Can elections fast-track development in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone?

Irin News

Opposition party leaders in Sri Lanka’s north have long called for power devolution to the former conflict zone as a condition for lasting peace, but voters preparing to cast ballots in the Northern Province’s first election since the end of a separatist war in 2009 say power sharing means little if basic needs are unmet.  “First we need to be able to take care of ourselves financially before we get into sharing power,” Jeyam Subramanian, a voter from the northern town of Kilinochchi, told IRIN.
WATER TOWER NP Pic by Amantha Perera

There are some indications that the planned election has quickened the pace of development work.  When Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently met a high level delegation from China involved in billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects in the island, he had one request: expedite the work on a nearly 400km expressway that would link the capital, Colombo, with the northern town of Jaffna. This came shortly after he oversaw the opening of a US$150 million garment factory in the northern town of Vavuniya.  And less than one week later, the government announced the country’s rail link to the north had reached the town of Kilinochchi from Colombo. The government said it was the first time in 23 years that the rail link, financed by the Indian government, had extended so far north.
While according to Roopavathi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in Kilinochchi District, “there have been no instructions to speed up” development work ahead of the elections (slated for 21 September), voters welcome the increased attention anyhow.  “We have suffered for long. Even after the war [ended], development has been slow,” said Vadivel Shanmuganathan, a voter from Kilinochchi, a town among the hardest hit by fighting in the northern district of the same name.
The Northern Province is home to more than 1.1 million people, of whom at least 460,000 are returnees since fighting ended.
Campaign issues:  There is still a funding gap for over 70,000 out of a needed 145,000 houses destroyed during the war. Unemployment in the north is highest nationwide at 5.2 percent, according to the government, though unofficial estimates are several times higher.  Candidates standing for election told IRIN that whoever is elected will have to address housing and employment quickly.
TNA has faced accusations it is a proxy for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, (the armed group that fought for a separate state from 1983 to 2009), something it denies.

“Our main campaign point is equal rights in the region. But essential needs like housing, transportation, jobs and agriculture are the pressing issues facing the people right now that would have to be addressed expeditiously,” said Thambirajaha Gurukalarajaha, a candidate in Kilinochchi District from the main opposition party representing the country’s minority ethnic Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Power devolution unlikely: Some voters expressed concern that political demands for power devolution – something international election backers (India, the USA, and the European Union) as well as TNA have emphasized since the war’s end – will overshadow unmet needs.  Though analysts are looking at the election as a gauge of the government’s willingness to share power, it is unclear what budget the 36-member Northern Council will have (allocations come from central government), or what its governance powers will be.
The provincial councils were established in 1987 after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord as a way to devolve more powers to the provinces. There are nine provinces in the country; eight councils already have elected bodies while the Northern Council has only had an administrative body staffed by public employees headed by an appointed governor.  All of the country’s councils, except in Northern Province, are affiliated with the ruling party; there have been nearly no calls for expanded provincial powers from provinces other than the north, where this has been a primary TNA demand.

The government has historically not been keen on devolution. President Rajapaksa has ruled out any police and land powers being devolved, a top demand by the TNA. There is a vocal section within the ruling coalition that wants the councils abolished altogether. Nevertheless, voter Shanmuganathan remains hopeful the election can usher in needed development improvements in the north.  “It will be a provincial administration with responsibilities concerning the province. Maybe that focus will help us,” he said.  Shanmuganathan added he hoped the increased attention the province is getting ahead of the election can translate into more development funds, which have shrunk in recent years.  “At least some of the words will be met with action; that will be good for us.”




Filed under constitutional amendments, democratic measures, economic processes, historical interpretation, life stories, politIcal discourse, population, power politics, power sharing, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians

3 responses to “Can elections fast-track development in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone?

  1. nuwan

    A relevant issue.. August 23..we see the Release of the Much Anticipated Indian movie ‘Madras Cafe’.. Set during the Sri Lanka and LTTE war.. Today we see the So called Pro LTTE outfits In Tamil Nadu, and the LTTE Emigre Groups in Europe and else where.. Which Have Threatened any cinema hall that shows this Film.. These are the same Groups with their socalled moderates such as DBS jeyaraj and Others.. Who are the first to constantly point out the so called freedom of expression issues in sri lanka.. Yet when such a film is Banned in Tamil Nadu.. they argue that ‘Shows Sri Lankan Tamil Issue is Still relevant in State Politics’ NOW THE REASON FOR the opposition for the film.. It shows the LTTE as a Terrorist OUT fit and yes actually shows them as Ruthless Killers and touches upon the assassination of Mr Gandhi…’ The movie’s overseas release, too, was marred with hostilities, ranging from bomb threats and opposition by outfits. Movie halls screening Madras Cafe in UK reportedly received bomb threats – pro-Tamil outfits. So one can now imagine the One sided British Docudrama made re the Lankan war.. And where the Director argued he has also portrayed the LTTE as a terrorist outfit..But if that was so this False Docu drama would not be the champion of every Pro LTTE out fit from Tamil nadu, To Europe, US, and Australia.. He would not even be able to sit next to the LTTE emigre out fits to even promote this trip as he did in many occasions.. Can we see a article regarding this matter Mr Roberts.

    • Thank you Darshanie Ratnawalli

      • nuwan

        A Bollywood spy thriller set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war has been pulled from British and some Indian cinemas after protests over its depiction of rebel fighters.

        Madras Café, which opened last week in the UAE, features John Abraham as an Indian secret agent sent to Sri Lanka during the country’s decades-long conflict between the government and separatist Tamil rebels. But the film has failed to reach a number of cinema halls after ethnic Tamil populations in India and Britain complained that they were unfairly portrayed.

        “Our UK exhibitors, Cineworld, decided to hold the film after protesters gathered outside their UK offices,” said Rudrarup Datta, the marketing head of the film’s Indian distributor Viacom18 Motion Pictures. Indian media reports said theatres also refused to show the film in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu after protests from its largely Tamil population.

        In Britain, an online petition was launched, calling for the film to be banned there because it was believed to portray Tamils “in a poor light”. (AFP)


        ONCE AGAIN THAT UK CH4 DOCU DRAMA WHERE MOST ARGUED RIGHTLY SO.. ITS IS A PRO LTTE EMGIRE SPONSORED FILM IN THEIR ARSENAL TO DEMONIZE SRI LANKA AND HER people.. stand vindicated.. one wonders where are the so called self claiming moderates who point fingers at Lanka..and stand firmly silent when it comes to a mere film.

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