Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Vavuniya

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).