Demographic Assimilation vs Democratic Accommodations: An analysis of Sri Lanka’s first post war election results

The first post war election results generates some serious propositions regarding the future of democracy in Sri Lanka in general, in the North East –once accepted as the traditional Thamil Provinces, in particular. After thirty years of suffering and paying the high cost of an abysmally bloody armed struggle and currently under a virtual (Sinhala) military rule, the residents of Jaffna Municipal Council have voted for the candidates of UPFA. UPFA represents the current Colombo government in power for the 14 years led by President Rajapakse who very successfully led a military campaign and annihilated the LTTE including once invincible Velupillai Pirapaharan, iconic symbol of Ethnic Thamil separatism, just three months ago. If elections are supposed to reflect the will of the demos in a democracy, then one may conclude that the people of Jaffna, the heartland of the Thamil Nation in Sri Lanka, have said that they agree, admire and want to strengthen the rule of H.E. Rajapakse and extend the same into their cultural and social capital. They prefer the rule of largely Sinhala government of UPFA, than to be represented by the Tamil National Alliance, the broader coalition of the Thamils of North East currently holding 22 seats in the national parliament and stands as a serious alternative between the ethno separatism and a subaltern political project. This is after an ignominious defeat of the LTTE, which even while its terror politics, was generally accepted as a symbol of Thamil Nationalism. Beside the fact that the turnover at the said election was a humiliating low level of 20 percent and the margin between the votes won by the government owned UPFA and a battered ITAK are a mere 11 percent or 2400 votes. (see http://www.slelections.gov.lk/localAuthorities/2009/) In a democratic sense one will have to agree with the outcome. The extremely trying and near laboratory control conditions under which the election was held are unworthy of any fruitful analysis as no independent journalist even if s/he was a Southern Sinhalese allowed to witness the process. The reason given was ‘security’, in an area where almost 50,000 armed SLA troops are positioned for the past several years. While simple logic may produce paradoxical paradigms, let us take the results on its own value and ponder on the future. Why was the GOSL keen to have its ruling arm extended even in Jaffna (where the Sinhala speaking population is said to be less than 1 per cent) instead of allowing a multiparty Thamil polity representation to win? Answers seem obvious yet, from an empirical context the results indicates deeper realities of the political approaches of GOSL, after their much celebrated military victory. These lines of thoughts are confirmed by a recent interview by H E Rajapakse. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SssQDQ6GW8c) Volumes are writing[1] to explain this type of state-building efforts and the results they produced on the long run. Why do states try to assimilate autonomy seeking minority nations under a single hegemony, than to accommodate them in a plurinational setting and share ruling power? Why do they extend militarized ruling to create mono national identities through cleansing of alternative (ethno) politics’?

To consolidate their ruling control and eliminate possible challenges
States engage in trans-planting their agents at power centers of alternative /peripheral and bargaining politics to consolidate their existing hegemonies. McGarry (1998) shows this as a systematic pattern in the post WW II Europe where large number of German speaking population and their remaining democratic politics were assimilated, replaced or simply expelled. The GOSL justifies its extensive further militarization of North East and the extremely slow/inactive process of the devolution debate with the theory that the war is till not over. Meanwhile as commentator B. Raman (see http://transcurrents.com)

shows, the state mechanism is busy in expelling once important concepts such as Federalism/Devolution or even the term ‘minority’. H E says there are no minorities in Sri Lanka (interviews above). Denial of such political realities and replacing them with rather context sensitive concepts such as ‘development’ is to redesign the demographic political order in a neo-nationalist, mono ethnic, state centric illeberalism. States continue this power garrison program by replacing traditional representative with ‘agents’ of the state while securitizing the alternatives as ‘enemies’ or friends of enemies’. This type of replacing and re-labeling has occurred in post war conditions in Russia, Turkey and Israel (see Connor 1984, Durham 1992) [The argument put forward by now sacked human rights ambassador of Sri Lanka Dr Jayathilake- that the election results of JMC does certify the leadership of Minister Devananda as the alternative leader of Thamil Nation (see transCurrent.com) is nothing but laughable. Simply because they fail to explain the state owned UPFA lose in Vavunia, where there was a higher turnout but a small voter base with more state control. There the ITRK with the combined opposition took nine out of the eleven seats or 82 per cent, leaving a mere 9 per cent for the UPFA)

