14 December, 2017

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Whodunnit? Did The TNA Win Or Did The Government Lose?

By Niran Anketell

Niran Anketell

While the Tamil National Alliance’s defeat of the United People Freedom Alliance in the Northern Provincial Council election was widely expected, the sheer scale of the TNA’s victory was unanticipated. While TNA leaders repeatedly expressed a desire for 30 seats on the campaign trail, in reality, sights were centred on the 26-seat mark that would have ensured a two-thirds majority in the Council. In their recent piece analyzing the results of the election, Gibson Bateman and Rathika Innasimuttu make a number of useful and perceptive points. Observing that the percentage of votes garnered by the government at successive elections in the post-war North has reduced significantly over time, they conclude that people in the Northern Province are “fed up with the UPFA”. The vote in the NPC election, they claim, shows the change in people’s attitudes towards the UPFA – from resigned support in 2009 to deep antagonism in 2013.

A more detailed study of voting patterns in Jaffna – which are mirrored in the results across the other four districts in the Northern Province – reflect a somewhat different reality. Gibson and Innasimuttu’s reliance on the percentage of votes for the UPFA relative to the total number of votes obscures the most significant and dramatic change in voting patterns over the last four years. The real story of change is that of increasing voter turnout at every successive election. In 2009, the turnout at the Jaffna Municipal Council election hit a record low of 22%. By the 2010 General election, the turnout in Jaffna remained around the low 20s, with only 168,277 votes cast in the entire district. The UPFA came a close second to the TNA at this election, establishing a support base of approximately 45,000 voters to the TNA’s 65,000. A large number of the government’s supporters were from the islands around Jaffna, where the EPDP and Navy maintained tight control. Notably, this base of approximately 45,000 voters turned out dutifully in the Presidential elections as well. By the 2011 local elections however, the gap between the TNA and the UPFA began to widen. While the UPFA’s base stayed with the alliance giving them more than 40,000 votes in Jaffna, increased voter turnout put the TNA into the clear. This increase from 22% to 46% caused the total votes garnered by the TNA to rise from 65,000 in 2010 to approximately 125,000 in 2011, but without depleting the UPFA’s base. Significantly, the 2011 local elections excluded the Jaffna Municipal Council where the TNA would likely have polled an extra 30,000 to 40,000 votes if that election was also held in 2011. In short, the TNA nearly managed to triple its support base without diminishing the UPFA’s support.

The voter turnout at the recent Provincial Council elections was therefore of critical importance. The UPFA’s prospects of remaining competitive with the TNA was contingent on a low turnout, just as in the case of the 2009 and 2010 elections. The government’s attempts at depressing the voter turnout by employing a number of means – violent and otherwise – were mostly illegal, but entirely rational. For the TNA, any chance of achieving a symbolically important two-thirds victory required a better turnout than in past elections. This was challenging for a number of reasons. There were fears that repeated requests for the TNA to boycott the election [and support an independent list of candidates] from political activists within and outside the country would depress the voter turnout. More critically, the involvement of the military in the elections was expected to put a dampener on voting. On election day, however, people turned out to vote. The turnout in Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu hit unprecedented levels of over 70%. In Jaffna, where only 168,277 voted three years ago, 273,821 people voted last weekend, with the TNA winning 213,000 of those votes. The UPFA, which took 35,000 votes, had hemorrhaged some 10,000 votes, but dropped its share of the pie from 32% in 2010 to 14%.

The lessons emerging from this analysis strike a somewhat discordant note with popular theories attempting to explain the TNA’s romp to victory. While the government fell short of the consistent 45,000 votes it had previously turned out, the coup de grâce was not dealt by the relatively small number of deserting voters, but by new voters turning up. Bateman and Innasimuttu’s narrative of reluctant supporters turning away from the government into the arms of the TNA is therefore slightly misleading. Moreover, this narrative suggests that public sentiment towards the government was more positive immediately after the war than it is now. This is also implausible for a number of reasons, including the overwhelming support of Tamils for accountability in respect of pre-May 2009 atrocities; the tone and timbre of media attitudes to the government in the months and years following the war; the views of community and civil society leaders in the aftermath of the war; and most importantly, the nature and history of Tamil political struggle for six decades.

To understand the political winds blowing in the North and East, it is important to identify the causes for the scale of the TNA’s recent win. In gaining this understanding, it is critical to ask why polling in the Northern Province – which saw record low turnouts in 2009 and 2010 – now polls at a higher percentage than even other Provinces?

