Sri Lanka: Tamil group to contest council poll, despite controversy

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main party representing Tamils in Sri Lanka’s parliament, has selected 36 candidates to contest the Northern Provincial Council elections, to be held on September 21.

Sri Lanka’s northern province, which is mainly inhabited by Tamils, has been under military rule since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. The LTTE fought for nearly three decades for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island.

The election of the Northern Provincial Council is supposed to mean the return of civilian rule to the area. However, provincial councils have very limited powers under the Sri Lankan constitution. Many military bases will remain in Tamil areas, meaning it will, in effect, remain under military occupation.

Experience in the eastern province of Sri Lanka shows that the election of a provincial council does not prevent the army from harassing and intimidating people. Tamil land has also been confiscated for military bases and settlements of the Sinhala ethnic majority.

A recent example of land confiscation (one of many) was the expropriation of 500 acres of land, including the site of a Muslim cemetery, in the coastal village of Pulmoaddai in the eastern province.

This occurred despite the fact that the province has an elected Muslim chief minister. TamilNet.com said some of the land will be used by the Sri Lankan navy, while some has been given to a Buddhist monk to establish a Sinhala-Buddhist enclave.

The TNA’s decision to contest elections has been criticised by some Tamils. Critics believe that taking part legitimises the provincial council model, under which limited powers are devolved to the councils by the central government, and can be taken away if the government so decides.

Gajendrakumar Ponnampalam, leader of the Tamil National People's Front, said: “We should not act in any way to give recognition to the Provincial Council model”.

Some Tamil intellectuals have called on the TNA to campaign for a federal structure for Sri Lanka, rather than accepting the current constitution as the best that can be expected under present circumstances.

Commenting on the debate, among the Tamils, Vickramabahu Karunaratne, the general secretary of the New Socialist Party (NSSP), said that the structure of the constitution is a “secondary” question.

Karunaratne said the current situation is the result of the “terrible defeat” of the Tamil people, leading to the establishment of what he called a “fascist-styled regime” in the Tamil areas.

Karunaratne said Tamils cannot defeat this regime on their own. He said that a “mass uprising” in the predominantly Sinhalese south of the island, led by people who support Tamil national rights, is necessary for the Tamil freedom struggle.