Monday, May 16, 2011

On Palestine & Sri Lanka: the Politics of Aid & Development - Some Reflections and Notes for Future Research

(Graphic Courtesy: The Hindu, May 20 2011)

Dr Sara Roy of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University is an eminent scholar on Palestine. Her profile can be viewed here at wikipedia. In this speech delivered in 2008 she talks about the politics of donor activities in Palestine which ignored Gaza and supported West Bank with the intention of dissecting, splitting and diluting the Palestinian movement for independent statehood (Fast forward to the 38th minute of the video for this part of her speech). She talks about how Western donors engaged with the status quo in a manner whereby donor support by design and effect supported/support Israeli Occupation. She points to how the earlier notion of occupation as bad for peace is being replaced with 'normalising' occupation. Also see her response to a question on Hamas here.

There are definite parallels to Sri Lanka. Scholars like Patrick Peebles have commented on how the dry zone colonisation programme had an impact on the ethnic conflict. Serene Tennakoon has commented on how the rituals of big developmental project was important to the kind of post colonial nation building project that was being experimented by the Sinhala elite. Amita Sashtri in 1990 wrote an important article that dealt with the material basis for the movement for Tamil separatism. Sunil Bastian has extensively written about the politics of land reform. His recent article for Panos Sri Lanka provides for a good overview.

More recently in 2009 the International Crisis Group in a report (couched in a language that seeks to make the point without discomforting donors) points to the need for conflict-sensitivity and to ensure local participation in planning and implementing developmental projects in post-war Eastern Province.

In a lecture that i delivered at the invitation of the Jaffna Science Association at the Faculty of Science of the University of Jaffna on the 13th of July 2010 titled 'Environment and the Law in the Contest of Post War Development', I drew attention to the ADB Funded Dry Zone Water Supply Programme and how it related to the Maavilaru Anicut Controversy of 2006 that triggered the final war. I also drew attention to how quick fix, rapid, mega style development and associated political imagery is being used by the GOSL (with explicit or inadvertent support from donors) in post-war Sri Lanka to undermine the political project for sharing of state power. In that speech I drew attention to the following projects being currently funded by the ADB: 1) ADB's Dry Zone Water Supply and Sanitation Project - its sub project in Vavuniya - which involved the construction of dams requiring 700 acres of land (including the acquisition of 96 acres of private land belonging to Tamils), 2) The Iranaimadukulam Project of bringing ground water to 300,000 residents in Jaffna peninsula which i claimed would have a 'Cauvery dispute effect' in relations between the people of Killinochchi and Jaffna thus dissecting the Tamil community in the North and weakening the focus on the need for a political solution. (Consider parallels to what Sara Roy says about dissection of the Palestinian community) I also drew attention to the Extra Ordinary Gazette Notification 1617/32-2009 which detailed plans to build Mankulam as an urban centre and eventually the capital of the Northern Province. The Urban Development Authority disclosed plans to settle 100,000 people by 2010 in Mankulam and estimating the population to triple to 300,000 people by 2030. I questioned 1) whether this was being planned with the objective of further effecting demographic changes in Tamil majority areas with the focus now including the Northern Province and 2) the intelligibility of the water supply project to Jaffna from Iranaimadukkulam (in the Killinochchi District) given the water scarcity in Mankulam (also located in Killi). I also raised issues relating to the Lime stone quarrying taking place in Jaffna which in fact is a major contributor to ground water salination, being carried with support from the Ministry of Defence. I proposed that rain water harvesting would be the best response to the ground water problem in Jaffna and requested at that meeting for University academics from the relevant departments (Community Medicine, Geography, Law, Economics et al) to come together to study this issue scientifically. So far nothing has come out. I hope to research further on this on my own later this year.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On why the Tamils (& the Minorities) Have No Space in the English Print Media in Sri Lanka

We have known this all along. But if someone was looking for post-war evidence of it, they should read today's Sunday Times Editorial. If anyone thought a section of the English media in Sri Lanka leaves some space for 'liberal', 'progressive' politics, think again. Note that the tone of the editorial is critical of the Govt. But note how even in being critical of the Govt they cant help but spat the communal venom.

