The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election is only a few days away. The election to the NPC is being held after a period of 25 years. The previous election was in 1988.
The Provincial Council (PS) system under 13th Amendment is in force from 1988. It was the by-product of the of the Indo-Ceylon Agreement singed between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene in 1987.
The key features in the Indo – Ceylon Accord are as follows:
•Sri Lanka is a ‘multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual plural society” consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Thamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers (section 1.2),
•Each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured (section 1.3),
•Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups (section 1.4),
•Merger of Eastern Province with Northern Province will be decided by a simple majority of the people of Eastern Province (section 2.3), conducting a referendum by the people.
Since 1988 elections have been held every 5 years, except in regard to the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
In 1988 there was an election to the temporary merged Northern and Eastern provinces. But the council was dissolved in 1990 by the then government. Thereafter, elections were held for the demerged Eastern Province in 2008 and again in 2012.
Although the three decades old war officially ended on May 19, 2009, the government kept on deferring election under various excuses like delay in demining and resettlement of the 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The parties contesting the elections have stepped up their campaign in all parts of the province.
For the 36 + 2 seats for grabs in the NPC a total of 906 candidates belonging to 11 registered parties and 9 independent groups have entered the fray. TNA is contesting all the districts with 51 candidates in the field. Each voter should cast his vote to the party of his choice and in addition cast his 3 preferential votes to 3 more candidates of his choice. He cannot cast all the preferential votes to a single candidate.
The main contest is between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the United Peoples Freedom Front (UPFA). Quisling EPDP as usual is contesting under the UPFA beetle symbol.
There are 5 electoral districts in the Northern Province and the number of members elected would be 36 plus the 2 bonus seats totalling 38. The total number of registered voters is 714,493 with Jaffna electorate with 426,703 voters. The following Table shows the details at a glance.
According to 2012 census the population of the Northern province is 1,058,762 made up of Thamils 993,741 (93.86) Muslims 32,364 (3.05) Sinhalese 32,331 (3.05) and others 326 (0.03).
The government thought by postponing elections, it can buy enough time to showcase the so called development of the North.
After the war came to an end, the Sri Lankan Government had a window of opportunity to close a sad chapter of history and quickly begin a process of genuine national healing and reconciliation by reaching out to the Thamil people. It provided a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to turn the page on its past and build a Sri Lanka rooted in democracy, rule of law, tolerance, and respect for human rights.
The government could have engaged the Thamils, Sinhalese and Muslims to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankans. To realize the fact that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi – lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. To address the root causes of conflict between the Sinhalese and Thamils. That would include political steps towards effective devolution of power under the Constitution so that Sri Lankans of all communities, including Thamils, can feel at home and live with self-respect, dignity and equality of their own free will.
The regime had a historical opportunity to help resettle the more than 300,000 Thamil IDPs in their original homes, provide assistance to repair/rebuild damaged houses, provide jobs, dismantle the High Security Zones (HSZs), demilitarise the armed forces, restore civil administration, kick start the political process towards peace-building etc. But an arrogant and haughty government did not do any of these.
Instead, there was euphoria over the victory scored against the LTTE coupled with an ugly and naked display of triumplism by the government. There were military parades, rallies, dances and display of military hardware in Colombo.
The North was truly and verily militarized, Sinhalized and Buddhistised. Viharas and Buddhist statues sprouted where there are no Buddhist worshippers.
Land belonging to the Thamils was grabbed by the army to build army/naval camps, cantonments, health resorts, luxury hotels, restaurants, houses for Sinhala war heroes etc.
There were war museums built in the heartland of Vanni to display military prowess. The war ravaged North was turned into tourist hot spot for Sinhalese from the south. Bus loads of Sinhalese tourists descended on the North with an air of superiority complex.
It is in this sordid back ground elections for the NPC is being held. And Mahinda Rajapaksa has the temerity to ask the Thamil people to vote for the UPFA.
There is the general rule in Sri Lanka that elections will not be fair and just. The norm is they y are riddled with violence, threat, intimidation, corruption and other election malpractices.
Rules relating to orderly elections are being openly flouted by the ruling party. Soldiers and army intelligence personnel have started intimidating TNA candidates from the day they filed their nominations. At least, three TNA candidates including Ananthi Elilan were threatened by the army on the day they submitted their nominations. Thuggery has been unleashed against TNA candidates. TNA campaign in Neduntheevu was broken up by the chairman and members of the Pradesha Sabha controlled by the EPDP. TNA candidate P. Thambirajah was assaulted and his car damaged by Ramanathan, the father of SLFP organizer Angajan, in the heart of Jaffna town. Ramanathan brandished a pistol threatening to assassinate TNA candidate in broad day light.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader and MP R. Sampanthan charged that the military is involved in many exclusively civilian matters in the North “without invitation” and that they are also engaged in the election campaign for the ruling UPFA.
