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News Features


Muslims and Tamils are polls apart

Text and pictures by Wilson Gnanadass in the East
Precisely six days from today, the masses in the Eastern Province (EP) will go to the polls.
With this election, the EP will see its second Chief Minister (CM) elected by its people. The first CM – Varadarajah Perumal, was elected in November 1988, after the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, but the Council survived only for a year.

The following year, Perumal made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and fled to India. Since then, the province has not had a proper political administration.

And, for the first time since 1988, under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the easterners have been given an opportunity to exercise their franchise and elect their own CM and their provincial administration.

Serious questions are raised whether people in the east would be allowed to exercise the rights they have been deprived of for several years, in a proper and meaningful manner, given the present ground situation.

The May 10 election will be a decisive one. Political analysts and experts from the east strongly predict a polarisation of the communities. They believe that, this election could lead to a division between the Tamil and the Muslim communities, as the race today, is not only for the installation of either the UNP or the SLFP government but also, for the election of either a Tamil or a Muslim CM.

The Muslims are expected to cast their votes for the Muslim chief ministerial candidate, while the Tamils are expected to vote for the Tamil chief ministerial candidate.

A large number of Tamils in the province feel that, a Muslim at the helm of the Provincial Council (PC), would affect their livelihood, as they could be easily overlooked. They feel that, this could be the best opportunity for the Muslims to take sweet revenge against the Tamils, for the atrocities caused to the Muslims by the LTTE, way back in 1990.

Meanwhile, the Muslims, in general, feel that the east belongs to them. They are of the opinion that, of the nine provinces, seven are predominantly Sinhalese, and one (the north) will definitely be under a Tamil leadership, the Muslims have a right to hold at least the EP under their control.

Indecisiveness

The people, as a whole, in the east have no clue about the forthcoming provincial poll. This is an indication that the easterners were not prepared for an election, though the political parties were.
In this backdrop, there was a clarion call in Trincomalee last week by religious dignitaries, for unity, amity and negotiations for a speedy settlement of the ethnic conflict.

The Club Oceanic hotel in Trincomalee was filled to capacity with local and foreign clergy participating at the International Conference of Religious Leaders, organised by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka and the National Conference of Religions for Peace.

The distinguished participants were the supreme patriarch of the Kingdom of Cambodia His Holiness Tep Vong, Bishop Emeritus of Oslo and former Vice Chairman, Nobel Peace Prize Committee Gunnar J. Stalsett and the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ms. Ela Gandhi.

In unison, they called upon the Sri Lankan Government to look at other options, leaving behind the present one, to fight.
They emphasised on the conversion of hearts and minds from war to peace, tranquility and normalcy.

While the world’s religious leaders were focusing on the need for Sri Lanka to unite and immediately suspend all forms of violence, back in the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps in Trincomalee, youths were being picked up by unidentified men in white vans.

Horror-struck

The Hindu Cultural Hall, in the heart of Trincomalee, houses nearly 70 families displaced from the war.
For those languishing in the camp, the May 10 election does not interest them. To them, it is an event to further strengthen the politicians and weaken the already impoverished people.

Voting nor not, was not their concern, but the quick release of two youths abducted last week was their main concern.
S. Santhirakumar (27) and K. Kaleeban (22), both from Mutur, were inmates of the camp. Suddenly, they were taken away by Army personnel about two weeks ago and since then, there has not been any information of their whereabouts.

For the deputy leader of the camp S. Sasika Malar (27), mother of three, this is an opportunity to cast their protest vote against the government, at the May 10 poll.

“Unless these two men are released, we will not participate at the poll. We have decided to abstain from the poll or vote against the government,” Malar warned.

R. Palmathy (51) mother of six, also has similar issues. Her son, Ranasingham Premaraj (28), was abducted by men in a white van, around 5:00 pm on April 9. Premaraj had been abducted in Linganagar in Trincomalee, near a Protestant Church. The men in the white van had caught Premaraj, blindfolded him and whisked him away.
“I want my son. I want my son. Please release him,” were Palmathy’s humble appeal.

Refugees suffer

Back in Batticaloa, violence against women continues unabated. Two weeks ago, the police found a two-month-pregnant woman’s body from a shrub in Murugan Kovil Road, Thethativu, in the Kaluwanchikudi division.

In the same division, there have been reports of several disappearances in the last two months, where the victims are mostly women. Almost two-months-ago, the police recovered six bodies in Kiran Kulam in the Kaluwanchikudi division.

Though several complaints had been lodged with the local police, todate, no action has been taken or any arrests made in this connection.

People of these areas question the necessity of an election, when the government is unable to maintain law and order.
Besides, in some of the refugee camps in Batticaloa, most of the refugees are virtually starving due to a severe shortage of food supply.

The refugees languishing in the Manchanthoduwai Manpower camp and the Sinhala Maha Vidyalaya camp in the Manmunai North DS division, are virtually starving.

