Tigers deprive North-Eastern Tamils of Franchise
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam made its presence felt in Sri Lanka's fifth
Presidential election by disenfranchising a large segment of the North - Eastern Tamil
people.Despite dubious claims to being the sole representatives of the Tamil people
the LTTE had to unleash a "terror" campaign against innocent civilians to enforce
what it called a "purakkanippu" or boycott of the Presidential poll. Though the violent
intimidation enabled the LTTE to prevent many Tamils from voting it was unable to
ensure a total boycott in many places.
While posters and leaflets calling for a boycott were widely circulated a systematic
campaign of violence and terror also commenced prior to the poll. A series of
explosions took place. In Jaffna grenades were thrown at five EPDP party offices on
the eve of polls. Grenades and bombs were also thrown at Police patrols, army sentry
posts, vehicles etc. A youth was tortured and beaten to death publicly at the Hindu
College grounds. In Batticaloa a sub - post mistress who allegedly refused to hand
over polling cards was brutally hacked to death..A climate of terror prevailed.
This terror continued from the early hours of the morning on election day. Bombs
were thrown at Govt offices, polling booths, security posts and vehicles. Tyres and
palm fronds were set on fire at key junctions and roads. Roadblocks were set
up.Youths roamed streets looking out for potential voters. The LTTE motor cycle
squad patrolled roads. People on the roads were threatened. Many old people going
out to vote were assaulted. Vehicles including buses were stoned or set on fire.
Civilian voters and officials were injured in deliberate grenade attacks on polling
stations. A few people returning after voting were set upon. One man had his inked
finger cut off. The message was unmistakably clear - Dont vote.
The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum in a statement had a serious charge. It said " 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".This was a dangerous
Buses had been arranged for voters from LTTE controlled areas to come to Govt
controlled areas and vote in the cluster booths. With a tiger enforced boycot none
dared to come.In this climate of fear Jaffna district only had 1. 5 % voting. Of these
Kilinochchi division completely under tiger control had only one person voting.Officials
and Journalists mobbed this solitary voter who claimed he had travelled by motor
cycle, car and bus. It is however felt the man had been sent deliberately by the tigers
to survey the situation. The only vote cast "from" Kilinochchi was for Wickremasinghe.
Funnily enough the election staff finished counting this single ballot only at 9. 13 pm
which means five hours to count one!
In Batticaloa armed LTTE sentinels guarded access roads, bridges and ferry points
to prevent people from tiger controlled regions coming over and voting. Roadblocks
were set up. Fires raged. A tiger cadre interviewed by a news agency said that the
decision to boycott elections was made by the people themselves. "We had nothing to
do with it" he said. Continuing further he said "But we will not allow them to vote".
In some places people were "persusaded" to burn their voter cards in a bonfire. A few
of these demonstrations took place in the presence of European election monitors.
The EU monitors also withdrew from Chenkalladdy and Valaichenai due to the violent
climate.Though voting percentages dropped slightly the situation in the East and
Vavuniya - Mannar were not bad as in Jafna - Kilinochchi - Mullaitheevu.
The enforced boycott was ostensibly to demonstrate to the world at large that the
Tamil people were disillusioned by Presidential candidates and had nothing to gain
from a new President. The Tamils belonged to Tamil Eelam and were unconcerned
about Sri Lanka was the message sought to be conveyed.. Though the decision to be
neutral and boycott polls was supposedly a people based decision it was obvious that
the LTTE directed events. It was also clear that the LTTE did not want one particular
candidate to win. The reasons for this stance are rather interesting and warrant a
The LTTE initially stated that it was neutral in the Presidential stakes and would play
no role in it. It said that the Tamil people were free to exercise their franchise if they
desired or refrain from voting. The Tamil people were politically mature and would act
appropriately the LTTE said.
As time went on the LTTE detected a groundswell of support among Tamil people for
United National Party Candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe. The LTTE then changed its
stance slightly and began berating both Mahinda Rajapakse and Ranil
Wickremasinghe. Both had failed the Tamil people and were unworthy of Tamil
support they said.
In spite of all this the visible trend was a landslide of Tamil votes for Wickremasinghe.
This spontaneous Tamil support was due to several reasons. Foremost among them
was the hawkish policies of Rajapakse and his pacts with the hardline Janatha
Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika hela Urumaya. The Tamil people abhorring a return
to war felt quite rightly that a victory for Mahinda would hasten a resumption of armed
There was also a feeling of gratitude for Wickremasinghe. It was he who de -
proscribed the LTTE and entered into a ceasefire with the tigers. Besides Ranil
advocated negotiations with the LTTE and was in favour of exploring a federal
solution. His economic policies were also attractive.It was also realised that
Wickremasinghe depicted as a traitor to the Sinhala people by his opponents for his
dovish policies faced the risk of losing Sinhala votes on account of this.It was
therefore necessary for Tamils to vote for Wickremasinghe to offset this it was felt.
