Sri Lanka’s local elections

Local authority elections in the north of Sri Lanka are scheduled for 23 July. These are the first to take place in the north region since the government declared the end of the 30-year war.

With the election drawing closer, the true form of this drama is unveiled. The Sri Lankan government has demonstrated several times over the past years that it is not interested in ordinary or their rights and needs. This election is no different. It’s yet again another attempt to cover up their undemocratic actions and to keep the international bodies quiet.

The Sri Lankan government, led by the warmonger president Mahinda Rajapaksa is doing all it can to scare the candidates into withdrawing from the elections. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members are among those affected by this atrocity.

TNA Manipay organiser Kadiravelu Gaurikanthan found himself knee-deep in sewage water after an unknown party dumped a tanker full of sewage at his doorstep. Gaurikanthan said “We think people are doing these things to scare us, since we are election contestants”.

Similar harassment has been reported when a candidate for the Jaffna Municipal Council, Shanmugam Selvakumar, woke up on 7 July to find the decapitated body of his house pet at his doorstep. The head of the dog was found stuck on a pole at his gate.

This is not the first time that TNA members had been targeted. On 16 June, 40 armed soldiers disrupted a TNA meeting. Outrageously they claimed that no one in Jaffna was allowed to have a meeting without the army’s permission. They attacked MPs and their bodyguards viciously. The police are still refusing to take any actions while the government is preserving complete silence about this disgraceful attack.

To prevent a similar outcome, the TNA has requested the Sri Lanka election commission to invite international observers for the local election. As always such requests have been turned down by the commission. The Sri Lankan government has always been very determined to hide its brutal attacks against Tamil-speaking people.

Both the TNA and JVP have complained about large-scale harassment of their candidates. The election monitoring body has received over 70 complaints with regard to election-related violence and violations but the police are still failing to act.

Election candidates are getting harassed into withdrawing from the election, their safety at risk, their lips forced shut and the country’s democracy at its lowest. Yet such events seem to get past the president without notice. He is still insisting that “freedom and democracy are being enjoyed everywhere”!

While we condemn completely the attacks made on the TNA, this Tamil party has failed to represent the needs and wants of the Tamil-speaking people. It does not even voice concern in parliament. In fact, TNA has kept a low profile until its recent sudden activity during this election, campaigning and holding meetings. Is it really standing for the mass of the Tamil-speaking people? What has it done for the innocent victims? Is it contributing towards a permanent solution for Tamil-speaking people?

Minister and EPDP (Tamil Party) leader, Douglas Devananda, leading the charge of the government alliance, the UPFA, is also standing in this election. He has no respect among ordinary people. This is not a surprise as he never stood for civilians. He is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pet who stands by him when the president severely attacks the Tamil-speaking people. Can he ever be trusted again?

A leading Tamil paper, Uthayam, reported a statement by Siritunga Jagasuriya, general secretary of the United Socialist Party (CWI,Sri Lanka). He said that the candidates, including Devananda, are a disgrace. He added that “people in the north are living in an open prison. The people have lost their freedom and democratic rights”. Siritunga is standing in the election in Savacheri. N Nagularajah, K Sivarajan andS Kandasamifrom USP are also standing in the north.

As the election is drawing closer there is an increase in campaigns from the party. Rajapaksa has made a visit to Jaffna in his three-day tour of the north. According to the presidential officers he had a tumultuous welcome. He has a so called “mass meeting” in Kilinochi and Velanai, Kayts where supposedly 15 000 people participated. The majority of them, however, followed him from the south (Puthalam, Polanoruwa) in 300 busses.

Rajapaksa is strengthening his regime by manipulating the election. He has already proved this by appointing both Devananda and Karuna as ministers without election. Is this what he means by ‘democracy’?

Elections should be conducted in a free and fair process to put in place, in a democratic way, people who will genuinely represent the mass of the population so that their needs and wants can be heard. Sri Lanka’s elections are in complete contrast to this. They are full of violence, malpractice and fraud. There is a high military presence in Jaffna to interfere with the free nature of the poll. Turnouts are not expected to be high, as the interest in the north is low. This opens up another opportunity for the government to manipulate the election process.

The Tamil-speaking people and all oppressed people in the north need to build their own mass and democratic political parties, to fight and defend their rights including freedom of speech, opposition for war and repression and the right to a decent life.

Written by: Isai Priya