The landslide victory of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in elections to Sri Lanka’s Northern Province is heartening for several reasons. For one, it provides space for the TNA, now in government, to bring real change in the lives of the Tamil people. Hitherto, it has fought for Tamil rights as part of the opposition in parliament. How much it can do for the Tamil people will, no doubt, be constrained by the limited powers vested in provincial councils. Still, it can set the agenda in the limited areas under its jurisdiction.
Importantly, it can work for more provincial powers. Pro-LTTE sections in the TNA and among Tamils in the island and the diaspora have interpreted the win as a mandate for an independent Tamil Eelam. It is not. Rather the vote signals mandate for the TNA to work through democratic institutions. The poor performance of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) indicates the depth of Tamil opposition to his approach towards Tamils. Not only have they not forgotten the final stages of the war in 2009 but also, they have rejected his military-business model of development in the North.
Voting day saw a large number of Tamils showing up to vote. This indicates that Tamils are reposing their faith again in the ballot box and are hoping to bring change in their lives through political means. This is a message that President Mahinda Rajapaksa must heed.
As the only Provincial Council that is not in the hands of Rajapaksa’s UPFA, it will be up to the TNA-led Northern Provincial Council to spearhead the effort for greater provincial autonomy. It will have to move cautiously as its demands will be interpreted by Sinhalese hardliner as ‘secessionist.’ It must seek allies among the Sinhalese to strengthen its effort.
TNA’s victory has shifted the centre of gravity of Sri Lankan Tamil politics from the Tamil Diaspora to the island again. This is a positive development that Rajapaksa should take advantage of. He must reach out to the TNA immediately and work with it to give provincial councils the powers guaranteed under the 13th amendment. He will find strong support from India should he chose this path. Sinhalese hardliners need to shed their fear of the Tamil demand for provincial autonomy. After all, this will benefit councils in the Sinhalese-dominated southern provinces, as well.