Preparing for a poll that is out of sight

There are few signs of Sri Lanka’s provincial elections being held any time soon, but the Tamil polity is already gearing up for the race.

The island’s Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils are due for elections since October 2017, and the Central, North Western and Tamil-majority Northern Provincial Councils will complete their five-year terms in a couple of months.

Some political parties, including those representing minorities, are wary of a proposed hybrid electoral system, combining the first past the post and proportional representation systems.

Though the lack of consensus on pending electoral reform is the official reason that the Colombo government gives for the delay, the political logic of it is not hard to see. After suffering a humiliating defeat in the island-wide local government elections in February, the government has no reason to believe that it can take on another challenge. That too after a new party backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made significant inroads, paving the way for his political comeback.

But as the councils lose political momentum, the provincial administrations are unable to go past the very basic functions. Many tasks await attention and action, even if within the limited ambit of the provincial powers, for want of political push and direction.

Last month, Election Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to expedite the conduct of the provincial council elections. The Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) Jaffna District Parliamentarian on Friday moved an adjournment motion in Parliament, urging authorities to hold the polls without further postponement.

While it remains uncertain when the polls will be held, a few Tamil politicians have thrown in their hat.

Ties with India

Former militant and Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) leader Douglas Devananda, Mr. Rajapaksa’s closest Tamil ally when he was in power, has declared his intention to contest. “Unlike others, I can work well with the Centre and implement relevant policies on the ground,” he told The Hindu recently. “I will also strengthen ties with India, and ensure the full implementation of the 13th Amendment,” he said, referring to the legislation that followed the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord, and led to the creation of Sri Lanka’s provincial council system. “Had India backed me earlier, they would not have burnt their fingers this way.”

At the same time, he sees the international community as “merely a midwife”. “We have to bear our own children,” he said, making a case for a domestic solution to the Tamil question.

Mr. Devananda would be competing with Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, who appears keen on a second term, though some within the TNA are resisting his candidacy. While he has sent out feelers to the leadership, the CM is also mulling a new political vehicle, local media reports say, as a fall back option, should he be denied the ticket.

There is also considerable support within the TNA for Mavai Senathirajah, leader of its chief constituent the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK).

While the senior parliamentarian from Jaffna was expected to be the TNA’s candidate in 2013, the party leadership fielded Mr. Wigneswaran. His huge election victory proved a good start to the Northern Provincial Council but its appeal has since faded, as was evident in the local government polls. (Hindu)

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