To initiate projects aiming at replacing /altering future vote bases.
One of the customary footnotes by many neo- nationalists of the south is to argue that at present, a greater Thamil speaking population is living out side of North and East therefore the traditional Thamil area is a myth floated by the separatists. These statistics are thrown at almost every debate of recognizing the Thamil rights for autonomous rule. From a moderate D E W Gunasekara, Dr Amunugama to ultra nationalist Malinda Seneviratne often commence their explanations with these figures. Now why /how the demography of the North East was systematically altered from the days of Senanayake irrigation scheme is a fact statistically documented and analyzed. The aim then as it is now has been to dismiss the basis for a Thamil identity that empowers a polity to bargain with the centre. While natural and socio-economic migrations are very possible in a small island like SL, the drastic change is largely due to institutional and systemic (re)placements. While nearly 150,000 Muslims expelled by the LTTE in 1992, so as the over one million Thmils otherwise would have lived in the North East now makes the diaspora and the transnational refugee population. The attempt of the Colombo regimes are so power motivated to alter demography for votes. (Remember the disfranchise of 900,000 Indian Thamils by the first independent government of SL?) Beside the Baudhha Sithuvili of the JHU to name the streets of N/E with fallen Sinhala soldiers, Colombo had reported its interest in settling large number of ex-military, convicts, and other ‘buffer’ communities to encircle the Thamil population. There are numerous case studies from the contemporary world where ideologies had been replaced by altering of demographics. The case of the West bank offers such lessons (Benvenisti 1984 Blanke 1993, Kolstoe 1995).

3 Military victories are great times to recast a new state identity
Dismissing peripheral/alternative politics is always the first result of a military victory. As against a negotiated settlement, in a post victory situation there is only one power, one voice, one ideology. The necessity to become democratic, accountable or transparent is not required. These attempts are made so as to dissolve the difference in identity leading to a single state identity- often governed by the majority in the future. Making of ‘United Kingdom’ was such project in the history. These extensions come as a). Rewards to the military for their services, b). To harness the support of the ultra nationalist at future elections, c). To reward the nationalist ideology and to promote a culture around it and d). Further force the remaining alternative politics to withdraw, join or evacuate the political space.

The result of JMC shows the shadows of the blue print what the GOSL has in mind to offer to the Thamil nation. That fact being clear as the waters of Kalaawewa, the question that demands an answer is why the GOSL, representing the Sinhala nation, appears to be so insecure even after a surprising military victory? Is it the mere presence of the Thamil identity? Or memories of a history when the Sinhalese lost Anuradhapura to Thamil military powers? Are these insecurities mere postcolonial constructions? How do we deal them? I would argue that the responsibility of analyzing this ‘State Insecurity’ is a vital political engagement not just for the moderate Sinhalese but for every Thamil who wishes to see a united but democratic and multinational Sri Lanka. Because insecure states, be it Sri Lanka or Thamil Eelam can only generate bloody conflicts within and without as witness during the so called ’cold (but largely hot and bleeding) war’ era. How secure is an insecure state? Can the state of Lanka ever learn?


[1] There are books/reports on the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II (de Zayas 1989; 1994), Palestinians from Israel in 1948 (Morris 1987; 1994), Muslims from the Balkans in the late Ottoman period (McCarthy 1995) and Muslims from Bosnia in the early 1990s (Cigar 1995). There are also single case-studies which focus on internal relocations, such as that of Soviet minorities under Stalin (Conquest 1970; Nekrich 1978) or of Turkish Kurds in the 1990s (Human Rights Watch 1994b), and studies which examine the settlement of particular majority groups in minority regions (Newman 1991).

  • Aruna

    Author conveniently leaves out the fact that it was Tamil nationalism represented by the LTTE that was trying to create a mono-ethnic, Tamil-only homeland out of 60% of Sri Lanka’s coastline and 30% of the land area for less than 12% of the population. Many Tamils were cheering that racism on and continue to hold on to that racist dream.

  • Sinhala_Voice

    LET ME PUT THE THAMIL SEPARATIST PROJECT FORWARD::::::>>>>>

    This is WHY Federalism will NOT work in Sri Lanka
    as proposed by Tamils.

    {***********THIS IS BASED ON 1981 CENSUS STATISTICS}

    Point_1:

    [North+East total population]
    —————————– = 14.04%
    [Sri Lanka total population]

    Point_2:

    [North+East Tamil population]
    —————————— = 68.65%
    [North+East Total population]

    Ponit_3:

    [North+East Tamil population]
    —————————— = 9.64%
    [Sri Lanka Total population]

    Point_4:

    [Total Tamil population in Sri Lanka]
    ————————————– = 18.22%
    [Sri Lanka Total population]

    Point_5:

    IF ALL THE TAMILS IN SRI LANKA WERE TO LIVE IN THE NORTH+EAST GEOGRAPHY THEN:

    [North+East Tamil population]
    —————————— = 80.55%
    [North+East Total population]

    Point_6:

    UNDER CONDITION IN POINT_5 THE TOTAL POPULATION OF NORTH+EAST PROVINCES AS A % OF TOTAL SRI LANKA
    POPULATION:

    [North+East total population]
    —————————– = 22.62%
    [Sri Lanka total population]

    So in order for a democratic Tamil Majority government in North+East Provinces we have to theorectically satisfy the equation:

    [total non-tamil speakers]-1 < (0.5) {total tamil speakers} —(A)

    So as you can see there is an 77.38% to 22.62% spilt in the popualtion between
    the two units proposed. That is North+East provinces and what is remaining.
    Therefore, any migration of non-tamils that violates that above equation will allow non-Tamils to elect a non-Tamil majority government in the North+East provinces.