The Presidential poll was of crucial importance to all minority communities. The
hawkish Rajapakse and hardline cohorts posed a grave threat to their interests. The
need of the hour was for the minorities to rally firmly behind the minority friendly
candidate as a counterpoint to the extremist Sinhala - Buddhist juggernaut
threatening to crush them underfoot.
The Muslim Congress, Ceylon workers Congress, Up Country Peoples Front, Western
Province Peoples Front were all aligned with Wickremasinghe. Even the Catholic
Bishops indicated indirect support.The Sri Lankan Tamils like the Muslims, Plantation
Tamils and Catholics felt Wickremasinghe was the better of the two major candidates
or from another perspective the lesser evil.
The LTTE however was unhappy about this natural proclivity on the part of Tamils in
particular and the minorities in general to support Wickremasinghe. Viewing the
situation only from its narrow, sectarian perspective the LTTE preferred a
Wickremasinghe defeat and Rajapakse victory.
There were many reasons for this perplexing approach. The most important one was
that a hardline Government in Colombo was seen as more conducive to an outbreak
of war. It was felt that international opinion would be firmly opposed to such a regime.
This in turn was expected to be beneficial to the LTTE.
On the other hand the LTTE was resentful and suspicious about Wickremasinghe. It
was worried about the overwhelming Tamil support for him. It did not want a replay of
the 1994 scenario where Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power with tremendous
Tamil support. Also the tigers feared the international clout of Wickremasinghe. In the
event of war the World at large will support Colombo. It was felt that an amenably
flexible President would reduce valid reasons for resuming war.There has been
simmering dissent in tiger circles for long that Wickremasinghe's ceasefire was a
calculated device to weaken and debilitate the LTTE in the long run.
It was to some extent where the perceived interests of the LTTE diverged from the
real interests f the Tamil people. The ordinary people did not want war and so
preferred the best possible candidate who would avoid war and talk peace and power
sharing with the LTTE. Common sense decreed that Wickremasinghe was better in
that respect. It did not matter whether Wickremasinghe would deliver or not. Given
Rajapakse's standpoint and allies Wickremasinghe was certainly the better of the two.
Actually it was a case of Hobson's choice.
The LTTE however had a different perspective. For the tigers Rajapakse was the
better option than Wickremasinghe. The interests of the LTTE took precedence over
that of the welfare of the Tamil people. Wickremasinghe was more dangerous in a war
situation as opposed to Rajapakse.While the Sinhaa electorate thinks tht a Southern
Veeraya like Rajapakse sent shivers down the tiger spine the reality was different. It
was a victory for Ranil decried by his adversaries as a weak traitor who posed a threat
in LTTE perception. Given a direct choice the tigers preferred Rajapakse as a "weak
and ineffective" President.
This led to an ironic contradiction . The Tamil people wanted a President to talk
peace with the tigers and prevent war while the tigers wanted a President who could
disrupt peace and bring about war. In such a situation the franchise of the people
became a casualty.This was the crux of the matter.
So the LTTE found that despite their covert signals the Tamil people were planning to
support Wickremasinghe overwhelmingly. This then led to a situation where the tigers
were forced to target Wickremasinghe more directly. Senior leader KV Balakumaran
openly attacked Wickremasinghe and made it clear that he was the more "dangerous"
of the two. Political Commissar SP Tamilselvan followed suit. The tiger and pro - tiger
media launched an intensive offensive against Ranil.
A parallel exercise undertaken indirectly was an orchestrated campaign urging Tamils
to desist from voting. Since the international community was observant the LTTE
could not openly call for a boycott. So a number of front organizations notably student
outfits took up the cry.
Still the detectable tendency as far as the people were concerned was to vote and
vote for Ranil. This was due to a realisation based on common sense that
Wickremasinghe had to be supported to prevent Sinhala - Buddhist hegemony and
resultant war. Whatever the LTTE desire the ordinary Tamils grasped shrewdly that it
was in their best interests to back Wickremasinghe. It was not as if Ranil was a
positive choice. But compared to Rajapakse the people preferred him.
So the tigers had to raise the ante further. They were compelled to call a press
conference after a joint meeting with their minions the Tamil National Alliance. It was
announced there that the "People" had decided to boycott polls. The LTTE - TNA
were simply expressing their wishes. But Sambandan gave the game away when he
said that he hoped the people would accept their thinking. It was clear that the boycott
was being imposed on the Tamil people.
