It election time again in Sri Lanka. Late on Wednesday night, the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Province Councils were dissolved. The Northern Province continues to be the only one without an elected council.
Elections to these three provincial councils are likely to be held in August, after a notification and a 45-day campaign. The most important of these elections will be in the Eastern Province, which has the only Tamil Chief Minister outside Tamil Nadu, Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan alias Pillaiyan, a former LTTE child soldier. “There are 10 more months for my term of office to end. But I am sure people will bring us back with a thumping majority. I was for dissolving the Council and going for fresh elections…I leave the post of Chief Minister with great satisfaction,” said Mr. Santhirakanthan, in his first interview after the news of the dissolution was announced.
“We have proved to the world that all communities can live together in peace and harmony, without any fear. This I consider my greatest achievement,” said Mr. Santhirakanthan, who assumed office in mid-2008. His party, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal, has seven seats in the out-going Council. “I was able to show the people of the Province that we were not talking one thing and doing another. If Eastern Province has progressed so much, in such a short time, I think we can genuinely take credit for it,” he added.
He said that when the council came into being, East was firmly at the bottom of all indicators. “See where we are now. The funding from foreign countries, including India, came because we were keen on making sure that we use the funds for the greatest benefit of the people. Many hundreds have benefitted from the schemes that are in operation here,” he added. His party will be part of the ruling UPFA in the elections.
The race begins:
The Eastern Province is Tamil-majority. Out of a population of 1.6 million, about 900,000 are voters. Tamils account for 41 per cent of the voters; Tamil Muslims, who crave a separate identity for themselves, constitute about 38 per cent. The remaining — a minority — is Sinhalese. But Muslims, with their strategic voting, always account for a large number of seats in the 35-member provincial council.
“Muslims will show up at the booth, unlike Tamils,” says Mr. Santhirakanthan. Despite the fact that there are minor political parties that the Muslims of each region owe allegiance to, they stand together when it comes to an election. This is not the case with the Tamils. While Mr. Santhirakanthan is confident that he will bargain for his seven seats and win all of those, it is a fact that he and his one-time close associate, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, are at loggerheads. And they are not the only ones after the Tamil voter.
The most significant of the groupings is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the only credible representative of the Tamil people of the Northern Province. The largest constituent of the TNA, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi held its recent convention in Batticaloa, the biggest town in the Eastern Province, to serve notice of its intentions. The TNA could win almost all the Tamil area seats if it is able to communicate with persuasion that it is not merely a party of the Northern Tamils.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s chief organiser for Batticaloa, Arun Tambimuttu, feels that the SLFP-led UPFA will again sweep the polls in the province. “We did a study with the Eastern University and found that 76,000 Tamils from the Batticaloa region, who are in the electoral rolls, are abroad. In fact, even my dad, Sam Tambimuttu, who was assassinated by the LTTE, is also in the list,” he added. The number of Tamils is much lesser than what the voter list has, he asserted. That could pave the way for a Muslim to become the first Tamil Chief Minister worldwide.