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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Batticaloa Elections: Rejecting CFA, ISGA and P-TOMS

Dr Susantha Goonatilake

The Batticaloa District Local Government elections were a strong indicator that after nearly 35 years of the ethnic war, life was returning to normalcy to an area that had missed it. Given the right circumstances, the Batticaloa District and the Eastern Province in general should now progress rapidly. The region could become as the Western Province - having both high growth rates and multiculturalism.

Fifty six per cent of the voters had cast their ballots for the nine local bodies. This figure is somewhat lower than the usual higher rates for Sri Lanka. But compared to the United States where only 64% voted in its 2004 presidential election, and 60% in its 2000 election, this was good especially for an area traumatized for decades by the LTTE. The Election Commissioner and many others declared that there were no serious violations. There was also no significant rigging or post election violence.

The LTTE was however a hidden non-actor. The anti-LTTE armed Karuna groups' proxy TMVP had come to an agreement with the UPFA. The Karuna group had had at least an informal relationship with the UPFA government in the successful campaign which militarily defeated the LTTE. The UNP, absent in this election, had in contrast earlier signed a CFA with the LTTE giving them near sovereign rights. The other absent group in the election, the TNA had a much closer link with the LTTE. It had come to Parliament because other groups had been silenced by the LTTE. The SLMC on its part had once signed a separate agreement with Prabahakaran.

The TMVP got 72 seats in this election from a total of 101 and received 60% of the votes. Coming a distant second was the SLMC with a total of seven seats. In 1994 SLMC had got six seats.

In the 1994 local government elections the UNP had got 16 seats, while the Tamil Independent Group got 79. In the 2005 Presidential Elections the Eastern Province had voted overwhelmingly for Ranil Wickremasinghe with 118,000 votes compared to 24,000 votes cast for Mahinda Rajapakse. In refusing to contest, the UNP had made a major mistake. This disastrous decision was later regretted by S.B. Dissanayake. The UNP was now back tracking on the boycott as it prepares itself for the Provincial Council elections

The composition of the newly elected Batticaloa Council is instructive. The incoming Mayor of Batticaloa Prabhakaran Sivageetha, who was heard speaking Sinhala on TV, was the daughter of a politician assassinated by the LTTE. Another elected member is the son of another TNA supporter killed by the LTTE. Another was a brother of a person assassinated by the EPRLF in 1988. All, victims of separatism’s fall out.

A Vote for Multicultural Development?

The Mayor Designate Sivageetha in an interview with the /Sunday Times /did not speak of ethnic politics in the way for example the SLMC did during the time of Chandrika when it was part of her government. She spoke only of development. She admitted freely that she had already been in touch with key personalities and departments of the government. In just a few days, she had obtained development proposals from 11 departments. The fish in the Batticaloa lagoon could perhaps sing again.

The primary reason for the relative lack of development in the Eastern Province and the Northern Province was because the LTTE prevented the development providers from the government to operate freely. There was no ingrained animosity to the area from ordinary people as was so vividly seen in the aftermath of the tsunami on the Eastern coast. The very Buddhist temples that had been attacked by the LTTE rushed in immediately after the tsunami with their help. And soon after, lorry loads of goods and well-wishers from the South poured in, while thousands of volunteers sponsored by the JVP camped out in the area for a few months.

The years of war have seen major demographic shifts in the Eastern Province including a drop in the population. What is now urgently required is a proper census under strict government supervision. The Eastern Province has seen ethnic enclaves of Tamils and Muslims building up over the years along the coast suspicious of, and sandwiched between, each other. The Sinhalese who once for example had many shops in some of the Eastern towns like Akkaraipattu had been squeezed out in the process. This had also happened to some of the rice cultivators, for example along the Akkaraipattu road towards Ampara where I was told the original Sinhalese allottees of the Gal Oya scheme had gone, illegally selling their properties to Muslims.

The Tamils and the Muslims who fled the Eastern Province and did not go abroad live today integrated lives in the Western Province especially in its Colombo suburbs. The same multi-ethnicity that was there a few decades before in the Eastern Province should now be restored giving incentives to those that fled to return. This would be like the government compensating for those affected by the 1983 riots.

Most of the voting in the Batticaloa District was probably by ethnicity and religion. This election result should not be seen as a simple continuation of ethnic politics. We must ensure that multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism prevails. Past history could be a guide.