Despite these moves the tigers had to officially maintain a position of "detachment".
The fiction that the people were going to boycott was publicised to a great extent. Yet
it was necessary to pay lip service to the notion that the Tamil people were free to
decide whether they wanted to vote or not. The people will choose wisely was hinted
at heavily. Unfortunately for the LTTE the Tamil people were still of the opinion that
they should vote in large numbers for Wickremasinghe.
With rival groups like the EPDP and Karuna faction urging a large voter turn out it was
becoming a matter of prestige for the LTTE. The controversial comments made by
Navin Dissanaike and Milinda Moragoda added further complications. It was now
becoming necessary to enforce a boycott and deprive Wickremasinghe of victory. He
had to be taught an unforgettable lesson was the tiger line of thinking.
It was now out in the open and the tiger hand behind the boycott call was becoming
exposed. A call to declare election day a day of mourning and for people to stay
indoors was made through a student front. Even public servants on election duty were
asked to stay at home.
The pro - Mahinda elements had been accusing Ranil of a tie - up with the LTTE and
charged that the tigers were going to delver the Tamil vote en bloc to Ranil. Now they
changed track and began gloating that the tigers were now trying to sabotage Ranil. It
was comical indeed to see people reverse their stances overnight and expose the
venom they had against Ranil.
Well - wishers of Wickremasinghe and sections of the International community were
aghast. Many lines of communication were opened with Kilinochchi. Several
International community representatives and local politicians appealed to the LTTE.
Representations were made to Anton Balasingham in London. Up Country Peoples
Front leader Periyasamy Chandrasekeram went to Kilinochi. After meeting
Thamilselvan he returned to Vavuniya and spoke on the telephone with Ranil. He then
went to Kilinochchi again to meet the LTTE political commissar. Some TNA
Parliamentarians also took up Ranil's case.
As a result of these efforts the LTTE hierarchy in Kilinochchi gave an assurance that
the tigers would not enforce a boycott. They would merely call for a boycott but not
adopt any further action to actually instil a boycott. They would leave the matter
entirely to the people. They would not stand in the way of voters wishing to exercise
This was welcomed by the UNP. Wickremasinghe did not want any deal with the LTTE.
All that he wanted was for the LTTE to refrain from enforcing a boycott and leave the
choice in the hands of the Tamil people. The UNP was sure that the Tamil people
would vote in large numbers for Ranil if the tigers did not impose a boycott.
So Colombo newspapers ran stories of a change of heart in the LTTE. The LTTE
website "Tamilnet" wanted an interview with Wickremasinghe to clarify the position. He
refused but gave an extensive interview to a Colombo newspaper and Television
explaining his stance. Wickremasinghe took great pains to elaborate on his position
on the Tamil question. This eased the minds of many who were troubled by the
comments of Milinda and Navin. In the process Ranil may have alienated some
It was against this backdrop that the enforced boycott took place amid intimidatory
violence and terror. The LTTE that had assured "non - interference" in the poll broke
their promise. The LTTE launched a vicious campaign to prevent Tamils from voting
thereby damaging Ranil's chances of victory. As far as the Wickremasinghe camp was
concerned the LTTE had betrayed them. Frantic attempts to communicate with
Kilinochchi failed. The LTTE in one more instance of doublespeak maintained that
they were not interfering while goons did their utmost to restrict voting. Thamilselvan
glibly parroted the refrain that the people were boycotting on their own.
The LTTE claims the boycott to be a tremendous success. Superficial observations by
some journalists support this premise. Some came out with the blatantly wrong
comment that Tamils in Colombo had also heeded the tiger call and refrained from
voting. The Tamilnet distorted and exaggerated this observation.The facts however
Polling divisions within the City and suburbs like Wattala and Dehiwela have large
Tamil and Muslim concentrations. Wickremasinghe won from all these. His majority in
Colombo West, Central, North and East were high. If Tamils boycotted in large
numbers these results would not have been possible.The margins would be lower.
The Up Country Tamil vote also was overwhelmingly for Wickremasinghe. This was
seen in polling divisions with substantial Tamils in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Matale and
Badulla districts. It was the Tamil majority Nuwara Eliya - Maskeliya polling division that
gave Wickremasinghe his biggest majority.
Even in the East the electoral divisions of Kalkuah, Batticaloa and Paddiruppu voted
for Wickremasinghe. Though the LTTE prevented voters in the hinterland west of
Batticaloa lagoon from voting Tamils in the littoral east of the lagoon voted in large
numbers. The LTTE tries to make out that votes for Wickremasinghe were from the
Muslims. This is incorrect. Paddiruppu for instance is 99% Tamil. Kalkudah is 65%
Tamil. Batticaloa is 75% Tamil. The votes this time were more than in 1999
Presidential election.This was the case in Tamil majority Trincomalee electoral division.
