Image courtesy The Sri Lanka Guardian

The TNA victory has shown that Sri Lanka remains a functioning democracy; that it functions when there is competition; and that with or without the 17th amendment and even under the tightest military supervision, the government can be electorally defeated.

Having won the war, the Government has lost the peace in the North (and earlier, parts of the East), while it continues to lead impressively in post-war politics in the more populous two- thirds of the island.

The TNA’s electoral tsunami has many dimensions and implications. The UNP’s meltdown is a far simpler matter. The TNA’s sweep denotes the resounding political and ideological defeat of the Government’s model of post war rule in the North. Paradoxically, the sweep was also possible because a war was fought to a finish against the Tigers, without which the democratic space would not have re-opened, elections could not have been held and the TNA candidates would have in all probability been assassinated.

When the post-revolutionary Sandinista government lost power in 1990, having won in 1984, it was said by analysts that the very fact that power could be transferred openly and peacefully to the Opposition for the first time in Nicaragua’s modern history, was itself a victory for the Nicaraguan Revolution. Similarly, the very holding of a Northern provincial council election in a peaceful and relatively free and fair manner, is a by-product of the war and the defeat of the Tigers by the Sri Lankan government, state and the armed forces.

It is true that the holding of the elections was due to external pressure and blandishments by India and Japan respectively. However, India itself could not hold an election in the North in 1988 and had to cobble together a joint slate. The first North-East provincial council was constituted through en election in only one province, the East. It was the decimation of the Tigers as a military force by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration that made the restoration of a competitive electoral process possible.

Thus the political picture in the overwhelmingly Tamil North is almost exactly what it was before the war. The clock has been put back many decades to the dominance of the Federal party or ITAK. However the degree of political dominance of the TNA is far higher than it ever was for the pre-war ITAK because of (i) the convergence that the TNA represents (ii) the elimination of many political currents by the LTTE’s policy of slaughter (one can only imagine an election in which the undiminished EPRLF, PLOT and TELO contested) and (iii) the unenlightened post-war model of rule installed by the regime.

So what of the morning after? The government and the TNA have to recognise the political reality unflinchingly. What is that reality? It is that both the North and South are politically and ideologically uni-polar. Tamil nationalism is here to stay and dominates the mood of the North, while Sinhala nationalism or more correctly populist nationalism dominates the South and is as durable. The Government’s model of rule has lost some considerable legitimacy in the North and has to change. The flip side is that the TNA and the Tamils in general have to grasp that the Rajapaksa administration and more especially President Rajapaksa himself (the campaign in the South was carried by a re-energised Mahinda Rajapaksa) is the only game in town for the foreseeable future.

The TNA and the Government must find a modus-vivendi, a way to co-exist. The government must not place the TNA administration under siege and must instead try to help it evolve in a more constructive and moderate direction, softening it up rather than permitting radicalism and political militancy to influence it from within and without. The Government must recognise that the shift in the centre of gravity of Tamil politics from the Diaspora and Tamil Nadu to the TNA and the Northern Council is a positive thing. The government must also realise that the best deal available is that which can be cut with the TNA and that behind and beyond the TNA lie the weight of 80 million Tamils as well as the influence they carry in India and the West.

The TNA for its part must understand that its main interlocutor is in Colombo; that the Northern Council must not be seen as a beachhead for pan-Tamil nationalist politics, least of all of a secessionist project. The TNA must not regard itself or the Council as equal negotiating partners in a bilateral discussion between two countries, or one country and another in waiting. The realities of the government’s – and more especially the President’s –undiminished popularity in the vastly more populous two thirds of the island as well as the strength and presence of the armed forces – which, in a heightened perception of threat can always be expanded up to the 300,000 mark which Gen Fonseka had argued for and Mahinda Rajapaksa had turned down in the immediate aftermath of the war.

The Northern vote has politically and psychologically altered the post-war balance. It has re-empowered the Tamils. This is a therapeutic and almost inevitable re-balancing. The Government must recognise and respect the new equilibrium. However, the Tamil side must understand that none of this means that the massive historical reality of a decisive military defeat in a protracted war has been reversed.   In terms of power, that victory remains and constitutes the dominant reality.

