TamilWeek, Nov 6 - 12, 2005
The importance of the vote in the north and east

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

As we enter the last lap of the presidential election campaign there is considerable
speculation as to whether the LTTE will engage proactively with the election in terms
of sending out a message to voters in the north and east and in the areas under their
control in particular, with regard to who they should vote for, if indeed they are to vote
for anyone.

The race in the rest of the country still appears to be close, within the margin of error
of any poll, making the vote in the north and east potentially decisive. Two factors
need to be taken into account in assessing the likelihood of the turn out and trajectory
of the vote there.

The assumption seems to be that the vote in the north and east will be determined by
the LTTE – a message subtle or otherwise will direct voters towards the polls and
towards a particular candidate. The champions of the patriot versus traitors
characterisation of this election seem to be of the mind that since Wickremesinghe is
supposed to be soft on the LTTE, in league with them and a host of other foreign
conspirators to divide the country, the LTTE will not let him down. They will give clear
directions to cadre and civilians alike to deliver the north and east vote unto him.

The ongoing court action also seems to be related to this. It stems from a heightened
concern with regard to the integrity of the poll in the north and east and with the
actions of the LTTE in this respect. From the location of the clustered polling booths
to the transportation of the voters and the establishment of their identity, there is a
punctilious concern here to minimise if not eliminate violence and malpractice.

In LTTE hands

Those of this school appear to treat the Tamil vote in the north and east as one
predominantly homogenous block of votes which is in the hands of the LTTE through
circumstance or choice to dispose. This is not the case. There is no contesting the
fact that the vote that comes out of LTTE controlled areas will be determined by the
LTTE, given the situation in those areas and the inability of candidates to engage in
electioneering in the way they have in the rest of the country.

In the Jaffna district too, the two main candidates were restricted to the high security
zone. The assumption with regard to the homogeneity of the Tamil vote is interesting
in that it does not take into account the dynamics released by the ceasefire —and not
just in the east — as well as the extent to which the LTTE’s sole representative claim
is substantiated on the ground in the fullest measure they claim.

Impact on the turnout

While the Wanni vote and the extent of it will be determined by the LTTE, it cannot be
assumed that direction of the vote in the rest of the north and east will easily fall into
line with LTTE direction. Of course the LTTE can impact on turn out as can a number
of other armed political actors.

It is the opinion of this columnist however, that if the majority of voters in the north and
east were not deterred or hindered in any way and allowed to vote, theirs will be for
the candidate they consider least likely to ensure a return to hostilities. The bulk of
the vote in the north and east is outside of the areas directly under LTTE control and
the vote there will be an anti war vote. Were this in turn to be construed as also being
an LTTE vote, one can conclude that the prospects for peace process are a lot better
than feared or indeed imagined of late !

Indeed the strength of the feeling and of the fear of a return to hostilities on the part
of civilians in the north and east, should not be callously disregarded. It has always
constituted a key pillar of a peace process. It also indicate that were the LTTE as a
politico - military organisation to conclude that it was in their best interests to return to
hostilities, popular support, sympathy and conviction may not be with them in the
measure they desire or indeed require.

LTTE goals

The key question at present is as to whether the LTTE is engaged in such a
calculation and as to what its conclusion will be as far as voting in the election is
concerned. Homogeneity within the LTTE too cannot be taken for granted in terms of
the information provided to its leader upon which to make such strategic calculations.

There could well be a school of thought that is of the opinion that a Wickremesinghe
presidency will be more favourable for the advancement of core LTTE goals. Likewise
a body of thought that could argue that hardcore LTTE goals would be better served
by a hardline Rajapakse presidency.

On the other hand, it could well be the case that the LTTE is genuinely undecided or
of the opinion that either way, there will be both obstacles and opportunities to
demonstrate the difficulties of coming to a settlement with the GOSL until and unless
that settlement is weighted in its favour. LTTE confidence and security in the no war/
no peace context and therefore in determining its dynamics, are not at the same
levels as they were before the ceasefire.

A free vote

What seems to be clear about the bulk of the Tamil vote in the north and east is that
left alone it will be an anti-war one. What is not clear is what the LTTE wants and what
it will do. The hardliners as well as moderates in the south need to reflect on this –
less time to do so now re the election, but after that no less important for its bearing
on the prospects for a revitalised peace process whoever wins.

Were this columnist to be right as far as the LTTE is concerned, hardliners in the
south have some hard thinking to do. A perverse strategic alliance between them and
the LTTE is to the detriment of the country. That is why the people in the north
andeast as indeed in the rest of the country must be allowed the freest and fullest
exercise of the franchise on the 17th.

This is not a decision to be made by a few, but by as many as possible.

[Courtesy: Morning Leader]
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