Just over two months ago, the Tamils went to the polls for Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council elections with defiance, yet with a cautious sense of festivity. Military harassment of voters and party candidates had been thorough and brutally innovative throughout the campaigning; in addition to the typical battering of election monitors, cash-for-votes and widespread intimidation, government supporters had even printed a fake newspaper.
The night of Election Day, one retired man from Jaffna would not dare predict the polling results. If the Tamil National Alliance won, there might be retribution, he said; destroyed cars, people beaten up and houses set on fire. Yet, if they lost, the military violence already in place might never end. For now, the elections themselves – the first in 25 years – were reason enough to celebrate, he said cheerfully, showing a small bottle of arrack – local coconut spirit – in his pocket.
Then, against all the odds, the TNA won a landslide victory, with 30 out of 38 seats on an unexpectedly high voter turnout.
The dream of an independent Tamil Eelam may be dead, but for many northern Tamils the provincial elections in the northeast had opened another narrow window of opportunity to claim the equal rights they have struggled to win for so long. Though primarily a symbolic defeat for the central government, the TNA’s success had also reignited hope that now – finally – the Tamils might have a chance at the reconciliation that, four years after the end of the Eelam IV war, has failed to materialize.
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