The Tamil National Alliance won a solid victory over the weekend in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, giveing it the credibility to lobby for political devolution and for sufficient funds to rebuild the shattered region.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil heartland has finally regained its political voice, four years after a brutal civil war that tore apart the island. And its first priority speaks volumes: It is to help “war widows, orphans and the disabled,” the region’s chief minister-designate C.V. Wigneswaran says. The fighting claimed 80,000 lives or more, and left a lifetime of pain in its wake.
This is a critical milestone for Sri Lanka and its 20 million people, as the Star’s Rosie DiManno has been reporting from the Tamil-majority Northern Province. And it is one the large Tamil diaspora in Canada can celebrate.
The Tamil National Alliance won a solid victory Saturday in areas ravaged by 25 years of civil war, taking 30 of 38 seats on the advisory provincial council with a healthy 68-per-cent turnout. That gives the council the credibility to lobby for more political autonomy, funding and civil rights. The status quo will no longer do.
While the result is a rebuff for Sri Lankan President President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it is also a win for democracy in a country that is dominated by 13 million Sinhalese but which has a strong Tamil minority of 3 million. It offers the prospect of the much-needed national reconciliation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been urging. Wigneswaran, a former Supreme Court justice and a moderate, hopes to strike up a constructive partnership with the central government after years of Tamil Tiger insurgency, military occupation and debilitating direct federal rule.
Tamils yearn for the day when their homeland is not ruled from Colombo, through an appointed governor who dominates the advisory council. They envisage a new power-sharing deal. “We are for an undivided Sri Lanka, where there is a certain amount of (Tamil) self-rule under the federal constitution,” says Wigneswaran. That modest demand — a far cry from the secession for which the Tigers fought until they were destroyed – now enjoys the support of most voters. And Rajapaksa would be wise to heed it.
Since the end of the fighting Rajapaksa has been criticized by the United Nations, Canada and others for failing to fully probe what the UN calls “credible allegations” of war crimes, for obdurately refusing to devolve any substantial power, and for militarizing the north. That tough line will be harder to sustain after this election.
Sri Lanka’s constitution provides for power-sharing with provincial councils, and the TNA election platform calls for demilitarization, repatriation of internal refugees, redevelopment, and more local autonomy over land use, law and order, health and education, resources and finances. There is nothing radical in this. Tamils have long been promised “substantive” autonomy, plus stronger minority rights and a fair share of jobs in the civil service and military.
Now that Colombo has a democratic, moderate Tamil political partner, the time has come to make good on those promises.