The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election that took place on September 21, 2013 was relatively the most peaceful election in the North after the 1977 parliamentary elections, in spite of couple of violent incidences and numerous threats, intimidations, and abuse of public property. The first-ever NPC election was also relatively calmer than the elections in the North Western Province (NWP) and Central Province (CP) that took place on the same day. The government, security forces, Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should be jointly lauded for the peaceful conduct of the elections.
Tamil nationalism was at its peak in 1977 when the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF – predecessor to the Tamil National Alliance) secured highest number of seats at the parliamentary elections and even more importantly highest-ever share of votes (57%) amidst 84% voter turnout in the combined eastern and northern electoral districts. The landslide victory resulted in TULF becoming the single largest opposition party and hence securing the position of Leader of Opposition in 1977.
TNA’s campaign during the provincial elections 2013, despite claptraps of internal self-determination and re-merger of the East and North in its manifesto and lauding Prabhakaran a hero, was subdued compared to the blood-curdling fiery speeches during the 1977 parliamentary elections campaign.
Here we compare and contrast the share of votes secured by the TULF-TNA at the 1977, 2004, and 2010 parliamentary elections and at the provincial council elections of 2012 (in the East) and 2013 (in the North). We are particularly interested in comparing the results of 1977 and 2012-2013 elections due to the fact that these were held during relatively more peaceful times devoid of interference by armed groups (state and non-state).
In 1977 the voter turnout in every single electoral district of the East and North exceeded 80%; Ampara 88%, Batticaloa 87%, Trincomalee and Vanni 85% each, and Jaffna 81%. The voter turnout in the East remained very high (>80%) at the 2004 parliamentary elections, but dropped in the North (47% in Jaffna and 67% in Vanni), which was held during the ceasefire and the LTTE openly supported and campaigned for the TNA. At the 2010 parliamentary elections voter turnout dropped throughout the East and North; Ampara 61%, Trincomalee 58%, Batticaloa 51%, Vanni 40%, and Jaffna 21%. The voter turnout has increased at the 2012 provincial elections in the East and 2013 provincial elections in the North; Vanni 68%, Ampara and Trincomalee 62% each, Jaffna 60%, and Batticaloa 59%. The voter turnout in the combined Eastern and Northern Provinces which was 84% in 1977 dropped to 64% in 2004 and 42% in 2010, and then has increased to 62% in 2012-2013.
The TULF-TNA secured 67% of the total valid votes polled in Batticaloa district in the parliamentary elections of 1977 which had dropped to 51% at the provincial elections in 2012 in spite of the rise in the share of the Tamil population between 1981 (71%) and 2012 (73%) in the district. Similarly, TULF’s share of 29% in the total valid votes polled in Ampara district in 1977 has dropped to just 16% in 2012 partly due to the drop in the share of Tamil population in the district (20% in 1981 to 17% in 2012) and more significantly due to the drop in Muslim votes to TNA (it is important to note that there were no Muslim ethno-religious political party in 1977). In Trincomalee district, the share of the TULF-TNA vote has marginally increased from 27% of the total valid votes cast in 1977 to 29% of the total valid votes cast in 2012 in spite of the drop in the share of the Tamil population in the district from 34% in 1981 to 32% in 2012 (population share was still higher than TNA’s share of votes in 2012).
In the North, in Jaffna electoral district (which includes the administrative districts of Jaffna and Kilinochchi) TULF-TNA secured 84% of the total valid votes cast in 2013 (in spite of lower turnout) in contrast to 72% of the total valid votes cast in 1977 partly due to the rise in the share of the Tamil population from 95% in 1981 to 99% in 2013. Similarly, TULF-TNA secured 68% of the total valid vote cast in the Vanni electoral district (incorporating the administrative districts of Mannar, Mullaithivu, and Vavuniya districts) in 2013 in comparison to just 54% in 1977 mainly because of the rise in the share of the Tamil population in these districts from 77% in 1981 to 87% in 2012.
Overall in the East and North, however, the share of the TULF-TNA votes has dropped from 57% of the total valid votes cast in 1977 to just 50% of the total valid votes cast in 2013 almost entirely due to combination of drop in the share of the Tamil population in the combined Eastern and Northern Provinces from 69% in Census 1981 to 62% in Census 2012 and lower voter turnout of 59% in 2012 in Batticaloa district compared to 87% turnout in 1977; especially, there was 20.6% drop in the population of the Jaffna district between 1981 (734,474) and 2012 (583,071) because of mass migration to other parts of the country and overseas. In sum, while in Ampara and Batticaloa districts TULF-TNA’s support has relatively declined between 1977 and 2012-2013, its support has increased in Trincomalee and all the Northern districts between 1977 and 2012-2013.
