Editorial

17th February 2002

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Democratising the North

The LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance are vehemently against holding local government elections in the North. When The Sunday Times spoke to TULF parliamentarian R Sambandan about this stand on the part of the Tamil National Alliance, Mr Sambandan went on a long peroration.

He says that the local government election in the uncleared areas, and the sparsely populated pockets in the North East will result in a "distorted verdict.'' A national election where the polling is on a district basis, he says, is a different matter altogether. In such polls, the polling booths can be clustered, whereas the local government ordinance doesn't provide for clustering of polling booths. This means that all polling booths should be situated in the specific local government area for which candidates are being elected. These areas include sparsely populated or unpopulated areas, in which the people have been forced to leave due to the ongoing conflict. Or they could include uncleared areas. Having polling booths in these areas will result in a "distorted result,'' which should be avoided at any cost at a time when there are peace talks and negotiations in the offing, he says. He also adds that parliament will be convened anyway, which makes it imperative that Tamil parties contest national polls but this is certainly not the case in local government elections.

That's the official reason given, but it is curious why the Tamil parties want to eschew the democratic process. One thing that is certain is that the LTTE or Tamil National Alliance candidates are not a shoo-in at any of these local polls.

It is known that PLOTE candidates for instance, have a good chance of being elected in Vavuniya for example, and that EPDP candidates are also in with a chance. It is also doubtful that the LTTE can get its own men or its own proxy representatives elected to the local government bodies, when there is a free and fair election. 

Local government elections have a tendency of returning the most popular man in any given pocket borough, and this is not necessarily the man that the LTTE wants. A given local government area, for instance, may want a man who has a good track record for clearing the garbage and getting the sewers cleaned up. But he may not be ideologically close to the LTTE nor will he be the LTTE's agent.

Under these circumstances democracy (or shall we say and abundance of Glasnost or openness in the North East ?) will not be in favour of the LTTE, which after all, through it's ally the TNA, claims to be the sole representative of the Tamil people. This is also on top of the fact that the Tamil National Alliance is a loosely strung group, which still has its own internecine problems and conflicts. An election at this stage might expose all these frailties in the Alliance, which is why the LTTE's front group and new found political ally in parliament, the TNA, wants to avoid the poll in the North East like the plague.

If this is allowed however, and local government elections are abandoned in the North East, it will be tantamount to sacrificing democracy at the altar of the designs of a one party dictatorship. If the government acquiesces to the demand by the LTTE to abandon the election, the government would have effectively connived in stifling democracy in those areas, in favour of one party fascist rule. This is hardly a good precedent for peace, or for an interim council, or for any political arrangement that is to be arrived at, to ensure the democratic rights of the people of the North East.


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