A worrying start

Tuesday, 2 April 2013 00:31 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

September may be four months away, but the anticipation for the northern polls has been heightened by an unfortunate incident that does not bode well for free and fair elections.

The attack on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) rally on Saturday has sparked renewed discussions into the upcoming northern polls that were announced by the Government last year. Under increasing pressure from the US and India, the Sri Lankan Government insisted that it would hold long-delayed elections in September and even garnered notice in the recently-passed resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

But this somewhat auspicious start is now over. The TNA has alleged that the perpetrators of the attack on Saturday were security officials under the Government, with TNA MP and Attorney-at-law M. A. Sumanthiran telling media that one of the suspects caught and handed over to the Police was a member of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). He has also noted that least 13 people were injured in the incident but that the Police at the scene did little to protect the rally participants.

He has gone so far as to charge that three attackers who were handed over to Police have been released as this was an attempt by the Government to scuttle the TNA’s election campaign. These are all serious allegations, but it is unlikely that they will be credited with transparent investigations.

If attacks of this nature are happening this early, an escalation of violence is feared as time rolls closer to September. Even before an exact date for the elections has been announced, the lines have been drawn for a dramatic election.

There are several other aspects adding colour as well. Reports indicate that internal strife within the TNA is deepening, with dangers of it being split down the middle. This would, at least on the face of it, be positive for the ruling party that would see its biggest contender diminish ahead of crucial polls.

The TNA is an amalgam of five parties – Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). Only the first three parties have Parliamentary representation. These allies have held negotiations over a period of time on the registration of the TNA as a separate political party. However, there has been a conflict of opinion between the ITAK of R. Sampanthan and the other parties on the sharing of responsibilities when registering the party.

Understandably, the party will scramble to keep itself together. Winning the polls would be an important step ahead for both the TNA and for the Government. For the latter it would be a vindication of its post-war path both in terms of politics and economic policies, while the TNA would need to make a significant show in the north to maintain its tag as the main representative for the Tamil community.

The result of the poll will also have a deep impact on a host of related issues such as power devolution and other reconciliation measures that have been discussed extensively since 2009 and included within the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Report (LLRC) recommendations. With such high stakes, it is possible for the northern poll to enter history as one of the most important elections to ever be held in post-war Sri Lanka.