The editorial:

1) spats venom on the TNA ("MPs of the TNA, most living in Colombo preaching the gospel of hate and communalism from their local pulpits seem assailed by convenient amnesia");

2) says that the GOSL is right in being wary of devolving powers to the North and East ("If the Government in Colombo is wary of devolving political power to the North, and quite rightly so, then there is a bigger onus on its part not to choose to ignore the happenings where its writ is now back in force")

3) justifies the High Security Zones ("it is far too early to dismantle the large scale and widely spread military garrisons in these areas");

4) has a utilitarian advise to the Govt on dealing with paramilitary forces ("No doubt, these political elements did yeoman service in helping the Security Forces neutralize the LTTE during the latter years of the 'war', but their determination to enforce an iron grip on the populace and run their writ on the politics of the area has all the hallmarks of backfiring on the Government.")

5) and plays on the Sinhala polity's fear psychosis that India/TamilNadu has an expansionist agenda in the North and East. ("The Government had better beware. Into the vacuum of inaction comes increased Indian presence. The opening of a consulate was the first step. The Sri Lankan Government must treat the North as part and parcel of this country before someone else considers it as an extension of Tamil Nadu".)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Building internal capacity for autonomy

Watched two past episodes of Hard Talk regarding challenges faced by sub-state actors in making the case for a separate state (in the case of Martin McGuiness - the case for a unified Ireland) in the current climate of financial crisis- the primary question being whether small states can cope up on their own when they are faced with a crisis of similar scale and sorts.

Interview with Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland

Interview with Marin McGuiness - Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

Alex Salmond cant fail to impress. An economist, he was very much in control of the subject of Stepehen Sackur's questions and argues persuasively why being an independent country might have helped Scottish economy face the crisis better. Our minority leaders - and those within the TNA would do well by watching this interview - I don't know anyone within the Tamil political circles who has a good understanding of the economics of the North and East and the country in general, and articulate the need for more fiscal autonomy for the provinces. We need to develop better capacities to make the scientific case for autonomy.

The interesting part of the the McGuniess interview is the section where Stephen Sackur asks McGuniness whether he now feels trapped and cooped by the Birtish state into the devolution agreement with dissident Republicans getting more and more angry with Sinn Fein. The culture of politics is different here in the UK - McGuiness's point about political evolution might not make sense in our context - but there are lessons for Tamils as the Sri Lankan Government tries to co-opt our political formations into something very inadequate - PCs and the 13th Amendment.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The 'Sui Generis' Nature of Kosovo

Read this on Prof William Schabas's blog:

"Dick Marty, the member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who exposed the secret US detention centres and the rendition flights, confirms the charges of Carla Del Ponte that forces associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army took Serb prisoners into Albania where they were murdered for their organs, which were subsequently trafficked through organized crime networks".

The Political Leader of KLA is now the Prime Minister of Kosovo. Something that was and is repeated by western diplomats in Sri Lanka is how it was impossible to side with the LTTE because it was highly illiberal. Clearly the KLA seemed to be worse. So supporting a secessionist movement really comes down to nothing but pure and simple geo-political calculations. Hence the US promoting Kosovo's independence as a 'sui generis' case. All this talk about earned sovereignty doesnt really help make sense of why Kosovo and why not Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Staying on the Kosovo topic this recent opinion piece in the Guardian restates the realist school on the politics of state recognition:

Notwithstanding that states encompassing between 80% and 90% of the world's population (by my rough calculations) recognise the state of Palestine, while states encompassing only between 10% and 20% of the world's population recognise the Republic of Kosovo, the western media (and much of the non-western media as well) act as though Kosovo's independence were an accomplished fact while Palestine's independence is only an aspiration that can never be realised without Israeli-American consent; and much of international public opinion (including, apparently, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) has – at least until recently – permitted itself to be brainwashed into thinking and acting accordingly.

As in most aspects of international relations, it is not the nature of the act (or crime) that matters but, rather, who is doing it to whom. Palestine was conquered, and is still occupied 43 years later, by the military forces of Israel. What most of the world (including the UN and even five EU member states) still regards as the Serbian province of Kosovo was conquered and is still occupied, 11 years later, by the military forces of Nato; the American flag is flown there at least as widely as the Kosovo flag and the capital, Pristina, boasts a Bill Clinton Boulevard and a larger-than-life-size statue of the former American president.