The reasons for this change are likely multi-layered, but I would venture to suggest a few explanations. First, the TNA’s rising stature within and outside Sri Lanka has meant that disillusioned voters previously unable to identify a credible vehicle for their political struggle are able to do so now. The rupture caused by the bitter TNA – TNPF split in 2010 cast looming shadows over the viability of a united, sustained political struggle. These factors caused widespread disillusionment among the voting public and have taken time to self-correct. Despite incessant speculation by pundits of another split, the Alliance has managed to project a message of unity and resilience. That it convincingly rallied around the once disputed candidature of Mr. Wigneswaran buttressed the party’s reputation for putting the collective before personal gain. Moreover, the TNA’s involvement in ‘national’ or ‘progressive’ issues: the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the Eighteenth Amendment, and the violence against Muslims has afforded a numerically small but influential subset of ideologically anti-nationalist Tamils a measure of comfort in supporting a nationalist alliance over other alternatives.  Second, the inevitable broad basing of the TNA’s leadership through participation in local government and now Provincial Council elections has swelled its membership, and as a result, caused an improvement in its ability to turn out voters. The alliance’s ‘ground game’, fetishized by political campaigns in the United States, has undergone massive improvement. Third, Tamils in the North and East have gradually come to accept that their votes can collectively be wielded as an effective tool in their struggle for political rights. For a beleaguered community, the scale of the defeat they inflicted on the government in the 2011 local government elections provided a newfound and much needed sense of confidence. The recurring – and arguably self-congratulatory – trope of the ‘dignified, upright, righteous Tamil’ in the TNA’s campaign echoed these sentiments.

The reasons I have identified are only a few of the salient causes amongst a number responsible for last week’s result. While the deep sense of alienation from the state and from the ruling alliance felt by Tamils has been repeatedly underscored, explanations for last week’s result that interpret the vote solely as a referendum on the government’s post-war performance are inadequate and inaccurate. Thus, while distrust and antipathy towards government have remained constant, the TNA’s recipe for success has been its ability to dramatically increase the turnout in the Northern Province, and in doing so, transform the contours of post-war Tamil politics. Its success going forward will rest on its ability to sustain the level of public political engagement it has recently inspired.

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Latest comments

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    The government lost. Hopefully the family cult of the Rajapaksa’s will get the message and move on to North Korea where they belong….

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      What everyone need to focus on the the defeat of Dictator Ranil Wickramasinghe in democratic elections and getting rid of him!

      The UNP dictator has destroyed the UNP and the Opposition and needs to be HOUNDED OUT of the country and party.. so that democracy may be save in Sri Lanka. He has rotted the country’s political culture while conniving with Rajapassa.

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      Ha haa, I wonder what DuckTa Da Yarn JayaTikaTika has to say about this analysis? :-D

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    analyzing the results of the election, Gibson Bateman and Rathika Innasimuttu’ The UPFA traditionally never polls well in the North.. Now comare the results to the UNP in the past and today.. The results show the UPFA in the North came second and the SLMC third.. the UNP got a pounding in the North.. Now many of these so-called pundits and experts until a few days ago did not even predict the elections.. And these fools such as Gibson Bateman dont seem to know let alone understand Traditional Tamil Politics in the North since the Times of Mr G. G. Ponnambalam pre independence and Tamil voting.. These foolish pundits as always have got everything wrong.. Go get a real Job

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      they conclude that people in the Northern Province are “fed up with the UPFA”. The vote in the NPC election, they claim, shows the change in people’s attitudes towards the UPFA – from resigned support in 2009 to deep antagonism in 2013.

      Tamils got to vote after how many decades ?

      UPFA was never there. War wounds should be still there.

      “FED up with UPFA”. What a brilliant argument by the analysts.

