On my watch
- Lucien Rajakarunanayake
The new Dawn in the East
It looks like we are in for a surfeit of elections. If JRJ once said
that he will roll up the electoral map, after he won the Presidency for
a second term and crookedly extended the life of Parliament through a
questionable referendum, we are now in for much consultation of the
Soon after the Local Government Polls in the Batticaloa District, the
people of the East will today chose the first ever Eastern Provincial
It is interesting to recall how JRJ who agreed to the temporary
merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces under Indian pressure, said
he would personally campaign against the merger in the referendum in the
East that was required under the law.
In fact he was the first to postpone the referendum which went on
being put off, and the voice of the people in the East never heard,
until the Supreme Court ruled for the break up of the “temporary” merger
after 20 years, and the Security Forces sent the LTTE out of the East
On the cards is another Wayamba Election, where the last call is
known as the very pits of electoral politics in Sri Lanka, and, if the
electoral time tables are followed the voters of the NCP may also soon
elect their next Provincial Council.
There are also enough rumours afloat, informed or not, of the
possibility of a General Election very soon, which means Sri Lankans
will be in an electoral loop, with politicos fast getting their acts
together on how they could take the people for a ride once again.
Today’s EPC election is most significant for the participation of the
Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal, TMVP (Tamil People’s Liberation
Tigers) the breakaway group from the LTTE, following their recent
successful contesting of the Local Government Polls in the Batticaloa
The two main contenders in today’s poll are the country’s ruling
coalition led by the UPFA which is fielding candidates in alliance with
the TMVP led by Pillayan, and the UNP contesting in alliance with the
SLMC, where the SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem even resigned his seat in
parliament in his bid to be the first Chief Minister of the EPC.
The presence of the TMVP as a key player in this election, apart from
being an important factor in the UPFA’s hopes for success in the
contest, through which it expects to draw considerable support from the
Tamil community of the East, also has significance for the future
policies with regard to a resolution of the ethnic crisis.
The entry of a former terrorist group, that carried arms for the
establishment of a separate state of Eelam, which remains the LTTE’s
aim, shows a significant shift in developments with regard to the
aspirations of the Tamil people, and how they are met by the Sinhala
majority Government in Colombo.
The presence of the TMVP in the contest, still carrying arms to
protect itself from the LTTE, has been the focus of the UNP in its
campaign. It is invoking the terrorism of the Pillayan group, prior to
its break with the LTTE, as a threat to the possibility of a free and
fair election and the stuff of its propaganda that the poll will be
manipulated by the Government for its success.
The UNP needs reminding of its own role and that of its founding
members in rigging elections in this country, from even before the
actual birth of the party in 1947, until the party reached its nadir of
rigging in the General Election of 1989, and the subsequent benefit it
had from the violence and intimidation by the LTTE in the General
Elections of December 2001 and April 2004.
The focus of the EPC election is the office of the Chief Minister.
The UNP-SLMC alliance has conducted its campaign on the pledge of having
a Muslim Chief Minister for the Eastern Province.
There has been some parties of the Sinhalese making a case for a
Sinhala Chief Minister, while the UNP also presents the bogey of the
possibility of a Tamil Chief Minister, most likely Pillayan, who they
warn may do a repeat of Varatharjah Perumal, the first and only Chief
Minister of the former North-East Provincial Council.
It is a matter for regret that the SLMC slogan, that has found
complete endorsement by the UNP, is for the election of a Muslim Chief
Minister, which is as bad as that of the call for a Sinhala CM, and
their unstated opposition is to the possibility of the Tamil CM for the
Whatever the aim of a strictly communal based party such as the SLMC
may be, one would have expected the UNP, to claim to being a national
party, to seek the most capable Chief Minister for the province,
irrespective of one ethnicity.
What this type of campaigning shows is the backward thinking among
our prominent political parties and leaders, despite the ravages of a
war of separation that has lasted for nearly three decades.
It is necessary to refer once again to the bogey of Varatharajah
Perumal that is repeated like a mantra by UNP propagandists, which
appears to be taken as unverified fact by many, particularly among the
Sinhala community, to judge from how often it comes up in interactive
radio programmes on this election campaign.
The one point held against Perumal is his raising of the Eelam flag
in Trincomalee and the Unilateral Declaration of Eelam just prior to his
departure into voluntary exile in India.
This took place at the very end of his much beleaguered term as Chief
Minister, when the UNP Government of President Premadasa, did everything
possible to make a dead letter of the North East Provincial Council.
This policy of President Premadasa, to which there was no dissent
from Ranil Wickremesinghe, who held an important portfolio and was
Leader of the House too at the time, was made in keeping with
Premadasa’s opposition to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord that brought the NE
merger and the NE Provincial Council, and what was clearly his much more
deep seated opposition to the principle of devolution of power.
What is ignored, or deliberately hidden from the public is the fact
that Perumal, as the Chief Minister of the EPRLF led NE Provincial
Council, did raise the Sri Lankan National Flag in Trincomalee on the
first celebration of the anniversary of Independence on February 4,
after the NE PC was established.
This was the clear statement of his abandoning separation and
readiness to work within a single united Sri Lanka.
A study of the policies of the Premadasa/Wickremesinghe vis-a-vis the
NEPC will give the reason for Perumal’s frustration with the policies of
Colombo at the time, leading to his swan-song move of hoisting the Eelam
flag and the declaration of UDI before setting sail to India, beyond the
twilight of his functioning as Chief Minister.
The campaign of the UPFA - TMVP is based on the Government’s success
in driving the LTTE out of the East, whatever interpretation one may
give about its “liberation” of the province from the grip of the LTTE.
It is clear that there are persons who have reservations about the
“liberation of the East”.
Yet, the fact is that we did have free and fair elections to Local
Government bodies in Batticaloa, moving on to the provincial poll today,
where the Opposition is able to contest, albeit with their many
allegation of the absence of conditions for a free and fair poll.
Whether it was “by and large, free and fair” as most election
observers declare at the end of an election, one will have to await the
final result. This matter is also the subject of decisions by the
judiciary, as seen by the several petitions that seek the postponing of
the poll and several other forms of interim and permanent relief.
The UPFA makes a very strong case in its campaign based on the many
development programmes that have already been initiated in the East,
from infra-structure development, agricultural expansion, the building
of new schools and hospitals, the new opportunities for fisheries and
the opportunities now available for investment in the East. All this is
part of the New Dawn of the East or Negenahira Navodaya.
In the larger context, what today’s EP poll signifies is the
opportunity for the people of the province to manage their own affairs,
as best as possible under a new provincial council. That people who did
not have this right, enjoyed by all others (except those in the North,
too) since 1988, can now benefit is the message at the core of the
liberation of the East.
The absence of LTTE involvement in this election, which is noted by
all observers and analysts, both local and foreign, is the hope that
this election offers to all of Sri Lanka.
Contrary to the utterances of some diplomats and questionable pundits
it is now evident that the LTTE can be defeated, although this does not
mean a military solution to Sri Lanka’s crisis. What is important is how
we can move forward in restoring democracy and normalcy to areas that
are still control of the LTTE’s guns.
If this election in the Eastern Province begins to show the way for
this, it will indeed be a great liberation. It will be the dawning of a
new freedom for all of Sri Lanka.