[lg policy] Tamil Tiger Supporters Win Vote in Sri Lankan Town

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 9 16:07:09 UTC 2010

August 10, 2009, 7:17 pm

Tamil Tiger Supporters Win Vote in Sri Lankan Town

In the first local elections in 11 years in two towns in northern Sri
Lanka, a political party that supported the Tamil Tiger insurgency
made a strong showing on Saturday, one day after the rebel group’s new
leader was captured. According to the BBC, voter turnout was just 20
percent in the town of Jaffna, and 52 percent in Vavuniya, both of
which are in the northern region largely controlled by the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) for years and are now underpopulated,
since the government has not yet given more than 250,000 ethnic Tamils
permission to leave internment camps and return home.

Despite such a large number of missing Tamil voters, the Tamil
National Alliance, which supported the rebels that the government
defeated three months ago, won the most seats in Vavuniya’s local
government and the second most in Jaffna. The government coalition,
which included Tamil politicians, did win control of Jaffna, but
finished third in Vavuniya, behind another Tamil party. Government
forces captured the Jaffna area from the Tamil Tigers in the 1990s,
but the town of Jaffna remained behind a rebel-held section of
territory for years.*

In this video report, the BBC’s Charles Haviland observed that the
government coalition had been expected to win in both towns. Mr.
Haviland added that it is difficult to say exactly why the vote went
the way it did, since independent journalists were barred from the
region by the government. The Christian Science Monitor’s Mian Ridge
suggested that the reason was simple: Though the Tamil Tigers
terrorized the mostly Tamil inhabitants of the north, their ostensible
goal — a Tamil homeland — is supported by many Tamils who have
suffered decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. Most
observers agree that some measure of Tamil autonomy is now necessary
for stability in Sri Lanka.

Last week, Reuters noted that Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda
Rajapaksa, “has promised to let civilians who lived in the northern
areas the L.T.T.E. ran as a defacto state vote in a future
province-wide election, part of his plan to devolve power to the
Tamil-majority area.” But, in an interview with my colleague Lydia
Polgreen last month, Mr. Rajapaksa said only a limited amount of
devolution was on offer:  “Federalism is out of the question,” he
said. “It must be a homegrown solution.”  Most Tamil political leaders
want a single, Tamil-speaking majority state in the north and east of
the country that would have authority over most matters except foreign
policy, trade and the military.

But this is a nonstarter for many of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist
politicians who make up the core of Mr. Rajapaksa’s coalition
government. The most hard-line nationalist party has threatened to
leave the coalition if even a watered-down law to share power is
passed.  An undated photograph of Selvarasa Pathmanathan distributed
by the Tamil Tigers after his arrest.The local elections took place
three months after the government defeated the Tamil Tigers and killed
their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. On Friday, Sri Lanka announced
that it had captured the rebel group’s new leader, Selvarasa
Pathmanathan, in another Asian country. Some reports said that Mr.
Pathmanathan, also known by his nom de guerre K.P., had been seized in
Thailand, but a Tamil Tiger spokesman said that the arrest had been
made “near a hotel” in Malaysia.

Last month, Mr. Pathmanathan, who was believed to have played a
central role in smuggling arms into Sri Lanka for the rebels, met a
television crew from Britain’s Channel 4 News at a hotel in an
undisclosed Asian country for this interview — which might, in
retrospect, have been a poor decision for a man at the top of Sri
Lanka’s most wanted list:

* This post was revised to clarify that the town of Jaffna was taken
by Sri Lankan government forces from the Tamil Tigers in the 1990s,
but remained behind a rebel-held section of territory for years.


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