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        @ Jim Softy… Very True Indeed.. some of these pundits especially the ones in the west.. cant even tell the difference between a jayarathna or a jayaratnam.. Let alone Know the Traditional political parties form the ACTC,FP, TULF, ITAK, EPRLF, Pundits really dont seem to understand Tamil Politics in sri lanka.. The Traditional Tamil voting since the time of mr Ponnambalam 1947 have Gone traditionally to mainly Tamil Parties.. But the question these fools never ask is why the UNP who traditionally polls well in the North dating back to pre independence and post 2009 got a Huge defeat there.. Just compare and see the results of the SLFP-UPFA then and today it came second in the North.. SO IF THE TNA WAS TO CONTEST ALONE IN SAY THE CENTRAL PROVINCE AGAINST OTHER TRADITIONAL PARTIES THERE WOULD THEY WIN WITH A MAJORITY??? So these money spinners / pundits either are totally stupid or just blatantly lie to keep get some kind of Income from their pay masters. Propaganda Rubbish..

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      Dum
      Appears that you dont have a clear understanding of the traditional tamil politics.
      Had TNA not contested this election, who do you think would have had the most votes? Suggest you look up electoral results when it was a straight UNP vs UPFA
      I know such foolish pundits!

      Jimbo- our northern brethren got to vote after so many decades.
      They voted, now live with it!

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        @Chandra.. U talk like a stupid fool.. read the Article first, Then learn about Tamil politics from pre independence, Then Analyse what the article says.. conclusion think with u head not with ur stupid mouth.

  • 0
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    Niran,
    Tx good analysis. looking forward to your next article.

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    TNA did not win
    The Governemtndid not lose
    Hathurusinghe lost
    the army time to time tell the foreign media that the Tamil people want the army in Jaffan to protect them from the cluthces of LTTE

    The Tamils have categorically said we dont want the army in our land ….

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    Niran,

    An excellent analysis. I think you missed a minor salient point. Some members of the Tamil diaspora took an extreme position of either boycotting or ignoring the NPC elections. At the very last moment they too changed heart and advised that as many Tamils as possible should caste their vote and also to vote for TNA. It may be that they realised things rather late.

    Sengodan. M

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      “At the very last moment they too changed heart and advised that as many Tamils as possible should caste their vote and also to vote for TNA. It may be that they realised things rather late”

      This exactly was the game changer.Otherwise there’s no way for the TNA to induce such a land slide. From the point of view of most people in the north,who are very much dependant on the diaspora support,no one can blame them.
      The other unbelievable aspect of this result is the number of preferences recieved by Ananthi Sashidaran. Is it possible for the people in the north to have forgotten what they had to suffer under these people?
      Phase two of the dream!!
      The northerners were sold the Eelam dream in 1977 and it turned out to be a nightmare and just as they wake up from it they seem to have been suckered in to buying the same old dream.
      Only time will tell whether it will be a sweet dream or a worse nightmare than the last.

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    The million dollar question you can answer next is “The TNA won the election, but did the Tamil really win?”
    Let’s hear your analysis. Only time will tell the truth.

    Remember the euphoria after the elections of 1977 where the TULF won by a similar historic landslide to beat even the ruling SLFP to take the main opposition for the first time. The rest is history. Is history repeating itself?

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    “Whodunnit? Did The TNA Win Or Did The Government Lose?”

    Pundits are analyzing left, right and center doing postmortem on NPC elections. Nobody seems to be attacking the main problem and how to solve it:

    Sri Lanka – the land like no other, has;

    a law-flouting president,
    law-flouting ministers,
    a law-flouting Chief Justice,
    a law-flouting military,
    a law-flouting police force, and

    millions of law abiding people.

    How to make the rotten top lot law abiding?

    If we solve the above problem, most other problems will sort themselves out.

    Who will tame MARA – the big cat?

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    TNA won with the new reality of the Tamil Nation closing ranks against
    an unwelcome military presence among many other patent and palpable injustices. The Tamil voter rose above caste, class and other parochial considerations and realised this is probably the last chance. The Govt did not lose nor were the Rajapakses humiliated. A restricted form of democracy was grudgingly permitted due to pressure from India and the international community.

    A Constitution was imposed on the country in 1972. Tamils refused to be part of this. Sri Lanka was hurriedly rushed in but the then rulers failed to produce the Sri Lankan identity – willingly acceptable to all. We became Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher et al.

    It may become necessary, as time goes, to change the name of the country and the flag to reflect the consensus of all communities. Both were imposed on unwilling minorities without the necessary unanimous
    approvals.