While Tamils who voted in the East were supportive of Wickremasinghe it was the
Muslim vote that got divided to a certain extent. While the SLMC succeeded in
delivering the majority Muslim vote to Wickremasinghe people like Athaullah, Ferial
Ashraff, Segu Issadeen, Anwer Ismail, Ameer ali and Najeeb Abdul Majeed etc used
their personal influence to deliver some votes to Mahinda.
The Tamil voters in tiger controlled areas of Wanni were not allowed to vote by the
tigers. This resulted in votes dropping significantly. Yet Tamils in Govt controlled
Mannar and Vavuniya voted in large numbers. These areas were overwhelmingly
supportive of Ranil.
Ironically for the LTTE the only Northern electoral division voting for Mahinda was
Mullaitheevu the tiger citadel and heartland. While Tamils were prevented by the
LTTE Sinhala settlers in Army controlled Weli - Oya were able to vote. Thus Mahinda
got more votes than Ranil there.
It is widely rumoured that MP's like Sivanathan Kishore, Selvam Adaikkalanathan, R
Sambandan etc worked "clandestinely" to ensure Wickremasinghe got votes. In
Batticaloa the Karuna factor also helped. While Karuna asked people to support
Rajapakse he also wanted people to vote for anyone of their choice. This "mixed"
signal strengthened the people's resolve to vote.
It is therefore crystal clear that the LTTE enforced boycott was not a huge success.
Votes dropped only in areas under LTTE control or where they retained great
influence. Even there the tigers had to deploy systematic violence to prevent voting.
In all other areas the Tamils voted in large numbers particularly in Batticaloa district,
Trincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya, Colombo and the Up Country.. The Tamils clearly
voted for Wickremasinghe.It is indeed noteworthy that the eleven electoral districts
won by Rajapakse were predominantly Sinhala while the eleven won by
Wickremasinghe were districts where the minority communities were in a majority or at
least a sizeable chunk.
The bulk of the security forces in the North - East and Sinhala government officials
were supportive of Rajapakse. The boycott favoured Mahinda because the Tamils if
allowed to vote would have opted for Ranil. There was a convergence of interests
therefore between the LTTE and Rajapakse in implementing an effective boycott. The
overall majority was 186, 000 plus.. If the Jaffna, Wanni and Eastern Tamils had voted
in full strength there was every chance that Wickremasinghe would have got an extra
250 to 300, 000 votes. This would have clinched his victory. Ranil was cheated of
success by the LTTE betrayal.
Though the tigers and their minions are waxing eloquent about their success and
ability in determining the victor it is indeed a moot point as to the total political cost
incurred. It may have been a different picture if the tigers ensured victory of a dovish
candidate. Here the felines have helped defeat the "dove" and helped install the
"hawk" as president. Furthermore they have betrayed the man who de - proscribed
them and signed a ceasefire pact. Bitter irony for Ranil is that it was the ceasefire
which gave the LTTE much clout in Jaffna.
With the EU monitors present the LTTE blundered greatly in enforcing a boycott.In the
first place the LTTE demonstrated that their writ does not extend to all sections of the
Tamil people and that a boycott could succeed in the North only due to terror and
Depriving Tamils of the franchise was certainly not a plus point for the LTTE. What is
worse is that this disenfranchisement was made possible through a campaign of
violence and terror. The LTTE had exposed their insincere commitment to a
negotiated settlement by helping defeat Ranil and enabling Mahinda win. Under
these circumstances the LTTE action can only bring negative repercussions. The
temporary EU travel ban may become permanent. It is also possible that the EU could
bring about a permanent ban on the LTTE. If that and a lot of other things happen
this boycott can only be counterproductive.
The Tamils have for long lamented the disenfranchisement of Up Country Tamils by a
Sinhala dominated Government in 1949. It is portrayed quite correctly as a grave
violation of a fundamental right. Today the self - appointed sole representatives of the
Tamil people have deprived a segment of the North - Eastern Tamils of their franchise
rights. The tigers are likely to learn , in more ways than one, that this
disenfranchisement was a colossal blunder.
What is important however is that the Tamil people be spared victimisation for no fault
of theirs. It must be realised that the people if unfettered would have voted for Ranil.
The Northern Postal votes and voting pattern in other areas indicate this. A serious
development of this election is that Rajapakse has won the bulk of Sinhala vores while
Wickremasinghe got most non - Sinhala votes. The new President must realise that
he has no mandate from the minorities particularly the Tamils. Rajapakse must display
considerable sagacity in coping with this situation. [TamilWeek]