Presidential Election: Sole Representation and the Disenfranchisement of Tamils in the North and East
The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) condemns the election violence, intimidation and the consequent disenfranchisement of Tamil citizens by the LTTE in the North and East. The elections in the North and East were held in a climate of fear as the LTTE, through its front organizations, called for a boycott of the elections. This directive was backed by violence on the days leading up to and on Election Day, as LTTE cadres on motorcycles beat and chased away voters and tyres were burned as road blocks to intimidate civilians. LTTE cadres appointed by the New Left Front as polling agents (normally used in elections to challenge fraud and can only be appointed by a party with a candidate in the elections), were used by the LTTE to intimidate voters inside polling booths and to identify voters who could then be targeted for retribution. On the day before the election, there were at least five grenade attacks on the offices of the EPDP in Jaffna, a political party supportive of presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapakse. Two days before the election, cadres from the LTTE's cultural wing brought a youth, twenty-two year old Dinesh, to the grounds of Kokkuvil Hindu College and tied, tortured and beat him to death in public view. Grenade attacks and killings were also reported in the East on Election Day. The Jaffna Government Agent and the chief election officer for the Jaffna District stated that only 1.5% of the eligible voters cast their votes.
The 2005 presidential election in the North is very similar to the 2004 parliamentary elections when, once again, Tamils living in the North were denied their democratic rights. In this regard, the low voter turn out in this election is no different from the 90+% of the votes, which the LTTE manufactured in the 2004 elections for its proxy the TNA through violence, intimidation and massive fraud. Indeed, as John Cushnahan of the EU Election Monitoring Mission noted after the elections in 2004, the elections in the North and East were the "anti-thesis of democracy" and the "primary source of the violence was the LTTE who were determined to ensure that the TNA would emerge as the sole representative of the Tamil people."
After three and a half years of a much-violated Ceasefire Agreement, democratic space in the North and East has been greatly diminished, not only in terms of electoral politics, but also in terms of the rights to life, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Indeed, the very basic civil and political rights necessary for democratic space and engagement have progressively been curtailed during a time of peace. During yesterday's elections, yet another opportunity for the people of the North and East to voice their concerns on fundamental political and economic issues, as well as the peace process, was taken away from them. And, underlying and justifying this constant silencing of Tamil and Muslim voices is the LTTE's claim to "sole-representation".
SLDF calls on all political parties and civil society actors in Sri Lanka, foreign governments, multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union, and the Donors involved in the peace process in Sri Lanka, to publicly denounce the intimidation and violence that kept Tamils from exercising their democratic rights during yesterday's presidential elections. Fundamental to this will be a refutation of the LTTE's claim of sole-representation, which has been antithetical to democracy in both name and practice. Finally, given the LTTE's attacks on democracy and the rights of Muslims and Tamils, any resumption of peace talks should be inclusive with participation of independent delegations from the Muslim community and other Tamil parties. [SLDF Press Release]