Feature Article

Batticaloa elections: Colombo's rehearsal for paramilitary politics

[TamilNet, Monday, 31 December 2007, 19:55 GMT]
In the backdrop of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government announcing local government elections in the Batticaloa district, three Tamil paramilitary-cum-political parties, the EPDP, PLOTE, EPRLF (Naba wing) and the yet-to-be-registered TMVP of Pillayan's group revealed that they had reached an agreement to form an electoral alliance after a meeting summoned at the Batticaloa office of the EPDP Saturday. A spokesperson of the paramilitary coalition told media that although the four outfits had agreed on principle, the final decision would be taken after consultations with their respective leaders and key operatives.

In an interview to the BBC Tamil Service on Sunday, R.Thurairatnam, the person-in-charge of the EPRLF (Naba wing) in the Eastern Province and a key member of the outfit, said "due to a situation of compulsion created by a joint resolution," passed by the four outfits functioning in Batticaloa, they were compelled to agree "in principle" to jointly contest the elections. His choice of words clearly hinted at the divisions that exist between the groups and point out that the compulsion arises from an external source.

The announcement by the paramilitary groups is further corroborated by Maithripala Srisena, general secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in his interview to the Sinhala daily "Lankadeepa" where he proclaimed that all the political parties associated with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) have agreed to contest as a single front in the forthcoming local government elections for the nine local bodies in the East. The claim by Srisena clearly indicated that the plan of consolidating the paramilitaries to contest as a single coalition group in Batticaloa was formulated by the GoSL and thrust upon the armed groups under its control. Further, the Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake, who is yet to approve the TMVP as a political party, announced recently that arrangements would be made to approve newly formed parties.

Elections to forty-five local government bodies in the districts of NorthEast, were postponed by the Election Commissioner in March 2006 based on reports that the ground situation was not conducive for holding polls. According to the announcement by the GoSL, nominations to nine of these local authorities, all of them located in the Batticaloa district are to be called between January 11 and 21 (Batticaloa Urban Council and eight Pradeshiya Sabhas of Earavoor, Koaralaippattu, Northern Koaralaippattu, Ma'nmunai, Southern Ma'nmunai and Eruvilpattu, Western Manmunai, South-Western Ma'nmunai and Poaratheevuppattu). Though the dates of filing nominations have been fixed, the date of the election has not yet been fixed.

Mr. R. Thurairatnam, the EPRLF (Naba wing) spokesperson, also told BBC that in the particular case of Batticaloa, a fair election has not been held for a long time. All the polls, including parliamentary elections in the district, were held amidst armed violence. According to him, the district presently witnesses abductions, robberies, human rights violations, and armed groups killing each other, and the current environment is not conducive for elections. "However, we are not going to withdraw from contesting in the elections," he said.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the only Muslim opposition party (within and outside the parliament) has said that the proposed elections in early 2008 were not going to be fair elections as far as the Muslims were concerned. Rauf Hakeem, SLMC leader and parliamentarian said that the election move was a dishonest drama staged by the GoSL to rob the votes of Tamils and Muslims. With the security for the members of parliament significantly reduced by the GoSL, it would be difficult to undertake election campaigns because of the threat posed by the armed groups operating in the East, added Hakeem. P. Ariyanarenthiran, Batticaloa district Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian in his interview to the BBC Tamil Service on Sunday charged the GoSL for having prevented the four TNA members of parliament from visiting their own electorates for the past 13 months by refusing to provide them the necessary security and transport arrangements. He further accused the GoSL of having failed to respond to their written requests. The TNA would have to field 116 candidates for all the nine local councils, but he speculated on who would provide assurance for their safety. The TNA is planning to move the Supreme Court on this issue contending that the prevailing situation prevailing in Batticaloa is not conducive for the conduct of an election.

With opposition from many elected representatives, the question that arises in the minds of the public is "for whose benefit is this election being held?" Even a group being protected by the Sri Lankan government has admitted that the situation is not conducive to hold elections in Batticaloa. The SLMC, a major political party of the Muslims with elected parliamentarians and the the TNA, the main Tamil party with four parliamentarians representing the district have all said that the environment prevailing in Batticaloa is not conducive to hold elections.

Mahinda Rajapaksa's government is set to experiment with a rehearsal to examine the possibilities of bringing a paramilitary "coalition" politics into the Sri Lankan Parliament. It is also believed that posting Maj. Gen. Jammika Liyanage, who was the Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), as the Eastern Commander is a strategic maneuver to overcome the challenge of tackling the paramilitaries in forging a paramilitary political coalition.

In these circumstances, it is obvious that Colombo craves to maintain military rule and preserve its structure and administration in the East by staging the farce of elections. It is widely feared that the eyewash of an election will also set the stage to the SLA and the SLA-backed paramilitaries for weeding out "unwanted persons" in the Batticaloa district.

Meanwhile, concerned citizens express fear that Batticaloa may once more become a killing field in another election drive.



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