Sri Lanka's Tamil community finally get provincial council vote

 

Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka

Every day Raja Padmanabhan, a 63-year-old bachelor living in a quiet area of Jaffna, hopes someone will hire his services. He has his own van and often drives doctors from the Jaffna hospital or – on longer trips – visitors from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora who want to see the former battlegrounds of the north or the calmer sites of Kandy or Sigiriya further south.  

But Jaffna has always been his home.  Tomorrow, for the first time ever, Raja and the other people of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province will vote for a functioning provincial council.  “I’ll vote for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).  It’s the only choice,” he says.  “If the TNA wins, the international community will take action on the Tamil problem.”

The TNA wants greater self-determination for the north and the adjoining east.  It was once seen as a proxy for the Tamil Tiger militants, who ruled or held sway over much of the north for decades before their crushing defeat by the army in 2009.  The Tigers wanted a separate state but the TNA now accepts a united island although it wants a federal one.

That, however, is anathema to the government of the Sinhalese nationalist President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.  It is finally allowing the Northern election – long postponed by war – to take place but it exerts, and openly preaches the need for, highly centralised rule.

Jaffna, for decades ruled or infiltrated by the Tamil Tigers and ravaged by war, is now a quiet city, still recovering.  New shops and businesses spring up along its freshly tarred streets.  Vintage Morris Minors pass by, while there is now a smattering of Western backpackers to be seen.  

But many back streets are potholed and lined by ruined buildings, testimony to the war that was fought over this very issue of Tamils’ demand for devolution.  That issue remains stubbornly unresolved.  Attempts to address it over the decades either foundered or were shelved.

A determined and sometimes bitter election campaign has been waged over the past few weeks – both in Jaffna and in the Vanni, the Northern “mainland”, where the Tigers forced hundreds of thousands of people to accompany them in fleeing the advancing army.  Those people were then subjected to months of horrifying bombardments as the army went all-out to flatten the rebels.

The government side is telling people in no uncertain terms not to vote for the TNA.  Pro-government posters have sprung up in Jaffna picturing a gun with the slogan: “Are you voting for the TNA? Are you ready to go back to war?”  And state television has aired broadcasts falsely announcing that votes in favour of the TNA would be invalid as the TNA’s manifesto faces legal challenges from Sinhala nationalist groups. 

It has been violent, too.  Earlier today dozens of armed men in army uniform stormed the home of a TNA candidate, Ananthi Sasitharan, saying they wanted to kill her.  She fled but several others including an election monitor were injured.  Ms Sasitharan blamed the government and the security forces.  They denied involvement. 

The two main contending groupings – the Government and the TNA – have indulged in bitter rhetoric.  Justice C V Wigneswaran, a former Supreme Court judge picked as the TNA’s candidate for chief minister in the north, blamed the army for attacking Ms Sasitharan – whose husband was a senior Tiger leader who disappeared after surrendering to the government in 2009.  He accused the Sinhalese-dominated military of keeping people in fear through its heavy local presence. 

But the government’s lead candidate in Jaffna, also a Tamil, Sinnadurai Thavarajah, told The Independent that the allegations of an overbearing army were untrue.  “These are false allegations, false propaganda given by the [Tamil] diaspora community,” he said.  He described the TNA’s bid for self-determination as “irrelevant”.  Many local Tamils disagree.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test