Note: I am back to blogging after a 8 month absence. One of the new year resolutions is to blog more regularly.

Friday, April 09, 2010

General Elections 2010: If ACTC had not split could TNA have secured a 6th seat in Jaffna?

It is widely speculated that UPFA (EPDP) might not have got their 3rd seat in the Jaffna electoral district and TNA could have got their 6th seat if the votes received by the Tamil Congress had gone for the TNA. Lets us scientifically test this claim:


The present configuration for seat allocation in the Jaffna Electoral district has been worked out as follows:

Total number of relevant votes

(Votes of all parties receiving more than 5% of the votes) = 125,365

“Resulting number” (Number of votes needed to secure one seat) = 125, 365 / 8 = 15,670

(calculated for 8 seats; one seat bonus going for the TNA)

Hence in the first round of seat allocation

TNA – 65, 119 / 15, 670 = 4 seats and a remainder of 2439 votes + 1 bones seat

UPFA – 47,622/15, 670 = 3 seats and a remainder of 612 votes

UNP – 12,624/15,670 = 0 seats and a remainder of 12,624 votes

7 seats allocated one seat yet to be allocated. So in the second round of allocation the 8th seat goes to UNP for having highest number of remainder votes.


If the ACTC (TNPF) had not split and the 6,362 votes it received had gone to the TNA the seat allocation would have been as follows:

Total number of relevant votes

(Votes of all parties receiving more than 5% of the votes) = 131, 727

“Resulting number” (Number of votes needed to secure one seat) = 131, 727 / 8 = 16,465

(calculated for 8 seats; one seat bonus going for the TNA)

Hence in the first round of seat allocation

TNA – 71,481 / 16, 465 = 4 seats and a remainder of 5,621 votes + 1 bonus seat

UPFA – 47,622/16, 465 = 2 seats and a remainder of 14,692 votes

UNP – 12,624/16,465 = 0 seats and a remainder of 12, 624 votes

Only 6 seats allocated in the first round. 7th seat allocated to UPFA having highest number of remainder votes, which means they gain their 3rd seat. 8th seat allocated to UNP for having second highest number of remainder votes.

HENCE THE CONGRESS VOTES ADDED TO TNA (if the split had not happened) DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE FINAL SEAT ALLOCATION. UPFA would have got their 3rd seat irrespective.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The loud and clear message from the voter turnout and the voters in the North and East

Note: This piece appeared on Groundviews on the 29th of January, two days after the election results and (to my surprise and discomfort) was republished by Mangala Samaraweera on his website on the 1st of Feb 2010.

I wrote on the 30th of December in a post to Groundviews (and republished in the Daily Mirror) that the assertion that the Tamil people would be deciders in the Presidential election would be a myth. There was nothing brilliant or extraordinary about what I said at that time, but it was contrary to public perception that was prevalent all over the country and in international media circles. What I suggested was that for the Tamil people to be deciders two conditions have to be fulfilled. I wrote:

“For the Tamils to be the deciders in the election (like they could have been in the last) they have to vote as a whole, to one candidate and the Sinhala votes to both candidates should be almost equal.”

A lot of people thought it would be close in the South. I feared a good lead for Mahinda Rajapaksha in the rural south. I told my friends that a 600,000-800,000 lead in the South by Mahinda cannot be offset by SF by the margins that he receives in Minority areas. I never expected a 1.8 million lead for him in the South. Some of it might have been rigged. We just don’t know and we will never know. But one thing is clear the rural south did come out strongly for him.

