For Peter Yoheswari (55), a woman from Kilinochchi, the post-war benefits are visible in the form of low commodity prices, increased mobility of people, better roads, and electrification of her village. But, she, as a Tamil, is more concerned about the sole identity of her community when deciding who is to be voted in at the Northern Provincial Council Election on September 21.
She has mixed views on the post-war ground situation in the North.
“We acknowledge the fact that infrastructure development has taken place after the war was over. Compared to the war time, there are more trade activities in the area.
The prices of essential food items have dropped since war time, restrictions are no longer there. However, there’s a marked increase in the crime rate, and naturally enough we’re concerned about it. The law enforcement authorities have clearly failed to contain this trend. There has been a lot of robberies and a series of violent rapes. We are scared of leaving young girls alone,” she told the Daily Mirror.
As Yoheswari, most residents of the north have such mixed views when comparing and contrasting the past war time with the current peace time. Being beset with such mixed emotions, they are unable to express a clear stand on their views in today’s context.
Even in the South, media reports reflect how criminal activities such as child abuse, rape, murders and burglaries are on the rise on a daily basis.
No statistical data is yet available on the crime rates in the North and the South to make a proper comparison of incidents in order to come to a logical conclusion.
The Provincial Council Elections have been declared at a time when the North is witnessing an improvement in physical infrastructure as a positive sign. But, concerns remain in the relevant quarters including certain sections of the international community, whether efforts have been made adequately for the political empowerment of the people and to restore means of livelihood for the people affected by the three decades long war.
In this backdrop, the upcoming election in the North will clearly be a test for all stakeholders within the province. This is so because the election result will reflect whether the people in the North yearn for their right to govern themselves, or are pleased with the development programmes carried out by the government.
Right to governance is a demand put forward by Tamil political leaders since the days of gaining Independence from the British colonial rule. And the sentiment of Tamil nationalist identity seems to have emerged in the run-up to the Provincial Council Elections this time.
Most of the Tamil people, whom the Daily Mirror interviewed, were reluctant to speak out their mind, apparently due to the fear psychosis caused during the war time. However, there were some others who spoke out quite fearlessly.
“We are Tamils. Therefore, we will vote for a Tamil party. We want to live together with the people of the South. Yet, we need to retain our cultural identity as Tamils,”Yoheswari said.
Propaganda campaigns are being held for the Northern Provincial Council Election these days, but nevertheless, noticeably on a low-key unlike in the South.
Though 20 political parties and independent groups have fielded candidates for the elections under different symbols such as scissors, padlock, postbox, and squirrel, only the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the Ilankai Tamil Arachu Kachchi (ITAK) are involved in active campaigning. Candidates representing these two major parties are mostly engaged in house-to-house canvassing for preferential votes instead of conducting rallies.
The ITAK or the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has thrown its full weight behind the campaign to win this election for the constitution of Sri Lanka’s ninth provincial council in terms of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Since the gaining of Independence in 1948, Tamil parties have claimed for extensive power sharing with the centre. It appears that this perception has been inculcated deep in the mindset of the Tamil people as even ordinary Tamils are more concerned about their national, cultural and linguistic identity rather than ‘bread and butter’ issues.
The TNA campaigning with renewed vigour and strength has effectively appealed to such sentiments of the people attempting to secure substantial political gains at the election.
TNA candidate M. K. Sivajilingam said his party was seeking a mandate from people to work for the re-merger of the northern and eastern provinces for an autonomous region subject to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
“The powers of the provincial council are insufficient for us. Yet, it is the starting point for greater devolution later on. We have centred our campaign theme on that,” he said as he distributed his leaflets among some people near the Point Pedro bus depot.
In addition to this central theme, some TNA candidates have based campaign slogans on the promises to address the grievances of families of disappeared persons and those imprisoned due to their involvement in the activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ananthi Sasikaran, the wife of LTTE political leader for Trincomalee Elilan, is one such candidate.
Also aroused are emotions of the general public on what the TNA called ‘high military presence, land grabbing and forcible colonisation.
On and off, there are instances where indirect attempts are made to glorify and revere the acts of the LTTE. Participants in TNA meetings seem to be elated when such remarks are made, apparently not being aware that alienation from the mainstream society is not practically beneficial for them in the long run.
As the TNA focuses more on their demand for a power sharing arrangement, the UPFA is banking its electoral fortunes on the volume of development work carried out in the North after the war was over on May 19, 2009. On the campaign trail, the TNA has the edge over other parties due to its identity as a Tamil party. Out of the 11 political parties appearing on the ballot paper, the TNA is the only party with a Tamil leadership whereas all the others are led by southerners.
This has made it easy for the TNA to canvass votes from a community more concerned about their national identity, rather than joining mainstream politics at any cost.
UPFA candidate for the Jaffna district Angajan Ramanathan said the government had been able to bring the dividends of peace to the doorsteps of Tamil people.
“Now we are trying to restore the pre-war glory of Jaffna. Ours was a society highly focused on education. We want to improve education. We want to have a breed of youths with vigour and strength. It is always important for national politics rather than being confined to parties with a regional identity,” Ramanathan said.
He said, “Infrastructure development has taken place by leaps and bounds. It is not advisable to alienate Tamil people from the mainstream society. I represent Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the largest party of the UPFA. It is a party with adaptable policies. The government has given a lot of jobs to the young people here.”
Ordinary people in the North recognise infrastructure development work. But, they say much remains to be done to ensure means of livelihood.
S.J. Kumar, a Hindu priest from the North, said people could barely make ends meet.
“I suffered multiple displacements during the war, and finally ended up in the narrow strip of land in Mullivaikkal. The war is over now. There are problems to be addressed. Livelihood issues are foremost among them. We need to preserve our cultural identity too,” Kumar said.
It is understandable that additional efforts need to be made to create means of income generation in the North which remained cut-off from the main land due to terrorist activities.
But then, this is matched by a similar situation in the South where people are not able to earn enough for a decent standard of living despite the much-hyped infrastructure development.
Interestingly, although this issue is more or less the same in the North and the South, it appears the people of these two regions will have a different political reaction to it when it comes to casting their vote.
However, despite increased election campaigns on political rights, there are northerners whose political beliefs have been shaped by the post-war economic benefits.
S. Dharmarajah (55), from Chunnakam, Jaffna, is one such vegetable farmer, who has found a new market in the South for his produce.
“Now the war is over. Therefore, we can sell our produce in the South for a better price. Earlier, we had only a limited market in the North,” he said. Dharmarajah had cultivated cabbage, beetroot and capsicum this time using water from his agro-well.
Sathyamurthy Radhika, a daily wage earner, who worked on the vegetable farm belonging to Dharmarajah, also echoed the same sentiments.
“Now we have enough work as daily labourers in the agricultural sector. Earlier, we did not have such work,” she said.
Pitted against concerns, sentiments, beliefs, power-sharing, massive infrastructure development and ethnic identity, the election result of the Northern Provincial Council will carry a powerful message to the Body Politic.
One thing that shaped seperatist tendenciesin North is the lack of proper economic policies and gov's insensivity of degrading democracy and degrading law and order. That is northern psychich was changed into believing that staying with sinhala politicians is a bad idea and they cannot gain prosperity with them. I do not reject it 100%. However the inability of the politicians in south to create economic development, a society with law and order did contribute to seperatist ideas among general northern public.
It is high time southern politicians and people understand this
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