Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My interpretation of the Eastern Provincial Council Elections

I have in the past on this blog written about the Local Government Elections in the East questioning its purpose and motive. I decried in that post about how calling for elections have come to be understood as inherently good. Nothing short what is called ‘electrocracy’. The Govt needed the ballot box to justify what it was doing in the East. Now it has become clear that the LG elections were held by the Govt to check how much of a hold its partner the TMVP has in the East. Being assured by the results they decided to call for the elections.

No Election Manifesto
It was an election campaign where the TMVP did not have an election manifesto. Where they did not embark on detailed campaigning. The arms were there. Having them was enough to scare the people. You didn’t have to use them. It would have been unimaginable what would have happened if they had lost. I am not denying that they attracted considerable popular support. Ill come back in this post for the possible reasons for this popular support.

There was no election manifesto probably because MR’s ‘East is rising’ programme was acceptable to the TMVP. This despite the concerns expressed by various groups (Muslim Civil society organisations, SLMC, reports such as those of the International Crisis Group and of course the TNA) that the programme was nothing but a plan to manipulate the demographics of the Eastern Programme in the name of environmental safe havens (Champika Ranawakka is our Minister of Environment) and discovery missions to find relics of Buddhist heritage in the East. Of course you build a bridge and lay a road here and there as part of the programme. Even building bridges and roads can be used to cater to the main objective of changing demographics. This is nothing but a discontinued programme that has been resurrected.

Running the Eastern PC – Capacity issues
In an interview that Pillayan gave as soon as it was announced that he will be the CM all he could say was that he will try to find employment for all those who asked from him at the elections. So much for his plans to develop the East. I suspect that there will be a huge issue with regard to capacity when it comes to running the council. Provincial councils elsewhere in general have experienced this even where they have been run by age old parties experienced in organisational stuff. Passing statutes (that is how laws passed by PCs are known) and getting through the know how of that is pretty complicated in the tough job of understanding what your competence is vis a vis the reserved list and the national list. There have been very few statues that have been passed by Provincial councils in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t need much elaboration as to how PCs are already suffocated from any actual powers. (for eg the Central Government can pass a law on any subject under the guise of making national policies). This issue of capacity will be exploited well by Basil Rajapaksha. The Asian Tribune reports that three capable people have been recruited by Pillaiyan (including Dr Vickneswaran former Secretary to Varatharaja Perumal when he was CM for the North East, also formerly with the EPDP and now has his own party. He is a capable man with a PhD in Engineering) I am surprised that these people accepted Pillaiyan’s invitation but happy that they will probably be able to resist any big time incursions from Basil). I wonder how land issues will be handled. Land is largely a subject belonging to the Central Govt but since the ruling party in both CG and the PC are the same one wonders how this will work. Especially the Muslim-Tamil land issues. Pillayan has already said that he doesn’t want police powers. (probably because he has his own!!)

About the CM himself.
It was easy for the Govt that it was Pillayan and not Karuna. (That’s probably why they packaged him off to London). Karuna’s baggage is well known. Not many people know who Pillaiyan is or what his past was about. He was probably third or fourth down the order in the Easter Tiger hierarchy. So for the South to accept him wasn’t that hard.

As a Tamil I am worried about the damage that these elections have brought about on Tamil-Muslim relations. Hisbullah’s campaign that they need a Muslim Chief Minister and the way he craftily handled the allocation of nominations within the UPFA has produced more Muslim PC members than Tamil (almost double the number of Tamil PC members).

TMVP’s popular support
And finally on the popular support for TMVP in the East. Pillaiyan despite the enormous ballot stuffing probably did attract a lot of Tamil voters and I suspect most of them youngsters. Whether this was because he was the only ‘electable’ Tamil candidate (someone with a chance of winning and not allowing a Muslim to become CM) or whether it was because the people identify with the regionalist sentiments that TMVP stands for is a matter of debate. My hunch is that it is the former. I would find it difficult to see how the Tamils could have voted for a party which despite its regionalistic sentiments could join hands with what is perceived as the common ‘enemy’ – The Southern Sinhala Buddhist Chauvanistic bloc. (Consider the good relationships between the JHU and the TMVP). And hence the vote for Pillaiyan. That was sad. I would have preferred Hakeem as CM!