The revival of Tamil nationalism is clearly evident at the 2012-2013 provincial elections vis-à-vis 2004 and 2010 parliamentary elections. The revival of Tamil nationalism appears to be tit-for-tat for the revival of Sinhala nationalism in post-civil war southern Sri Lanka. The majority community appears to be solidly behind the Rajapaksa regime whatever wrongs it does; such as the impeachment of the Chief Justice and total inaction against the hate campaign against the Muslim community (most likely instigated by the regime itself), inter alia. The Tamil community appears to counter Sinhala nationalism and popularity of the President with its own nationalism. One wrong cannot justify another wrong; that is, hardening of Sinhala nationalism cannot justify hardening of Tamil nationalism or vice versa.
Every time the President asserts that “I am the President to everybody in all the regions of this country”, which is true and he is legally entitled to claim, he is contributing to TNA’s popularity in the East and North and Tamil nationalism. Similarly, every time TNA leaders eulogise Prabhakaran and the LTTE as “heroes” they are contributing to President’s popularity in the South and Sinhala nationalism. The competing nationalisms do not augur well for reconciliation in the country. Rising popularity of TNA in the East and North could be subdued by a moderate national government in the future.
However, the revival of Tamil nationalism should not be misconstrued as resurgence of sympathy or support for the LTTE. The supporters of Ananthi Sasitharan (alias Elilan) contend that second highest number of preferential votes (80,000+) obtained by Ananthi is because of the popularity of the LTTE and her (missing) husband who was a district political leader of the LTTE since 2002; firstly in Vavuniya district and lastly in Trincomalee district. Conversations with former LTTE combatants and our assessment is that 50% of her preferential votes was due to sympathy for widow (historically a South Asian political windfall phenomenon), 25% was due to the support for LTTE and her husband, and the rest 25% was due to the impulsive sympathy generated by the violent attack on her office day before the elections (suspected to be by the military intelligence).
The outcome of the provincial council elections in the North is thus far the clearest people’s verdict on ‘Reconciliation through Development’ mantra of the government led by President Rajapaksa during nearly five years of post civil war period. The results of the presidential election in January 2010, parliamentary elections in April 2010, and local government elections in 2011 in the North have been reinforced at the provincial elections held in 2013. Undoubtedly the regime led by President Rajapaksa had committed the highest ever public investments in the districts of Vanni mainland (Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaithivu, and Vavuniya) in the post independence period. Even a Tamil political administration in the North would not have committed such huge public investments in the Vanni because of the Jaffna-centric/dominated politics of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
Alas, whilst the people of Vanni were longing for bread, the self-proclaimed “people’s dynasty” offered them cake; outcome of which is the results of the northern provincial council elections. Six-lane (three in each direction) super highways (in Mullaithivu district), international sports stadium (in Kilinochchi district), and deities and places of worship where there are no devotees are not the priorities of the people in the districts where cattle population outnumbers human population and populations and population densities are lowest in the country (population of Mullaithivu district is 91,947 and population density is 38 persons per square kilometre; population of Mannar district is 99,051 and population density is 53 persons per square kilometre; population of Vavuniya district is 171,511 and population density is 93 persons per square kilometre; population of Kilinochchi district is 112,875 and population density is 94 persons per square kilometre). The spectre of Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport and Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port hounds the Vanni.
The provincial council elections in the East (May 2012) and North (September 2013) debunks the myth of “no more minorities” and “one country one voice” signature campaigns of the self-proclaimed “people’s dynasty” against the minority communities in Sri Lanka.
Parliamentary Elections 1977, 2004 & 2010 and Provincial Elections 2012 & 2013
Results in the North & East of Sri Lanka
2012 & 2013 data – http://www.slelections.gov.lk/2013PPC/nppc.html for the North;
http://www.slelections.gov.lk/2012PPC/eppc.htm for the East
2010 data – http://www.slelections.gov.lk/parliamentary_elections/province.html
2004 data – http://www.slelections.gov.lk/District2004/district2004.html
1977 data – De Silva, K.M, Universal Franchise 1931-1981: the Sri Lankan experience,
Department of Information, Colombo, July 1981.
Notes: (i) Jaffna electoral district includes Kilinochchi and Jaffna administrative districts.
(ii) Vanni electoral district includes Mannar, Mullaitivu & Vavuniya administrative districts.
(iii) Digamadulla electoral district is Ampara administrative district.
(iv) In 1977 Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should be replaced by Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
(v) TNA votes in 2010 include TULF (Batticaloa, Jaffna & Vanni) and All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC)
(Jaffna only) votes as well.
(vi) Population data – 2013 data pertains to the Census 2012; 2004 & 2010 data are estimates.
Census 2001 could not be undertaken in all the districts in the N&E, except Ampara;
1981 data pertains to the Census 1981.