Northern Province – Voters focus on development
By Sarah Hannan reporting from the Northern Province
Over the last decade, the Northern Province has taken shape as a result of much development. On our visit, we noticed there were visibly more townships and also resettlement that had taken place over the years.
Due to the present pandemic situation in the country, there were several roadblocks manned by the Sri Lanka Police; as we headed north, we were stopped and asked about our purpose of visit and the area we were heading towards.
As is the case in any other region of the country, the Northern Province too is seeing a lot of infrastructure development work, with bridges and road networks under construction, somewhat slowing the commute in certain areas. Areas that were once thick jungles have transformed into townships, and there is a considerable amount of movement in the area too.
Although the province is made of five administrative districts namely Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, and Mannar, for the purpose of elections it is divided into two electoral districts. The Jaffna electoral district includes the Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts, while the Vanni electoral district is made of Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, and Mannar.
Jaffna electoral district
Over the last three elections, this district voted in representatives from the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), and United National Party (UNP) to Parliament. During our visit to the District and upon inquiry on the upcoming election, many citizens responded that even though they were not enthusiastic about the upcoming election, they will have to decide, come election day, as to who they want to vote for.
The Sunday Morning met with Thulasi Muttulingam, a journalist in the North, to get a broader understanding about the political situation in the region and whether there is enough space for younger politicians to remain in politics and usher in the much-needed change in perception towards democratic governance.
“People have realised that ultra-nationalism is not the answer for the region’s problem. Regional politics has turned into a big ball of confusion with the voter being misled as well as brainwashed by the political parties. They are being pushed to say that they are all good with regard to their livelihoods. But it is not always the case, and based on who is asking the question, they would choose to reveal their hardship.”
She also pointed out that there are groups with vested interests who do not want to see a united country and are looking at creating divisions between the Tamil and Sinhalese people. She added: “Even if the youths in the region are all for peace and reconciliation and looking at the possibility of being treated as Sri Lankan rather than being identified by their race, these groups will suppress their thoughts. Anyone who speaks up and expresses their need to reconcile is immediately branded a traitor to the race.”
Muttulingam has also observed that there is a huge amount of drugs and alcohol that is pumped into the region by persons with political influence and that it has destroyed the lives of more than 70% of the male youth population of the Province. The Central Government is using these vices as a tool to control the youths from being vocal about their needs, she shared.
“The provincial governments, on the other hand, block any type of development from taking place in the Province, as they do not believe in sustaining peace and reconciliation. It is extremely frustrating to watch politicians slow down the development aspect.
“When it was requested that female representation be increased to 25%, many women came forward. However, they were later on intimated to the point that they lost interest.”
It was only the wives, daughters, sisters, and girlfriends of politicians that were allowed to be in politics or hold any posts in the offices, but those women too were puppets of these politicians and did not do any good for the people.
“There are some popular activists in the region, both male and female, trying to raise awareness, and the moment these politicians realise that people are rallying around them, they are asked to stop their activities,” Muttulingam noted.
The Kilinochchi marketplace is a melting pot of culture and it was not that difficult to inquire from them about the upcoming election and what they expect from the government that will be voted in.
“We are tired of politicians betraying us; they get voted in and once they enter Parliament, they forget the people’s problems they promised to solve. This time, we have no faith in the Tamil politicians. What did (C.V.) Wigneswaran, or any of these politicians who were supposed to talk about the problems of the people, do?” Rasikan, a youngster from Kilinochchi, questioned.
Welu Rajasekaran, a resident of Kilinochchi, said that he lived throughout the civil war in Kilinochchi. He and his family had been moved to an internally displaced camp in Menik Farm and have now returned to their ancestral homeland.
Sharing his thoughts, Rajasekaran said: “All we ask is that these representatives truly focus on the people of Sri Lanka. Regardless of ethnicity, these politicians should look at Sri Lanka as one country and not divide it by regional politics. We all want to live in harmony, so at least this time, don’t say this is the Tamil people’s problem or the Sinhalese people’s problem; if the citizens in any part of the country are distressed, the people’s representatives should ensure that the issue is brought up in Parliament and a solution for it is presented.”
Vanni electoral district
The general sentiment in Vavuniya seemed to be that a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led government should be established as they believe the politicians contesting from that party will be able to develop not only Vavuniya but also the entire country.
“The area lacks infrastructure development, and is facing a lot of land disputes. If the government that gets elected is able to look into these matters and sort it out, it would help the people immensely.
“Should Mahinda Rajapaksa get elected to Parliament and hold the post of Prime Minister, I believe we will be able to count on him to improve the infrastructure of Vavuniya. Even the roads that you see are what he fixed after the end of the civil war,” Sivagnasundaram, a retired police officer who made Vavuniya his home, noted.
