|Let polls in
Jaffna be a benchmark for future
Weeks after the
government militarily crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), different battle lines are being drawn: local
government elections will be held for the Jaffna Municipal
Council and Vavuniya Urban Council.
The move is most welcome and will be seen as a significant
first step towards restoring peace, law and order and a
semblance of democracy in a region that for nearly three decades
was under the writ of the bullet rather than the ballot.
But more is at stake here rather than a mere local government
poll. In more ways than one, this election will serve as a
benchmark not only for future political events but also as a
gauge of the government’s commitment towards redressing the
grievances in the North.
It is true that defeating the LTTE was a singular achievement
for the government. It is a deed unparalleled in contemporary
Sri Lankan history and the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom
Alliance will reap political dividends as a result, especially
in the south of the country.
But this victory did come at a price: the Tiger propaganda
machine worked overtime to ensure that the government’s
commitment to human rights was called into question, however
unjustified those criticisms may be in the context of fighting a
war against the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the
The massive exodus of two hundred and fifty thousand people
in the aftermath of the endgame of the Eelam war meant that, the
government had yet another problem on its hands - a humanitarian
crisis of mega proportions, the kind of which it had never dealt
Even now, as the government tries desperately to grapple with
the many issues relating to the internally displaced persons,
its bona fides are being questioned, not only by Tiger
sympathisers, but also by an entire bloc of western nations and
It is in such a context that the local government polls will
be held in Jaffna and Vavuniya. Needless to say, the spotlight
will automatically focussed on these elections, not so much in
terms of its outcome but more about the manner in which it is
If there can be one criticism about the government’s course
of action following the final Eelam battle, it is that it has
not demonstrated enough, in concrete terms, its commitment to
seek a political solution to the grievances prevalent in the
North and East.
There appears to be some consensus that any future political
concessions will be centred around the 13th amendment but then
again, it is difficult to decipher a definite trend in this
direction - we see the likes of National Freedom Front leader
Wimal Weerawansa, an avowed articulator of the government’s
agenda claiming that the 13th amendment belongs nowhere but in
the dustbin of history.
It is in such a scenario that the Tamil community freed from
the clutches of the LTTE, are now finding their political feet.
It is important that they have a crutch to cling to and there
has been no tangible offer as yet, apart from a promise to
engineer a ‘homespun’ solution to their grievances.
Therefore, the polls in Jaffna and Vavuniya will in a sense
be a referendum on the government’s conduct towards the Tamil
community. If the ruling party finds that it cannot replicate
the successes it has had in the South of the country, it should
make the think tanks in the higher echelons of government think
That the Tamil polity has also still not got its act together
is obvious in the many factions that are seen vying for office
at the poll. Therefore, not only will the elections be a
popularity poll for the government, it will also be a litmus
test for the many Tamil political parties who are seeking to be
heard once again after decades of oppression by the LTTE.
Also of immense significance is the ground situation during
the polls. Provincial elections held in the recent past,
especially in the East, have led to allegations of intimidation
by armed groups although perhaps not to an extent that it would
alter the outcome of the poll.
The role of this gun culture in the North in the current
context is yet to be defined: until now the gun culture in this
region was defined by the LTTE and their agents. Now that the
LTTE as a fighting force is no more, many observers would expect
to see a free and fair poll. If that materialises, then the
government’s stock would rise not only in the eyes of the
international community but among the long suffering public in
the North as well.
Even for the mainstream opposition, largely represented by
the United National Party (UNP), the polls would be a welcome
diversion. Battered by successive election defeats in the South,
the UNP would attempt to regain some lost ground in the North,
as it sees itself as an entity that embraces all communities.
Whether this will, in fact, translate into votes for the premier
opposition party remains a pertinent question.
In more ways than one therefore, the local government polls
in Jaffna and Vavuniya assume a larger than life significance.
But we should rejoice at the very fact that elections are being
held at all in this region and that celebration would be that
much sweeter if the polls are conducted in a free and fair
manner enabling the election of a worthy winner, whoever that