Sri Lanka: Tamils vote against occupation

The Tamil National Alliance won an overwhelming majority in the Northern Provincial Council elections held on September 21. TNA leader C. V. Wigneswaran is expected to become chief minister of the Northern Province, a predominantly Tamil area in the north of the island of Sri Lanka.

The TNA, with 78% of the vote, won 30 of the 38 positions on the NPC. The United Peoples Freedom Alliance, the party of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won seven positions, while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one.

The Age’s South Asia correspondent Ben Doherty summed up Wigneswaran’s policies as follows on September 23: “Mr Wigneswaran says he will push Colombo for ‘self-government’ for Sri Lanka’s Tamils, as well as for payment of war reparations, a withdrawal of troops from the north, and the return of land to Tamils lost during the civil war.”

The TNA victory occurred despite the intimidation and dirty tricks of the occupying Sri Lankan army.

One TNA candidate, Ananthi Sasitharan, escaped two violent attacks. On one occasion a large rock was thrown at her car. On another occasion, her house was surrounded by military personnel who assaulted her supporters.

On polling day, the army produced a fake version of a Tamil newspaper claiming that Ananthi had joined the government.

None of these tactics worked. Ananthi, a campaigner for the rights of the disappeared, whose husband is missing after being taken into military custody, got the second highest vote in the Jaffna district, after Wigneswaran.

Provincial councils have very limited powers under the Sri Lankan constitution. The TNA was criticised by some Tamil activists for seeming to accept this limited framework.

Nevertheless, the vote for the TNA is a vote against the military occupation of Tamil areas, and by implication a vote for national self-determination for Tamils.