile and patronizing tone without any pretense of impartiality, endorsing the views of TNPF and its ‘Tamil civil society’ allies. One could argue that they never claimed of any impartiality, fair enough, but they haven’t explained their mission or vision in a substantial manner. Based on their twitter profile, I would incline to assume that they are not ideologically entrenched in the Sinhala-Tamil conflict. Hence there is a mismatch between the stated objective of TSA and its actions. Even though they claim to provide “thoughtful analysis on Sri Lankan issues”, they didn’t say a word about the elections held on the same day for the Central Provincial Council and the North Western Provincial Council; this informs us that their primary focus is North and East. I am intended to provide further commentary on TSA, therefore I cease the discussion on TSA and move onto the critique of TSA analysis.

In their second analysis, TSA is attempting to trash Niran Anketell’s excellent analysis, which correctly points out that the increased voter turnout has greatly influenced the electoral outcome. In their attempt to find “more nuance” explanation to the NPC elections, they have come to a set of conclusions that doesn’t make any sense. TSA is trying to discredit Anketell’s analysis purely on technical grounds, when describing the voter turnout he explained in percentages not in numbers, by rightly questioning the validity of the stated number of registered voters in Jaffna district from 2009 to 2011, TSA analysis attempts to dismiss the fact that 81,127 more Jaffna voters had decided to cast their ballots on the 21st of September. This margin goes up further when comparing with the 2010 parliamentary election, 116,563 more Jaffna voters had decided to cast their votes at the NPC election. It is well clear Anketell’s argument on voter turnout remains robust, despite TSA’s “further scrutiny” by making an issue on the calculation of voter turnout percentages.

Regrettably for TSA these numbers seem to be negligible, hence TSA makes this preposterous claim, “While TNA has undoubtedly inspired some people to vote for it through political campaigning and messaging”. For TSA, 81,127 extra Jaffna voters who had decided to vote at the NPC election seems to be “some people”, whilst TSA emphasizes;

“Readers should also pay attention to the bulk of people – approximately 10,000 UPFA supporters – who voted for UPFA in both parliamentary and local authorities elections, yet didn’t go to the polls on the 21st of September or voted for TNA. What does that show? It reveals a clear dissatisfaction with the government and their current policies.”

Honestly I am laughing at this statement, since TSA believes that 81,127 Jaffna voters “inspired” by the TNA is not a significant finding, instead TSA is inclined to believe that the desertion of “approximately 10,000 UPFA supporters” at the NPC election is analytically important. 

The following is the most amusing part of TSA analysis,

“More importantly, an increase in voter turnout is not the principle reason behind TNA’s recent victory, not even close. What choice did Tamil people have? They didn’t want to vote for UPFA, nor do they consider UNP a viable option. Maybe if TNPF had contested things might have been little different. If EPDP had contested alone, perhaps they would have picked up a couple extra seats.”

By applying TSA’s logic, one could argue that at any election held in any part of the world, voters didn’t have much choice except the parties and groups, which have filed nominations to contest the election. Instead of analyzing the concrete situation of NPC election results, TSA is pondering about the probable electoral outcomes in hypothetical situations; what would have been the outcome, had the TNPF decided to contest the NPC election or had the EPDP decided to contest under Veenai symbol?

In addition to this flawed analysis, TSA commentay is sprinkled with political statements masquerading as analysis. What is concerning me most here is TSA’s judgmental and partisan approach to the TNA affairs. And many of these comments are similar to the views expressed by the TNPF and its ‘Tamil civil society’ allies. Since TSA thinks that it has the political acumen to advise the people like Sampanthan, Senathirajah, Sumanthiran, Suresh Premachandran, Selvam Adaikkalanathan, Sri Kantha, Aanantha Sangaree, Siddharthan, Sivasakthi Aananthan and Selvarasa on Tamil politics, the TNA and its supporters should treat TSA as a political opponent not an impartial actor. I hope TSA learns the ‘nuances’ of Tamil politics before pontificating on what should be done.

[1] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/behind-the-numbers-a-closer-look-at-voting-trends-in-jaffna-2/

[2] http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=8807

[3] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13299

[4] http://asiancorrespondent.com/113713/analysis-tamils-take-control-in-provincial-election-landslide/

*You can follow the writer via his twitter @anapayan

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