The pro-Prabhakaran, pro-Tiger political rhetoric that marked and marred the TNA’s electoral campaign imposes limits on the possible. It has re-awakened memories and provided a glimpse into the project of pan-Tamil nationalist politics and the Tamil nationalist mindset.  No state can be unaffected by this revelation. The invocation of Prabhakaran’s ghost has a real-world political price tag. No leader whose popularity and legitimacy derives not only from his manifest appeal among the Sinhalese majority but his achievement in defeating the Tigers, is going to kiss and make up with the TNA on the morning after. A chill will have set in between Jaffna and Colombo; South and North.

At this stage of history, no political discussion can involve the transcendence of the 13th amendment. All effort has to be on the implementation of the amendment. The absence of trust probably means that this implementation will be graduated. Having proved its electoral strength the TNA must not try to fast track the macro-political process which will prove even more contentious after the political ‘holographic projection’ of Prabhakaran than it was before. There is much to be done in the form of consolidation and development at the local level, within the space available. If that space is under siege the effort must be to stretch it to its constitutional limit and not beyond. There are two modes that present themselves before the TNA in a politico-existential choice. One is the ‘capillary’ or ‘molecular’ mode of evolutionary change through gradualism and incrementalism. The other is that of nationalist take-off, fuelled by hyper-inflationary rhetoric.

The government has two choices as well: a Cold war and an institutional siege of the Northern PC or a lucidly Realist combination of constructive engagement and containment. The government must recognise that the newly elected Council has great legitimacy externally.

Both the government and the TNA have to build bridges to each other. Both have also to discern the red lines. If the government seeks to dismantle the 13th amendment, it will cross a red-line drawn by India and the West. While the TNA’s discourse is its own business (just as anyone’s dreams are their own), if it tries to translate it into political action and push for ‘the right of self determination’ (qualified as ‘internal’ as Anton Balasingham used to), federalism or the transfer of powers beyond the 13th amendment, it will cross a red-line drawn by the Sri Lankan state, the Sinhala people and the armed forces.  The South resisted the PTOMS and the ISGA proposals when its collective back was to the wall. It will not countenance any attempt on the part of the TNA to conduct itself as if the Northern PC were the ISGA or the PTOMS.

The Sri Lankan state contained Tamil nationalism by defeating the Tigers and is in turn, now politically contained by the international order as well as the Tamil political resurgence. The international community and most especially India must be aware that both Sinhala and Tamil nationalism must be contained. A perceived tilt of the world system towards the Sri Lankan state has now been corrected, but the external players must not encourage a perception of a tilt to Tamil nationalism which has not succeed in kicking the secessionist temptation.

However strong the pan-Tamil cause is externally and whatever external pressures may be brought to bear, the vote for the UPFA and for Fonseka’s DP reveals enough of a support base for protracted military resistance, with or without Mahinda Rajapaksa, to any roll-back of the verdict of May 2009. This collective emotion which is no less tenacious than that of the Tamils and has an enormous demographic advantage on the ground is also a reality and must be recognised if Sri Lanka is not to become another Egypt or Syria someday (with an important difference—the Sri Lankan armed forces aren’t secular; they are the Buddhist Brotherhood).

The vote in the far less strategically significant but far more populous North Western and Central provinces present a clear and less complex picture. The popularity of the UPFA– read Mahinda Rajapaksa—hovers around 60% while that of the main democratic Opposition as led by Ranil Wickremesinghe averages out in the high 20% range, failing to cross 30%. The TNA and the international community must know that it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa who can deliver anything like peaceful coexistence between North and South, between the Sinhalese and Tamils. Any alternative will come from within the system, will be backed by the military and be far more hawkish.

At a Presidential election which is a popularity contest between Mahinda and Ranil, the figure for the incumbent may rise while that of the challenger/competitor/the other guy will drop below the percentage obtained at these provincial elections, not least because every defeat has a knock-on effect. The spectre of a Chandrika comeback or proxy candidacy of her son is rendered silly because the 35%-40% gap between Mahinda and Ranil cannot be bridged or significantly affected by any such aspirant spoiler.

The emergence of General Fonseka’s Democratic Party as the third force in the South i.e. among the Sinhalese, shows that the last war remains the source of legitimacy and conversely illegitimacy among the Sinhalese (with Ranil being de-legitimised by definition). It also shows the ideological direction in which discontent and dissent are flowing—towards a leadership which is rooted in the military victory of 2009 and represents a tougher minded Rajapaksa-ist nationalism without the family factor. This indicates the kind of leader and candidate the UNP must pick and the direction in which the party must shift. It must pick a new leader before this year is out if it is not to lose more votes to the UPFA and the DP. It is an imperative to avoid irrevocable electoral extinction and the resultant long duration degeneration of Sri Lanka from democracy to something else.