Most of the people living in these camps are from Trincomalee. They were sent to Trincomalee by the armed forces, but as the environment was not conducive to live there, they had returned to Batticaloa. Therefore, The Nation reliably learns that, the Grama Niladharis of these two areas had decided not to supply food to these refugees – an action contrary to the international safeguards on refugees. Senior officials of the Batticaloa Kachcheri confirmed to The Nation that, according to the law, whoever lives in a camp, must be provided with food and water.

Outraged by the government’s inaction to the many atrocities caused especially to the innocent refugees, most wonder whether it is worth casting their votes to the UPFA.

UPFA still on top
As refugees dispensed their woes and apprehensions, the majority of the easterners were of the opinion that, despite the present security situation, it was President Rajapaksa who could defeat terrorism and bring under government control, all the areas captured by the LTTE.

A section of the Muslims felt that a UNP led Muslim CM could become subject to LTTE pressure and thereby, become submissive to LTTE directives and orders. Their fear of a Muslim CM dictated to by the UNP, was therefore, aggravated due to the fact that LTTE could easily have an indirect control of such a CM.
Former SLMC stalwart M.L.A.M. Hisbullah was, therefore, portrayed as ‘the man’ to lay to rest, all such conspiracies and fears.
Meanwhile, the Tamils said that a CM under the UNP-SLMC, could further weaken their stake in the EP, and this could perhaps set the stage for a Muslim dominated east under the guidance of the LTTE.

They, therefore, felt that, Pillaiyan was the best choice, even if he lacked knowledge and expertise to run a provincial government.
They believed that, Pillaiyan, under the guidance of President Rajapaksa, could soon fall in line with mainstream democracy, thus leaving behind the arms culture. Different schools of thought continue to prevail in the east, with PC elections just round the corner.

Polarisation
A real danger is the polarisation of the Tamil and Muslim communities, according to several civil society members and political forecasters.

The race for the same position, by two powerful communities in the region, is likely to bring a division at the end of the day, according to them.

Both SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem and TMVP leader Pillaiyan have refuted such claims by civil society.
The race, in this election, is not only for the political parties to establish their hegemony over the other, but also, for both communities to ensure domination of the other.

Several experts The Nation spoke to, confirmed that this election would lead to the polarisation of the Tamils and the Muslims. “This will divide the communities further. The voting is going to be on the Tamil, Muslim line,” they observed.

While political analysts pointed out to a possible polarisation of the Tamil and the Muslim communities, the moderate Tamils in the east, complained of the lack of choices they have in this election, to freely and confidently cast their votes.

Most of the Tamils admitted that the candidates fielded by the TMVP were no match to the experienced SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem. “The option for people like us is less from the Tamil side. The SLMC- UNP has powerful leaders while the TMVP has not shown that kind of prowess. But, ultimately, our support will be to the UPFA. Because, on the one hand, we want President Rajapaksa to continue to crush the LTTE, and on the other, we want to see a Tamil CM,” they pointed out.

Conspiracy
Serious questions are raised as to whether a conspiracy has been hatched within the armed forces to ridicule the Rajapaksa administration.

It is widely alleged that kidnappings, killings and rapes are orchestrated by a few members of the Special Task Force (STF), a creation of the former UNP government. Hence, some believe that a few elements within the STF, loyal to the UNP, are vigorously engaged in a campaign against the present government, thereby, to weaken it and bring discredit upon the regime.The truth, however, will leak soon and the culprits exposed to the public fast. The election is not going to be ‘a walk in the park’ for either the UPFA or the UNP. The UPFA vote base is divided. People in the urban areas are likely to vote for former Batticaloa Government Agent (GA) Mauna Guruswamy, while people living in the newly captured areas will vote for Pillaiyan.

While the Tamil votes are certain to be divided, the Muslims supporting the UPFA, are likely to vote for Hisbullah. In this milieu, the vote bank of the UPFA is also likely to be wobbly.

Conversely, the Tamils supporting the UNP have lost their choice to vote for a Tamil. Though they support the UNP, they, however, do not wish to see a Muslim CM.

Many Tamil UNP supporters indicated that their final option perhaps may be to strengthen the hands of Pillaiyan, in the absence of a strong Tamil candidate within the UNP.

There are two leading contenders contesting within the UNP -Navaratnarajah Varadan, son of a former UNP electoral organiser and P. Parasuraman, former divisional education director. It is not certain whether they could muster the support of the Tamils, due to lack of recognition among Tamils in the east.

A threat to these two candidates is M.A.M. Maharoof, popularly known as Sinna Maharoof, who was also a former UNP Member of Parliament. He has been a friend of the Tamils for the past 20-years.

A rivalry within the UNP-SLMC alliance has, therefore, arisen, with Maharoof overtly expressing apprehension over Hakeem’s victory.

End Result

The final outcome will be decisive. It is difficult to predict who will win the election, following factions found within almost all the political parties.
It is also predicted that nobody could win the election with a comfortable majority to dominate the eastern administration.

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