Most of the groups trained by India and sent to Sri Lanka in its proxy war in the early 1980s such as EPRLF, PLOTE, EPDP, EROS had already given up arms. These, partly for their very survival from the LTTE, generally support whatever government is in power. This would be similar to the Up Country areas where the CWC joins whatever government irrespective of the governing party label in order to get benefits. The present emergence of the TMVP would continue this trend. They would be clients of the government whatever the latter’s party composition would be. Significantly, all the newly elected members came to Colombo to have their swearing-in ceremony in front of the country's President.

Today's situation is also a far cry from the first North-Eastern Province government drawn up by the Indians and imposed on Sri Lanka against her will under the so-called Indian Accord. One of the ministers of that Indian puppet government and once a vocal champion of separatism is now singing an entirely different tune as a vocal diplomat. We have gone a long way.

TMVP head Pillayan in an interview with the Daily Mirror was looking forward to "decentralization" of power at provincial level a significant departure from the NGO/FGO and the later, UNP refrain of "devolution". But he seems to be slipping back to bad authoritarianism when he spoke of being the "sole representative of the Eastern Province". His other comment, that he was looking forward to handing over power to the Tamil people the majority in the Eastern and Northern Provinces was still more ominous. It was traditional homelands back again. This would be like the Sinhalese saying that they were the majority in the whole country and that total power should be handed over to the Sinhalese. No single person or single ethnic group can claim this multicultural country or any part of it. Those that suggest are only inviting disaster for themselves. Even if a Big Brother might be putting suggestions into Pillayan’s mouth.

A Slap on ISGA, P-TOMS and NGOs

The peaceful elections owe themselves not to monitoring committees or to PAFFREL but to events that made the background for it. First was the clearing of the Eastern Province militarily and the second was the separation of the Northern Province from the Eastern Province by the Supreme Court (through a JVP case). Crucial was also the defeat of the conspiracy to hand over powers to an unelected LTTE through the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) and P-TOMS.

The election has given an elected real civil society, and concurrently a hearty slap on the ISGA and PTOMS. This raises questions of the future role of foreign funded NGOs, phony civil society props who had advocated the ISGA and PTOMS. Their past record in supporting the LTTE and its dictatorial system must now be recalled.

PAFFREL itself had supported and campaigned for both the ISGA and the PTOMS both of which would have handed over the region to the LTTE and denied the free vote that now took place. The current elections took place not because of PAFFREL’s activities but in spite of it. PAFFREL had lived a double life closely associated with groups that questioned Sri Lankan sovereignty.

PAFFREL is part of a heavily foreign funded interconnected nexus that included key officials in PAFFREL, the National Peace Council NPC, International Alert, and Centre for Policy Alternatives, MIRJE and Berghof (which wanted to downsize the very army that liberated the East). These groups have consciously targeted Sri Lankan sovereignty, often taking a pro-LTTE stand.

The National Peace Council whose secretary is PAFFREL’s Rodrigo had once participated in a march and rally of the Tigers in Geneva and spoken at the rally. The/ /rally ended "with [the LTTE] liberation song sung in chorus”. After the Indian Accord, Jehan Perera secretary of PAFFREL had threatened Sri Lanka with dire consequences from the Indian army. He has questioned the need for sovereignty and had called for “shared sovereignty” and “two near-states”. The NPC launched heavy propaganda for the ISGA which would have denied elections simply handing over the Eastern Province to the LTTE. It also lauded the then government in its attempt to create P-TOMS which would have carried the separatist project
further. When P-TOMS was suspended by courts the NPC advocated that the UNP and SLFP together accommodate P-TOMS. And PAFFREL claiming to be a guardian of free and fair elections had itself come out firmly for P-TOMS which would have prevented the present elections.

In March 2006, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum Muzami publicly accused PAFFREL of being "hand in glove with the LTTE ".

PAFFREL’s Rodrigo had falsely claimed, shortly after Anton Balasingham had done so, that there were Muslim armed groups in the Eastern Province and that the SLMC was in possession of firearms. The then IGP had denied both charges. Muzami noted that unlike the LTTE, the Muslims had "never resorted to armed struggle in spite of genocides and ethnic cleansing carried out by the LTTE". PAFFREL was putting "the lives of innocent Muslims in jeopardy". Muzami hinted that Rodrigo's statement could also be seen as pleasing foreign funders pointing out that PAFFREL had received US$1.4 million to monitor the last presidential elections and would receive more millions to monitor Local Government elections.

The LTTE may have been defeated militarily but those who campaigned for some of its undemocratic ends through well funded propaganda should not be allowed again to muddy the waters. All NGO money should now be channeled only through the newly elected members, real civil society.

- Asian Tribune -

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