Sri Lanka’s August 5 parliamentary election outcomes are being interpreted by some as a sign that the Tamils of the nation are moving away from regional Tamil-nationalist events — centered on ethnic rights, wartime accountability, and power-sharing — to political teams with a national presence that emphasize financial growth. However comparable election outcomes prior to now didn’t blunt their demand for rights and justice.
The Tamils fought a 30-year civil war within the Indian Ocean island for secession, accusing the bulk Sinhalese of utilizing state equipment to discriminate and deny them their rights. The combating got here to an finish in Could 2009 with the navy defeat of the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by authorities forces. The toll the combating took on civilians led to a UN body all however accusing the LTTE and the Sri Lankan authorities of battle crimes and crimes in opposition to humanity.
Within the decade since combating ended with out the political roots of their discontent being addressed, Tamils have tried to make use of the parliament, regardless of its historical past of Sinhala majoritarian politics, to advance accountability for wartime atrocities and assure no less than minimal power-sharing.
The technique adopted by the Tamils was easy: Maintain electing en bloc a regional Tamil-nationalist social gathering from the nation’s north and east, areas with Tamil-speaking majority. Sadly, the social gathering chosen – the Tamil Nationwide Alliance (TNA) – delivered little. It’s accused of prioritizing collaboration with the government over pushing accountability or Tamil rights, and has a poor report of fulfilling election guarantees.
So, Tamils on August 5 voted in a different way. Within the northern Jaffna electoral district, they apportioned their vote amongst three nationalist events. It resulted within the TNA securing solely 10 seats of the 16 it gained within the August 2015 parliamentary elections. However the Tamil Nationwide Folks’s Entrance gained two seats, whereas the Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kootani acquired one.
In the meantime, voters from the north and east supporting events with ties to the central authorities in Colombo have been additionally prepared to extend assist for his or her selection. The Sri Lanka Freedom Celebration (SLFP), which gained a seat within the Jaffna District after a few years, has integral hyperlinks to the stridently Sinhala-nationalist authorities of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Former paramilitary teams with shut ties to Rajapaksa additionally made good points: the Eelam Folks’s Democratic Celebration (EPDP) from the North elevated its seats to 2 from one in 2015, whereas Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) from the Batticaloa District within the East secured two.
As a politician with ties to the governing social gathering in Colombo, SLFP’s Jaffna District candidate Angajan Ramanathan promised to scale back excessive ranges of unemployment and poverty there. This triggered the remark that Tamils have voted for financial growth instead of rights and favored pro-government events as an alternative of Tamil nationalist ones.
Nonetheless, a single seat for the SLFP and two seats for the EPDP within the North shouldn’t be wholesale repudiation of Tamil nationalism. Election outcomes from Jaffna present these tendencies have continued from 2015, when the primary aggressive parliamentary election after the civil battle’s finish was held. In 2015 too, the Jaffna District elected a single parliamentarian from what was the then ruling coalition, the United Nationwide Entrance for Good Governance (UNFGG).
Equally the EPDP, regardless of its long and unsavory association with Jaffna, gained one seat there in 2015. It has gained no less than one seat in Jaffna in each parliamentary election since 1994.
Moreover, the 2 seats gained by the pro-government TMVP in Batticaloa shouldn’t be new. In 2015 too, the UNFGG and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a political ally, gained two seats within the district.
In the identical manner, governments in Colombo with illustration within the North and East promising political patronage within the type of financial growth shouldn’t be distinctive to the 2020 election. The UNFGG spoke about it when in energy with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pledging in 2017 that “Jaffna will return to its unique standing and grow to be an financial centre.” Nonetheless, little was achieved.
In a area of the nation that has suffered from poverty and unemployment within the post-civil battle years, financial growth is significant no matter the political social gathering that initiates it. However financial growth or human rights needn’t be a binary selection basically.
Though Tamils voted pro-government candidates in 2015 and have been promised chimerical financial growth, it didn’t bar them from agitating for his or her rights. A few of their most vocal non-violent demonstrations — protesting disappearances, political prisoners and land grabbing by the navy — have been launched when UNFGG was in workplace. And protests continued uninterrupted from February 2017 till the COVID-19 pandemic forbade public meeting within the face of intimidation and betrayal.
Sadly, though financial growth and human rights can go hand in hand, there’s little prospect of that taking place in Sri Lanka. With the Tamil battle for rights, energy sharing and justice anticipated to go on, a crackdown is inevitable. When that occurs, human rights activists and the Tamil inhabitants will hopefully get the backing of the Tamil-nationalist events and never the excuse of “working with President Rajapaksa” to face by passively as atrocities mount. They need to oppose coercion, shield the individuals, and collectively attempt to satisfy Tamil aspirations.
S. Tissainayagam labored in English-language nationwide newspapers in Sri Lanka for over 25 years. He gained the CPJ Worldwide Press Freedom Award (2009) and was Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard ’11.