    Thamilthambi

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    One lesson is clear to the whole island by landslide victory of TNA to the south is, if UPFA is to be dismantled; a few thinga will have to realized by the UNP leadership specially and the joint opposition. First joint opposition will have find a credible person comparable to Wigneshvaran who would get the acceptance of all Sinhala, Tamil, Muslims, Buddists and all other religious groups. Then voters would develop the interest to utilize their franchise in selecting a proper option. If the joint opposition does this and give its whole hearted backing to such a candidate, who in turn give the assurance to do away with Presidential system and independent commisions etc. , I am sure about 40% of the public which has lost the faith in the system as well as current alternative leader or leaders, would come to the polling booths to do the needful. Without this nothing would change.

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    Voting statistics can be analysed in many ways to prop-up a particular view. The common expectation in Jaffna was a landslide for the TNA and the most common reason ‘who else is there?’

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    Whatever one may say – the NPC elections has given the lie to almost all the claims of the military in the North, the Uthuray vasantha pandits and left Gota dumbfounded. Can anyone dispute this ?

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    Douglas Devananda who escaped death at the hands of LTTE nearly seven times and defended the Islands during the war, has outlived his usefulness. The contrast between Devananda and Wigneswaran was like chalk and cheese. He posed as the king maker of the UPFA in the Northern Province and handled the election same way he handled the LTTE during the war.

    Most people believe was was behind the attack on the contestant who was the wife of an LTTE leader. The Army did not want to oppose him because he was a Minister of the UPFA. Hence, the landslide was accelerated by his undemocratic actions.

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    In hind-sight the Govt. might be the real winners. They will use this election results to show the UN & the world that democracy is back in the NP and the Tamils have elected their own leaders. They defeated the militants and restored democracy to the Tamil people. Then continue to do their dirty deeds, block and harass the provincial govt. from accomplishing anything. I’m afraid this is a huge farce. I hope I’m wrong.

  • 0
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    Niran,

    The clear signal coming out after the NPC elections is that there is a North South divide.
    If not for the rigging the elections would have been a white wash for GOSL. But what election has done is two things:

    1) Send out a clear signal that we are two different people.
    2) But more importantly MR may have destroyed LTTE but their Legacy lives on.
    I can give you a lot of examples as to why that is so but it is all wideley reported and a clever individual will understand it.

    But what is important is for the GOSL is to face facts and and do the right thing and respect the will of the Northern Electorate otherwise they will pay a heavy price after March 2014. The order of priority for us is as follows.

    1) Inaguration of the CM .
    2) Acting on the mandate given by the People get the army off the street. This has already been demanded by the Indian Union Minister Mr.Vasan so we Tamils look to him to enforce it as India is a party to the agreement and not allow MR to backtrack.
    3) Appoint a Tamil Police Commissioner who is under the direct control of the CM to take charge of security.
    4) Recaloim the Land which has been forcibily and illegally confiscated.
    5) Take steps to rebuild the shattered economy and make it possible for all the Tamils ( except those who wish to stay in the South)to return home.

    The International community to begin the process of accontablity and bring those responsible for the Genocide to Justice as Accountabilty is a pre requiste to Reconciliation. The question of the missing persons has already been addressed by Chandraprema Author of “Gothas War” who has quite categoricallly stated that they have all been Extrajudiciall Killed. This is an issue which will form part of the UN investigation at the Hague.

    We must never allow the Sinhalse to commit any more atrocities. Like Mr.Menachim Begin once said no more Jewish Blood.
    We Tamils say no more Tamil Blood.

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    Nothern voters voted against suppression of their rights to pursue their normal livelihoods,family life and events,worship and social gatherings, by the military with their unwelcome presence,and oppression by sudden arrests & assaults of their children in uiversity and of citizens without reasons being given,& transfer of their court cases – hebeas corpus & fundamental rights to anuradhapura.
    They also voted against looting,desecration,partial and total destruction of their places of worship,vandalism of statues of their leaders including that of Mahatma Ghandi,erection of buddha statues in places devoid of buddhists,occupation of their homes and lands by the army,unexplained/uninvestigated robberies and rape,usurpation of businesses by the army,and grabbing of lands which are necessary for their livelihoods by the military.
    This writer who bears a foreign name purposely ignores these realities.
    Is he afraid to mention them for fear of arrest and ‘rehabilitation’?

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      Justice,

      You are 110% right Justice will be done and the election was the first shot in the salvo and there will be many more.
      The writer might bear a foreign name but he lokks every inch a Sri Lankan and I think he is prisoner of his own conscience either unable or unwilling admit that in the North TNA won hands down and the GOSL was decimated.

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