    This is viable or possible because there is internal migration possible within the federal state or so called UNITED COUNTRY.

    So how do you STOP this from happening ?

    Since the criterion for the creation of the North-Eastern state was the Thimpu Declaration this means that either:

    1.Migration restrictions needs to be applied to non-Tamils entering into the North-Eastern state so that Tamils are a permanent majority in North+Eastern provinces.

    2.Migration of Tamils from other parts of the world to balance the population imbalance in the North-East province compared to the Southern States so that Tamils are a permanent majority.

    As a consequence of the point number 1 the southern state will have to implement similar law prohibiting internal migration. This will lead to eventual virtual separation or further conflict and ethnic violence in one or both states. As a consequence of point number 2 this can endanger the very existence of other non-Tamil groups in the island. And it will violate central function in a federalist constitution which is emigration and immigration. If the North+East Province allows Tamils to migrate to the Northern+Eastern Province without the approval of the central or the other state government which makes up the federation.

    SO real democracy vs Demography in ACTION = Thamil separatism

  • http://panhinda-samaga.blogspot.com Migara

    //Now why /how the demography of the North East was systematically altered from the days of Senanayake irrigation scheme is a fact statistically documented and analyzed.

    Now you say that when a development project s underway with loans from international agencies only Tamils will be allowed to enjoy the results while 70% debt payed from the taxes from the Sinhalese? What ever development project let it be in N&E, Hambantota or in Colombo the settlements should be divided according to the population ratios.

  • rod fox

    the LTTE NEVER advocated a MONO-ethnic Tamil state… this is a lie by the sinhala nationalist

  • Sinhala_Voice

    rod fox BE HONEST the LTTE and other such separatists have the following agenda quite EXPLICITLY SPELT OUT IN THE THIMPU DECLARATION (1985)

    “It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the
    Tamil national question must be based on the following four cardinal principles:

    1. recognition of the Tamils of Ceylon as a nation
    2. recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils in Ceylon
    3. recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation
    4. recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils in Ceylon.”

    IT may be argued that LTTE did not want a MONETHNIC THAMIL state in Northern Province, Eastern Province and Puttalam District BUT THEY WANTED A THAMIL MAJORITY IN THOSE ABOVE MENTIONED AREAS INDEFINITELY. THEY WANTED MEASURES THAT WOULD ENSURE A PERMANENT THAMIL MAJORITY IN THOSE AREAS.

    HAVE THE SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT WHICH IS MADE OF SINHALA ETHNIC GROUP TAKEN SUCH ACTIONS ? To limit Tamil Movement in Sinhala Areas ?

    In fact the most MUTI-CULTURAL, MULTI-RELIGIOUS AREAS of SRI LANKA ARE THE AREAS WHERE SINHALA PEOPLE LIVE AS A MAJORITY.

    The so called Eelam areas are 90% Thamil majority areas. YOu have not shown the ability to be MULTI-CULTURAL, MULTI-RELIGIOUS, or Multi-Ethnic.

    So what are you talking about the LTTE NEVER wanted a MONO-ETHNIC STATE….????????

    OF COURSE THEY WANTED A MONOETHNIC THAMIL STATE OR A STATE WHERE THAMILS ARE ALWAY IN MAJORITY…..

    WHEN A MINORITY GROUP TAKES SUCH ACTION IT IS SIMPLY CALLED APARTHEID AS PRACTICED IN SOUTH AFRICA.

  • Das

    Those who were eligible to vote in the recently held elections in the north included (1) those who were displaced by the ‘high security zones’ & thereby lost their homes,lands & livelihoods and have not yet been resettled despite a supreme court ruling last year, and struggling to exist,(2) those displaced from the wanni at the commencement of the war & thus escaped the enclave where the war was fought during the last weeks of same, but lost their homes& lands,(3) those who grieve/worry about kith,kin & friends in the IDP camps, (4) those who have lost their livelihoods like fishing,farming,self empoloyment, businesses etc.,and (5) those who exist on funds sent to them periodically by relatives abroad. All these worry about their & their children’s future and thus were apathetic about voting. There was also a climate of fear and intimidation.Thus, this election did not decide the full acceptance of any of the parties who contested.
    Only 20% in jaffna and around 40% in wanni – of those eligible – voted. Independent election monitors reported much malpractice during the election.The result would have been different if (1) conducted by an independent Election Commission, or,(2) at least by a newly appointed Elections Commissioner ( the present commissioner had been found guilty & punished by the supreme court along with the then army commander for allowing the army to prevent thousands from voting in the eastern province in the December 2001 parliamentary election – and should have been retired ) and (3) if more than 50% of those eligible,had voted.
    The result of the southern election just concluded, has been more representative of the wishes of the people due to many less constraints than the nothern one, though some malpractices were reported.