My vote

I voted in the Nallur electorate in the Jaffna electoral district and I did vote for General Sarath Fonseka. My early impression was that both candidates did not deserve my vote but I soon altered my stance. For me taking a decision to spoil the vote meant not believing in the system. The system is indeed fundamentally flawed but then if we can’t change things democratically, the only alternative is for change to be attempted violently. Most in this country are tired of losing lives and I am definitely one of them. So the option of not believing in the system was not open to me. It was just inconsequential. I also thought that it is not right to approach this elections standing from an ivory tower of personal conscience and die hard political philosophy and principle. Politics, including the act of voting, is about taking tough decisions. I did not have the energy for another MR presidency. I was convinced that a vote for anyone else but SF would in effect indirectly contribute to a MR Presidency. The unknown devil at least I thought would provide an opportunity to try something differently. If the SF presidency even by a fraction or a chance might have increased the collective opportunity of life over death of the Tamil community I thought it was my duty to vote for him. And hence I voted for Sarath Fonseka, despite his flaws, despite the vaguness vis a vis his position on the problems of the minorities, despite his anti-minority pronouncements in the past, despite his role in the war. I voted for him because it was the only strong way of showing my protest to the incumbent and because I believed in the political forces supporting him. It was an uncomfortable decision to take but I had no other option.

The voter turnout in Jaffna

Many have expressed concern about the ‘poor turnout’ in Jaffna. Some die hard SF supporters were annoyed with the turnout. Some Pro-LTTE and Anti- LTTE Tamil Diaspora sites who opposed TNA’s decision to support SF have called the low voter turnout a boycott. Some know-it-all types in the Diaspora have said that the Jaffna people are not interested in a democracy. Nothing can be more insulting.

The following are some reasons for the ‘low voter turnout’, in my opinion:

  1. 40% of registered voters are not in Jaffna. The 600,000 registered voters includes those migrated. Many Tamils in Colombo who moved from Jaffna have their vote in Jaffna – they are not registered in Colombo.
  2. Killinochchi low voting (Killinochchi is part of the Jaffna electoral district. Only 7% voting was recorded mainly because of the poor state of facilities provided for the IDPs to vote),
  3. Bomb scare in TNA strongholds on the day of the elections (example Nallur, Manipay),
  4. Internal displacement within Jaffna (From the Islands to the mainland. From Chavahacheri (Thenmarachchi) to Jaffna and other places). People possibly were not willing to travel 10-12 kilometers to vote.
  5. 80,000 people displaced by the High Security Zones (23,000 live in welfare centers and the rest with family and friends or have migrated).

The Chavahacheri, Udupiddy, Manipay, Vadukoddai, Thenmarachchi electorates in Jaffna recorded 30% voter turn out. This must be 60% of the actual residents. The Jaffna and Nallur electorates polled around 20%. The Jaffna peninsula average voter turnout should be in the high twenties and this must be at least 50% of the actual residents. If there had been no High Security Zones, internal displacement within Jaffna and proper voter registration this might have gone upto at least 60%. The 2010 turn out is the highest voter turn out ever in Jaffna in a Presidential election. The figures from the last election are:

2005 – 7.868 (1%) (Note: LTTE enforced a boycott)

1994 – 17,716 (2.97%) (Note: Jaffna was under LTTE control at this time)

1999 – 117,549 (19.18%) (Note: Killinochchi polled less than 4% – Was under LTTE control).

In 2010, 185,132 votes were polled with an average of 25%.

A comparison with the general election also shows us that this turn out is quite decent: In the 2004 General Elections Jaffna polled 300,000 votes (47%) the highest recorded in more than 20 years in election history. (I attended the only TNA rally in Jaffna on the 23rd of January in Sangilyan Thoppu, Nallur where R. Sampanthan of the TNA said that last time the margin for MR was less than 200,000 and the vote that TNA had received in the 2004 General Elections was 620,000. I thought at that time that comparing the turn out at General Elections was not good analysis). In the 2001 election around 200,000 votes were polled (30%). In 2000 around 130,000 votes were polled averaging at just over 20%. It must be remembered that in both 2001 and 2004 General Elections the TNA had the backing of the LTTE.

The voter turnout in the rest of the North and East

Batticaloa has polled a remarkably consistent 64% as in the last three presidential elections. Vavuniya polled 43% this time and voted in the 40s in 2005 and 1999. Trincomalee polled 65% and had polled in the 60s in the past three elections as well. Voter turn out in Mannar was 35%. It has been consistently in the 30s. In 2005 the turn out was 30%. None of these districts were affected by LTTE’s enforced boycott in 2005. Mullaitivu has recorded less than 4% in the past having been under LTTE control and this time recorded a 14%.