In an open letter addressed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, TNA leader R. Sampanthan stated they have consistently raised the issue of the “heavily militarized atmosphere” in the Northern Province, which is not at all conducive to the holding of a free and fair election.
“What has been objectionable even before the announcement of the polls is not only the presence of the military but the fact that they without invitation engage with the civilian population in many exclusively civilian matters,” he said.
He stated that this involvement has continued even after the Election was announced and has also strayed well into election related activities.
“The rumour that the military has nominated some UPFA candidates is fuelled by soldiers pasting posters promoting those candidates and guarding such posters from being torn down even by election officials,” he said.
The TNA Parliamentary Group Leader also stated that there had been at least one instance when they had made a written complaint that the army was distributing building materials to the voters at Navanthurai, Jaffna with hoardings of some candidates kept in the background.
“A photograph showing a candidate physically participating in this event with the army was published in a newspaper. The election officials who visited the scene found the allegation to be true but were not able to stop it,” he said.
“These are only but a few glaring examples of the blatant manner in which the military is now engaged in the election campaign for the Government Party, UPFA. It is also a matter of record that at least three of our candidates were threatened by the army on the day we submitted our nominations.”
He stated that there is real apprehension that the military involvement will increase in the coming days and will serve to dissuade voters from going out and casting their votes on Election Day. “It is rumoured that the army is already discouraging the local populace from voting on the 21st,” he claimed.
Therefore he kindly request from the President to take steps to “confine the military to the barracks” and remove the “biggest obstacle” to the conduct of a free and fair poll on September 21.
The ruling party in order to buy votes is doling out jobs, free building materials, cycles, train service from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi etc.
About 250 Samurdhi officers have been recruited to Samurdhi Programme in the North. Eighteen of of them are Sinhalese. This is in addition to the existing 18 Sinhalese Samurdhi officers representing 9 Village Headmen divisions in Weli Oya Divisional Secretary’s area. The Weli Oya Sinhalese are also the beneficiaries of India’s housing scheme for those affected by war. Six groups of Samurdhi officers have been dispatched by the Samurdhi authority to “election duties” in the North. Five district coordination officers have been appointed in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitheevu, Mannar and Vavuniya for this “Supervision of Samurdhi Banks.”
Forty five ex- women LTTE cadres have been recruited to the army.
One hundred and seven LTTE detainees have been released after rehabilitation. All the rehabilitation they received was learning the Sinhalese language.
Thus the entire government machinery has been galvanized to bolster the chances of the ruling party to win the elections. Those ex-LTTE cadres recruited to the army and defence forces numbering more than 2,000 have been pressed into service to canvass votes by door to door visits, especially in Vanni.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been very candid by saying police and land powers will never be handed over to the PCs even if the TNA wins the NPC elections.
In the meantime the Provincial Council election manifesto issued by the TNA has generated vitriolic criticism from individual Sinhalese as well as Sinhalese dominated political parties. The list includes individuals like Dayan Jayatilleka and parties like UPFA, UNP, JVP, JHU, BBS etc.
Dayan Jayatilleka former diplomat attacked the TNA for criticising the Soulbury constitution that was designed by a progressive post-war British Labour administration that unitary character and did not entrench majoritarian hegemony as did the successor constitution of 1972. He conveniently forgets how D.S.Senanayake robbed the citizenship and voting rights of one million Hill Country Thamils despite section 29(2) of the Soulbury constitution. He also forgets the fact Soulbury himself did regret lack foresight on his part. Soulbury Constitution under which the island was granted its independence required a 2/3rd majority for any act affecting the minority. This was regarded to be adequate protection against any abuse of power by the majority community under a unitary constitution. But he was proved wrong. Lord Soulbury himself was to regret this lack of foresight. Latter, he said it was a pity that the commission did not also recommend the entrenchment in the constitution of fundamental rights on the lines enacted in the constitution of India, Pakistan & elsewhere.