  • mahinda

    For once, i’m happy the groundviews is there.

  • Dev

    while Sinhala nationalism or more correctly populist nationalism dominates the South and is as durable. ????

    why is “Sinhala nationalism” … more correctly “populist nationalism”?

  • Sarath Fernando


    Your opening statement is “The TNA victory has shown that Sri Lanka remains a
    functioning democracy.”

    It isn’t even a few weeks since you so vociferously declared in all your wisdom that SL governance is showing “a latent totalitarian thrust with some form of ruthless, brutal militaristic rule” and painted the President as impotent “ being transformed into a quasi-ceremonial president; a mere electoral machine; an industrial strength vacuum-cleaner of votes.“

    Your shameless shifting of hues and colours would make even the most gaudy of
    the lizards, the Chameleons, blush!

    [Edited out]

  • kali

    Please don’t try to Patronise us as it was made to function only after pressure was applied by international
    community. Without the pressure MR had no intention of giving the Tamils the opportunity to exercise their
    democratic rights and it has backfired on MR.

    • Off the Cuff

      How unfortunate that this “pressure” remained totally impotent for 30 years!
      Did that impotency have anything to do with fear of the murderous Prabhakaran?

      • Sarath Fernando

        No – the “pressure” was contained by the fallacies spread by Dayan, Tamara, and
        Rajiva trio, and the respect that the Internationals paid in recognition of their academic background, little realizing their penchant for [Edited out]. Now that their canards have found their inevitable exposure, the internationals are increasingly appreciating the difficulties imposed on a subjugated society, not only before the war, but even thereafter. The recent profuse writhing and ranting of Dayan and Rajiva in the Media attest to their discomfort in finding themselves “neither-here-nor-there”.

        • Off the Cuff

          Kali and Sarath,

          Sarath says that for 30 years there was no pressure from the International Community on Prabhakaran, demanding for democracy, in the North and East, by holding elections and easing on the Jack Boots with which he was Subjugating the Northern and Eastern Tamils and Muslims, that he ruled ruthlessly, thanks to the Dayan Trio, who contained that pressure on behalf of Prabahkaran (these guys and gals must be super rich by now).

          Is it the reason that Prabhakaran was able to avoid elections for 30 years?
          Is that why the UN and the Internationals were absolutely helpless and totally impotent in
          dealing with the many tens of thousands child soldiers?

          Of course the Tamils, Muslims and the Sinhalese who lived and died under his jackboot was not a subjugated society but an emancipated one as per Sarath!

          • Koththamalli

            If off the cuff thinks “this “pressure” remained totally impotent for 30 years” he must have been living under rock that is much bigger than his tiny brain. Here are some facts about the ‘pressure’ for his benefit.

            The LTTE suffered huge loses at the hands of the IPKF , lost control of all territory they previously controlled and were largely confined to jungles in the late 1980s, It took a huge injection of arms , money and vehicles courtesy of then President Premadasa to
            bring them back to life as an effective force.

            LTTE came under sever pressure with regards to child soldiers
            Amid international pressure, LTTE announced in July 2003 that it would
            stop conscripting child soldiers, but both UNICEF and HRW have accused
            it of reneging on its promises, and of conscripting Tamil children
            orphaned by the tsunami. UNICEF claimed that LTTE recruited at least 40
            children orphaned by the Tsunami. However, from the start of 2007 LTTE agreed to release all of the recruits under the age of 18.

            LTTE announced in July 2003 that it would stop conscripting child
            soldiers, but both UNICEF and HRW have accused it of reneging on its

            It as banned in many countries and their financial network was crippled as a result, contributing to their final defeat. 32 countries have listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. As of January 2009, these include.

            As more and more countries began to perceive the LTTE as a terrorist outfit instead of a band of freedom fighters, Sri Lanka began to enjoy sophisticated military assistance. For example intelligence information from American satellites

            One turning point in the war came when the Sri Lankan navy was able to
            sink these Tiger supply ships: “Between 2006 and 2008 we destroyed 12 of
            these floating armouries.” What made this possible? “The Americans were
            very, very helpful. Most of the locations of these ships were given to
            us by the Americans,” Rajapaksa told Greg Sheridan of ‘The Australian’


            It is these pressures that really destroyed the LTTE, not the cleverness of our great king Rajapakse and his bothers as some would like to believe.