What is the message from the voter turn out in the North?

The message is that there are very serious issues to be addressed prime among them being the resettlement of IDPs. This includes both the Vanni IDPs and the Old IDPs. Demilitarisation is also key to a higher voter turn out.

What is the message from the people of the North and East at this election?

The ‘liberated’ have clearly registered their protest against their ‘liberator’. The vote in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu amongst all difficulties and however small were clearly against the President. All over the North and East this has vibrated. The Jaffna vote clearly rejects Mahinda Rajapaksha’s Chechnyan style local leader Douglas Devananda. I don’t know how Dayan Jayatilleke is going to still call him the Jaffna people’s choice. EPDP won only Kayts in the 10 electorates in the Jaffna peninsula that even by a 600 vote margin. Even in Jaffna and Nallur which make up by and large the Jaffna Municpal Council (which he supposedly won) he lost receiving only 27% and 21% of the votes. It is loud and clear from Jaffna that he is not wanted; his style of politics is not desired. (But he might do well in the general elections under an MR presidency. Patronage politics will help him for another six years). The East has similarly spoken very clearly rejecting MR’s Chechnyan style local leader V. Muralidharan alias Karuna Amman. Pillayan should be silently happy with the vote. Two years of centrally controlled pseudo-provincial council rule has been rejected by the people. (Here again the TNA might struggle at the General elections under a MR Presidency).

The vote shows a clearly divided country: 65% of the minorities (Tamils, Muslims, Up Country Tamils) preferring one candidate and more than 60% of the majority community preferring another. I do not know what else we need to show that we are far from being a united country. But the President does not seem like he wants to reflect on this message. To journalists who met him soon after the elections he has repeated the same story: “the IDPs are happy in the camps”. We are likely to see more of the same.

The way forward

I am afraid that the result might be taken negatively by the minorities and the opposition parties, that even if they come together that they cannot make an impact. But the minority parties should take the positive message – the possibility that this election gave/has given of collectively envisaging an agenda. The opposition parties have to resolve and work together to break the common sense philosophy in Sri Lanka that being in the opposition is useless. If our democratic culture is to be rejuvenated we need opposition parties to believe that an opposition can do credible work. Concrete action based on a concrete agenda that mobilizes the people has to be worked out. The minority parties have to show their communities that it is possible to serve them sitting in the opposition. A strong coalition between the TNA-SLMC-DPF is immediately possible. That should be a starter for a broader coalition of progressive forces. This Government is sure to continue to wage a war on the opposition with new force. It has to be resisted and fought back democratically. For that we need opposition leaders who believe in themselves.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Tamil Vote will be the Decider: A Myth

This piece written for and posted on Groundviews on 30 December was reproduced by the DailyMirror on 31 December

Two Tamil Dailies Thinakkural and Uthayan (Jaffna) carried yesterday (28 December) a headline report of retired Supreme Court Justice C.V. Wigneswaran’s opinion on whom the Tamils should vote for at Presidential elections. (Justice C. V Wigneswaran is a highly respected member of the Tamil intelligentsia and while on the Supreme Court was known to be extremely independent and forthright in his views. He was named by TNA as their nominee for membership in the Constitutional Council)

Though the report is filed in a manner as if though the newspapers contacted Justice Wigneswaran to get his response regarding rumours that some sections of the diaspora had contacted him about contesting at the presidential elections, the two reports are verbatim similar which probably means that Justice Wigneswaran himself wrote and sent the interview to be published to both these newspapers, on his own volition or possibly responding to a request from the TNA leadership.

