By Harim Peiris –
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been publicly reiterating and recommitting himself to finally holding the long delayed and often postponed Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections in September this year, almost four and half years after the war ended in May 2009. Thereafter despite presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections, in 2010 and 2011, various excuses were contrived and trotted out to postpone the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections, an election the regime is almost guaranteed to lose to the TNA, if even a semblance of a reasonably fair and free election is held.
That President Rajapaksa personally and his political grouping the UPFA have no political traction with the Tamil people has been repeatedly borne out by the three post war election results and the NPC election would be no different. However, the Rajapaksa regime, never one to shy away from a political fight, is gearing up to fight the election tooth and nail, fair or foul, in the same way it fought the Colombo Municipal Council election, another election it was guaranteed to lose, despite the best efforts of the urbane Milinda Moragoda, the multi ethnic cosmopolitan people of the City of Colombo showing very little affinity or attraction to the regime’s ethno nationalism centered populism.
However, the presidentially declared NPC election raises some important political issues, which require some examination.
LTTE spokesman as UPFA chief candidate
Firstly, according to news reports and political insiders the UPFA is gearing to have its slate of Tamil candidates in the North led by senior LTTE cadre and spokesman Daya Master as its chief minister candidate. Daya Master was to the LTTE, before its demise, what Kheliya Rambukwella is to the UPFA. That the Rajapaksa regime should base its outreach strategy towards the Tamil people by bringing into its ranks the senior LTTE cadres in its captivity denotes besides the absence of a political message of substance to the Tamil electorate, that it also accepts that the LTTE was popular with the Tamil people, otherwise why run its leaders as government candidates? If the LTTE resonated with the Tamil people, we have a political problem, which requires a solution, a proposal for which seems to elude the regime.
By contrast, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which government spokesmen and their allied media like to constantly keep calling LTTE proxies, have since the end of the war distanced themselves from the LTTE in serious and practical ways. Firstly the TNA does not in its democratic politics accommodate any former LTTE leaders (in sharp contrast to the government) and its leader R. Sambanthan has repeatedly stated, for those honest enough to listen, their commitment to finding a political solution to the grievances of the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka. The democratically elected TNA political leadership, as opposed to the self-appointed Diaspora types, post war quickly and mercifully realized that the politics of separatism of the LTTE could not be pursued without the armed capability and the terrorism of the LTTE. Post war, the old, traditional, upper caste Tamil political leaders of the ITAK also quickly realized that they were no longer under the gun of the LTTE and that Sambanthan and MA Sumanthiran need not fear suffering the same fate of Appapilai Amirathalingam, Neelan Tiruchelvam or Sam Thambimuthu, among a host of other Tamil political leaders.
Vigneswaran as potential TNA CM nominee
In an election the TNA is almost sure to win, in anything short of an electoral sham, the TNA’s choice of seeking to bring in Justice (Rtd) C. V. Wigneswaran as the chief minister for the North is a very astute move on the part of the Tamil political leadership. Firstly, bringing in Justice Wigneswaran as Chief Minister is a continuation of the TNA practice of inducting genuine Tamil community leaders not associated with any militant past into its post war political leadership, as was done in bringing in human rights defender and leading lawyer Sumanthiran as national list MP shortly after the end of the war. Now with the TNA having stayed the course of seeking post war reconciliation through a political solution, it seeks to bring to the leadership of the Tamil community, a most distinguished jurist, with impeccable personal and professional integrity. Though the good judge has not yet formally consented, the contrast with Daya Master cannot be greater. Perhaps the argument to make to the judge, is that it is better to light a candle or in the case of the Northern chief ministership, a flaming torch, than curse the darkness.
Muslims of the North
The Rajapaksa regime has a problem with the Muslim polity. The extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalist elements that are totally at home in the government and the extremist organizations, which with state patronage have been happily attacking mosques, Muslim businesses and even Muslim women on the streets in their religious attire and this has made Muslim political leaders within UPFA ranks unhappy. Every Muslim political leader is in government with none in the opposition. Despite this the Muslim community is under serious assault. From Rauff Hakeem to Rishard Bathurdeen and counting others such as Athahulla and Hizbulla, the entire Muslim political leadership is in the UPFA, but now, rather quite unhappily so. This should present a golden opportunity for the opposition both the UNP and especially the TNA to woo Muslim support. The UNP just does not seem to have the energy or imagination for any such move, while the TNA seems unwilling to take on the more extreme nationalist elements within the Tamil community, in not promoting justice and reconciliation with the Muslim community, especially in the coastal areas of the Vanni and in the Mannar District. In a situation where the Government is trying to divide and rule in the North, the TNA should have the political sagacity to solve through direct dialogue with the Muslim leadership, the vexed issue of land problems in Mannar, mainly brought about by LTTE period settlement of Tamil people on traditional Muslim lands.
The Northern Provincial Council elections are overdue and an important step in restoring and reestablishing democratic governance in the former conflict areas. It is in the interest of the Sri Lankan State and post war normalization that democratic elections to the provincial assembly in the North be held and a democratically elected provincial administration established.