          • Sarath Fernando

            Truly appreciate your detailed observation. Thank you.
            I might add that there is even more – If LTTE was that ruthlless and was predisposed to aimless killing, can someone explain why they were wanted to be so impeccably surgical in their operation that was aimed at destroying Katunayake air facilities. Or, the attack at Anuradhapura air-force/army camp.
            What made LTTE remain apprehensive and unwilling was the fact that despite LTTE conceding their past blunders and correcting their ways, the Government contuinued to dupe every one relentlessly using the excuse of previous crimes just so that they could continue to avoid addressing the real issues for the Tamils.
            Until the Sinhala population is able to see through the canards of the regime and it’s professional “protectors,” the country has no hope of recovery.
            As for Off-the-cuff, I guess as the name implies – his comments are made without much, if any, fore-thought – so, don’t take him seriously.

          • Off the Cuff

            Koththamalli, Sarath and Kali,

            Kali contended “it was made to function only after pressure was applied by international community.” The “it” that Kali refers to is democracy.

            This is reinforced by his subsequent assertion “Without the pressure MR had no intention of giving the Tamils the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights”

            Since Koththamalli is more intelligent than me and has a bigger brain to attest to it, he should not have any difficulty in recognising the above.

            As per Kali, the “Pressure” that he adduces to, sought a result of establishing Democracy and according to him, achieved it after the war. My comment builds on that
            assertion of Kali and questions him as to why this self same “pressure” failed to establish democracy in the Prabhakaran ruled North and East for 30 years.

            Sarath in his wisdom asserts that Dayan, Rajiv and the Tamil lady diplomat, Tamara Kunakanayagam contained that pressure on behalf of Prabhakaran and prevented the
            establishment of Democracy under Prabhakaran.

            Koththamalli on the other hand completely avoids the issue of democracy and tries to draw many Red Herrings to divert attention from the actual argument. He asserts that the war was won due to these pressures and not because the SL forces fought a war. But these are irrelevant to the argument whether it was indeed the “pressure” that was impotent against the LTTE which suddenly became potent and brought Democracy to the North after the war.

            The Truth is a bit of Venivalgeta (a very bitter medicine usually administered as a decoction with Koththamalli) to those who became disillusioned when the invincible
            Prabhakaran finally met an ignominious end at Nanthikadal. BTW Koththamalli, according to the UN, Prabhakaran forcibly recruited at least 200 children per month in the closing stages of the war not withstanding the “pressure” (please refer Mr Aquilar of the UN in SL, who disclosed this during an interview with BBC’s Hardtalk)

            Now lets get back to the main issue. Did the “Pressure” Kali refers to succeeded in establishing Democracy in the Prabhakaran Ruled North and the East during his 3
            decade rule? Only the blind and illiterates would answer in the affirmative. This then means that the pressure was IMPOTENT against Prabhakaran.

            Sarath, though you grasped the lifeline thrown at you by Koththamalli with glee, it has turned out to be nothing but a straw. Without delving on my pseudonym which was
            carefully chosen by me, you would be better advised to take your own advise and think before you write. Else you would be certain to commit more silly gaffs than writing on a public forum about how Tamara, Dayan and Rajiv protected Prabhakaran!

          • Sarath Fernando

            Off the Cuff – Try one more time.

            Kali: Without the pressure MR had no intention of giving the Tamils the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights and it has backfired on MR.

            Off the Cuff: How unfortunate that this “pressure” remained totally impotent for 30 years!

            Sarath: No – the pressure was contained by the fallacies spread by Dayan, Tamara, and Rajiva trio.

  • J Fernando

    @off the cuff
    The preoccupation with spreading your version “Sinhala Buddhist” racism has clouded your ability to comprehend what the 30 years referred to. hopefully the readers did.

  • Sarath Fernando


    Leaving aside your convenient and continued presumptions about the Tamil’s view of LTTE to suit your own arguments, note that LTTE was an unelected, rebellion group that over time turned terroristic, and was consequently banned. I can understand that international pressure can be imposed to get the LTTE to do several things, such as de-band, give-up, reform, assimilate, and any such. And indeed pressure was applied via various initiatives(negotiations, banning activities abroad, restrictions on travel, fund raising and others, arm supply prohibitions to name a few.) But, it is beyond my comprehension how International pressure can be applied on that banned, rebel group to provide democracy.

    That, and the assumption that the argument was merely an Off-the-cuff comment were behind my dismissal of your manipulation of the argument.