In the interview he has said that certain individuals’ self centric actions (probably referring to Shivajilingam, Srikantha) have led to confusion among the Tamils. The following are translated excerpts from the ‘interview’:

“There is no point in voting for a Tamil candidate. Even if all Tamils vote for him we will achieve nothing. It is one of the two mainstream candidates who will win the elections. It will be the same if we boycott the elections. This will only display the desperate state of our politics or that we haven’t come to realise our democratic rights. So far Tamils have either voted for a Tamil candidate or boycotted presidential elections. This was to display the distinctiveness of the Tamil people’s politics. But now after the armed struggle has fallen silent this trend has to change. We have to be strategic. We have to see what we can get out of these two mainstream candidates. I am happy that the TNA is doing this. The TNA engaging in discussions with both candidates is productive. Tamil people should listen to the TNA leadership on this issue. The 22 parliamentarians speaking in different voices is no good. The TNA leadership should let the Tamil
people know of their decision soon. One thing is for sure if we vote for a Tamil candidate or boycott the election it would either mean alienating our democratic rights or supporting someone else [probably meaning voting for Shivajilingam being voting for MR]”.

He also refers in the interview to how the Upcountry Tamil leadership and the Muslims have used the ballot effectively in the past. Tamils have no option now but to take up this weapon he says. He also says that if the Tamils stand united we can decide which way the majority goes in the parliament at the next general election. He concludes: “Our differences will aid them. Our unity will aid us”

The Jaffna Uthayan which has for now long supported a vote for SF has written an editorial overjoyed with Wigneswaran’s public stance on the issue and have insisted other community leaders also come out publicly with a similar stance.

The All Ceylon Tamil Congress met in Jaffna yesterday to decide on whom to support and on Kajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s insistence they have voted on a resolution to boycott the elections. Former MP Vinyagamoorthy who is the President of the ACTC is not happy with the decision (he wants to use the vote to de-seat MR) but has gone with the resolution not wanting to challenge Ponnambalam. 4 MPs attached to the TNA are supposedly favouring a boycott – Kajendrakumar, Pathmini Sithamaparanathan, Solaman Cyril, and Kajendran, all being Jaffna MPs. They all are in Jaffna these days. They met with the Jaffna Bishop yesterday.

Earlier Shivajilingam also claimed support from seven TNA MPs for a Tamil candidate. One is not sure how many of these TNA MPs will support Shivajilingam as the Tamil candidate though. MP Shivashkthi Ananthan has come out accusing Shivajilingam of receiving money from Mahinda Rajapaksha to contest the elections.

I suspect that the TNA leadership (R. Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan) might come out and ask the Tamil people to vote for “regime change” without naming Sarath Fonseka. In short the call will be for Tamils to cast a silent vote in favour of SF. One will have to wait and see how many Tamils feel like voting. I suspect that the voting numbers in the North will be small – small that they will not be able to influence the national vote significantly. The way Eastern Tamils vote is also very unclear. Pillayan is unlikely to come out strongly for MR or to inspire people to vote for SF. Karuna’s influence (unless he stuffs ballot boxes) is also not clear. For the Tamils to be the deciders in the election (like they could have been in the last) they have to vote as a whole to one candidate and the Sinhala votes to both candidates should be almost equal. I doubt whether the challenger to the incumbent can muster that many Sinhala votes to equal the incumbent’s or that the Tamils will vote significantly to one candidate despite their being a disguised call from the TNA to vote for Sarath Fonseka.

And finally what can a vote for SF achieve at all for the Tamil people? Tamil people’s ‘active engagement in national politics’- what will it lead to? Will SF devolve powers, dismantle the High Security Zones, repeal the PTA, revoke Emergency, resettle IDPs in places of their choice? Has he promised any of these? Or has MR promised any of these concretely? (Dayan Jayatilleka might say all of these are stupid/unintelligent demands. For him there is only one thing that will be intelligent for the Tamil people to do: Vote for MR.). Both candidates know well that making concrete promises on any of these will mean betraying the Sinhala nation. The TNA knows very well that none of them would even promise any of these or might just pay lip service to some of them. Hence my prediction that they will call for a silent vote.

Justice Wigneswaran is deeply anxious and nervous in his call for unity. It is going to be very difficult to bring TNA under one umbrella again. And that’s why, like the state of Muslims politics today, Tamils can never be King or Queen makers. The days of Ashroff and Thondaman are gone. And unless there is a change in the way South does politics even if you are a King maker, the Tamils will be disappointed once again as they were when their King maker Chelvanayagam was disappointed when the B-C and D-C pact were dishonoured.