Dayan Jayatilleka is also piqued that references in the TNA manifesto to the LTTE are morally repugnant. He blames the LTTE for resuming the war when the CFA was in force. But he forgets or feigns ignorance that the government was also made feverish procumbent of sophisticated arms and ammunition from China, Pakistan, India, UK and USA to resume the war. It is time he gets over his LTTE phobia once and for all. LTTE was the creation of Sinhalese racists like Jayewardene, Premadasa and others.
The JVP has accused TNA of trying to gain power following Indian instructions for an elite group. This shows JVP still suffers from Indian phobia. However, the JVP also claims the present government uses communalism, encourages it and sponsors groups that spread communalism and religious differences to maintain its power and undermine the opposition. JVP as a party is least qualified to speak about communalism when itself fanned the flames of racism under the cloak of patriotism during the war.
A lesser known lawyer’s organization linked to the Nationalist Organizations Collective has said the TNA manifesto was against the Constitution of the country. The Sri Lanka Lawyers’ Guild said that they will file a case in the Supreme Court against the election manifesto of the TNA. Kapila Gamage, the convener of the Sri Lanka Lawyers’ Guild said that the proclamation of self-rule in the manifesto is a violation of the Sri Lanka Constitution.
The perceived fears by politicians of the South that TNA after gaining police and land powers, the Northern Province will restart the separatist war with India’s support is meaningless.
The words distinct people, historical habitation, self – determination, federal structure, shared sovereignty, devolution are all dirty words in the vocabulary of all Sinhalese chauvinists.
According to their thinking all these are in no certain terms a commitment to a separate state. Nothing can be further from the truth. The TNA is committed to finding a political solution within a united country. The manifesto makes that as clear as crystal. This is the stand of the TNA on the question of political solution.
The principles and specific constitutional provisions that the TNA considers to be paramount to the resolution of the national question relates mainly to the sharing of the powers of governance through a shared sovereignty amongst the Peoples who inhabit this island. According to the TNA the following salient features of power sharing are fundamental to achieving genuine reconciliation, lasting peace and development for all the Peoples of Sri Lanka:
• The Thamils are a distinct People and from time immemorial have inhabited this island together with the Sinhalese People and others
• The contiguous preponderantly Tamil Speaking Northern and Eastern provinces is the historical habitation of the Tamil Speaking Peoples
• The Tamil People are entitled to the right to self-determination
• Power sharing arrangements must be established in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern Provinces based on a Federal structure, in a manner also acceptable to the Tamil Speaking Muslim people
• Devolution of power on the basis of shared sovereignty shall necessarily be over land, law and order, socio-economic development including health and education, resources and fiscal powers.
As rightly pointed out by the Chief Ministerial candidate ex-justice C.V. Wigneswaran we have entered the third phase of struggle for self-rule. He states:
“In 1994, when attempts were made to enhance devolution of powers to the North and East, the diehard attitude of the Tamil militants towards creating a separate State did not permit the political attempts to succeed. The struggle for the political rights of the Thamils first started in 1956. Thereafter, with the failure to find political solutions, the militant struggle emerged. The militant struggle that lasted for three decades internationalized the political struggle of the Lankan Thamils. Therefore, the third phase of the Tamil struggle will commence as a strong political attempt to win the rights of the Thamils in the country with the support of the international community,” he said.
The Thamil people have repeatedly and overwhelmingly endorsed TNA’s policies in every election held since May, 2009. Today, there are more than thousand reasons for the Thamils to vote against the rabid anti-Thamil stance of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his UPFA on September 21st.
This government has not built a single house for the displaced people. On the other hand it has built 10,000 houses for war heroes on land grabbed from the Thamil people at Murugandy.
Last week Basil Rajapaksa, Minister for Economic Development was asked at a press conference held in Jaffna about the fate of the 7, 623 families comprising 25,328 IDPs living in 27 G.S. divisions in Valikamam North. They have been displaced since 1990 and the army has confiscated 6,382 acres (102,112 lachcham) of ancestral property belonging to them. This is equivalent to 25.8 sq kms of land almost 2/3 of Colombo city. The Minister arrogantly replied that their property had been appropriated for use by the army. Questioned how come some of those have been used to build sports grounds and hotels, Basil Rajapaksa replied saying that is the norm now in all army bases.
Therefore, the NPC election gives an opportunity to the ordinary Thamils reeling under the jackboot of military dictatorship to return the favour. Thamil voters must reject decisively and resolutely Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government bent on imposing Sinhala hegemony at gun point on Thamils.
To sum up, there are more than one thousand reasons for the Thamil voters to vote against Mahinda Rajapaksa and his UPFA on September 21st. Thamil people want fundamental rights not development largely meant for the Military.