    My pre-occupation is with quacks and pseudo-intellectuals who are “indiscriminate voluntary vendors of skills, if the price is right” (I had to coin something in view of GV’s aversion to anything that may sound vulgar or uncouth, even if it is a legitimate word that has multiple, alternate meanings). My pre-occupation is because such self-serving “intelligence” by the quacks has the propensity to lead to grave consequences to the society at-large.
    Dayan’s lament after the cancer spread to Weliverya is an excellent example, given that Dayan himself provided more than a helping hand for the on-set of the malady.

    Unfortunately, on a preponderance-count Dayan ranked pretty high in the quack-intelligence submissions, and the consequence is that it led you to believe my pre-occupation targeted one specific individual – you could not be more wrong.

    While on the subject of pre-occupation – I guess it takes one to know one! How else would you know what my pre-occupation was, if you were not pre-occupied tracking what I write about Dayan. That is fine – I have no problem with that. However, thought it worth pointing out.

    • Off the Cuff

      Sarath, Kali, Koththamalli and “J Fernando”

      You say “Leaving aside your convenient and continued presumptions about the Tamil’s view of LTTE to suit your own arguments,..”

      1. What are these purported presumptions? Please enumerate them.
      2. Subsequently, make a factual counter argument, based on your list, instead of empty ad hominem rhetoric.
      3. State the Tamil’s view that you, a Sinhalese (the name used is Sinhalese), appear to have a comprehensive understanding of.
      4. In a debate my arguments would naturally present my view not my opponents view. What did you expect?

      You say “note that LTTE was an unelected, rebellion group that over time turned terroristic,..”

      The LTTE started by assassinating the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna Mr Alfred Duraiappa. Then they proceeded to hang Tamils on Street Lamp Posts with barbed wire around their necks and executing them with placards labelling them as traitors. The LTTE hence was a Terrorist Organisation from the inception, not withstanding your attempted whitewashing.

      You say “I can understand that international pressure can be imposed to get the LTTE to do several things, such as de-band, give-up, reform, assimilate, and any such.”

      I can see that your understanding has limitations as nothing that you enumerate above, was achieved through International Pressure. This purportedly powerful “International
      Pressure” was TOTALLY IMPOTENT in achieving any Humanitarian objectives as far as the LTTE was concerned. That impotency was highlighted when the UN failed to get even their own staff, abducted by the LTTE, released for several months and tried to keep it a secret since February.

      The UN reported the abduction and detention of its employees to the government seven days after The Island exclusively reported the incident under the caption, LTTE detains UN workers (April 20), which was followed by two more exclusive reports, UN negotiated clandestinely with LTTE (April 23) and UN HQ admits Colombo office kept it in the dark (April 28).

      The North and the East were two provinces that did not have democracy while under the LTTE. The East was liberated and elections held, establishing democracy in the East.
      Was that due to International Pressure prevailing on the Govt?

      Kali says International Pressure brought about Democracy in the North. The North had elections long before the Provincial elections. It was subverted by the LTTE. The TNA MP’s benefited by that subversion and came to parliament. This is uncontroverted as the paltry number of votes polled by the “elected” TNA members, when the LTTE was dominant, is proof.

      Democracy came to the North because the LTTE was eliminated. The purported International Pressure had nothing to do with it.

      You say “That, and the assumption that the argument was merely an Off-the-cuff comment were behind my dismissal of your manipulation of the argument.”

      My pseudonym is chosen by me and not by my parents. It is meant to attract those who cannot make factual counter arguments to what I write. It has done it’s job this time

      I don’t use a Tamil name because that would be dishonest as I am a Sinhalese. What I write shows clearly what I stand for and so does what you and others write, despite their

      You took refuge in my pseudonym to avoid a counter argument because you had no counter to what I wrote.Here is another comment of mine that you may find off the cuff hence you should have no difficulty in countering my arguments. Why don’t you try your hand at making a factual counter argument? After all, it is off the cuff!

      You say “How else would you know what my pre-occupation was, if you were not pre-occupied tracking what I write about Dayan.”

      Come on Sarath, do I need to track you to see the regular postings you make? If you make an interesting observation, I read and comment else I pass it over. Of late, you
      have not made any interesting comments for me to respond to. But when you address a comment to me I reply.

      “J Fernando”

      You have been running away from debates regularly. Here is one of the many you ran away from.

      If you can make a factual argument, I will engage with it. But responding to Ad Hominem rhetoric is a waste of time.