Ravi, who was originally from Jaffna, is now a resident in Vavuniya. When asked about what he expects from the next Parliament that will be elected, he stated: “We believe that it would be best that politicians from the SLPP get elected from this region as they seem to be able to develop the area and will be best suited to work with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“All we need is to have leaders that would unite the country and allow us to live in peace and harmony.”
Amal, a dried fish vendor in Mullaitivu, speaking to The Sunday Morning, noted: “We’ve lost all faith and hope in the Tamil parties that originated from the Northern Province.
“Over the years, many have used our votes, given us false hope, and entered Parliament just to forget about the people’s needs. This time, we are voting for the SLPP, hoping that the representatives of that party with the incumbent President would usher in a new era to politics and governance.”
Amal requested that the new Parliament ensure the livelihood of the fishing communities is protected and reinforce border patrol along international fishing water limits, so Sri Lanka can reap the benefits of the aquatic culture around its northern waters.
He added: “We request that they take a decisive decision over illegal fishing methods such as bottom trawling, dynamite blasting, using Lyle nets for fishing, and other methods that cause more harm to the ocean’s fishing population. If the fisheries industry in Sri Lanka is streamlined with the implementation of acceptable practices, then we will be able to turn this industry around.”
Heading out of Mullaitivu, we met Yiseiraj and asked him about his thoughts on the upcoming election. He shared: “We are not asking much from the next Parliament, but we look forward to seeing how they run the country.
“Most of us this time will vote for the SLPP and SJB (Samagi Jana Balawegaya) as we are disgusted by the way this country’s political system has been shaped by the so-called old parties. They have done more damage than good to the people because they are power hungry and are not willing to give up their seats.
“We need to make way for a new political system and we trust that this President, with the help of an able government, can turn this country’s economy around.”
As soon as the civil war ended, there was a lot of focus on bringing the industries in the Northern Province to its former glory. However, the political tug of war has led to the development projects being in a stagnant state.
Madhushi, a 21-year-old from Talaimannar, working in the hospitality industry, said: “People are not that keen on the election, but it seems that they favour A.K.J. Nanda Kumara (of the SLPP contesting from the Vanni Electoral District) to be elected.
“During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, the area saw much development. We are yet to see such work from the current Government. Hopefully, after the new Parliament is elected, we will be able to witness a revival of our economy and see movement in the stagnated development-related activities.”
Nirmal from Pesalai, speaking to us, said: “It would be great if the area develops to the level of Jaffna. It’s been over a decade since any type of infrastructure development took place in this District. Thanks to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa we have this road, but that too is now in need of maintenance.
“The ministers are reaping all the perks while the citizens that elected them are stuck in the same way of life for generations. This time, we will vote for new faces and progressively thinking politicians; it is not the party that we will elect, but a representative who can deliver what is promised.”
Meanwhile, the fruit and vegetable vendors of Pesalai want the Government that gets elected to construct a marketplace so they do not have to do business on the roadside.
Jesmil, who sells vegetables from his lorry, pointed out a rundown building and informed us that the Fisheries Department was housed in it previously; since it was moved elsewhere, the building is not being used by anyone. “They can easily repurpose this building to a marketplace so that we do not have to conduct business on the road.
“Furthermore, given that there is a pandemic, we too want to have our permanent business premises in town so we can sell our produce in a more hygienic environment.”
Politicians weigh in
The country should be rid of corrupt politicians and entities
– SLFP Jaffna District candidate Arulanandam Arun (Arun Siddarthan)
Politicians should first familiarise themselves with the grassroots-level problems so as to work with the people and also towards the betterment of the people. It is only after one has proven themselves to be a respected social worker can they enter politics and ask people to vote for them.
Nowadays, politicians do not care about the hardships the people have to undergo, but demand that the common man votes them into Parliament.
Even during this election campaign, we see many of the politicians asking people to vote for them, but none of them looked out for the people in their respective electorates when the country was under lockdown due to Covid-19. Today, people are more concerned about how they can put food on the table, rather than worry about an election. So whoever engaged in social work during that time and made sure that their potential voters were looked after, can easily win this election.
Speaking on the future of Sri Lanka’s politics, I feel there are only a handful of political figures that can inspire youths to enter politics. However, most of these politicians lack a clear vision in their political journey and are easily influenced. The future of politics is therefore unstable, as we also lack outspoken youths willing to get into politics and work towards the betterment of the citizens of Sri Lanka.
Most importantly, the country should be rid of corrupt politicians and entities who presume that their influence can bend the law of the land and allow a corrupt system to govern the country. As a young politician, that is my aspiration.
Furthermore, I would like to reiterate that I am not here to play party politics; I am contesting so that if I am elected, I can address many of the underlying issues the youths are facing at present.
We as Sri Lankans need to ensure that the development of the country is carried out in an equal manner, so that when the South or West of the country is rapidly developing, the same amount of focus is given to other parts of the island as well.
Moreover, it is important that we have a language that bridges the Sinhala and Tamil youths who aren’t familiar with either language; this means a third language, such as English, needs to be taught to every child. That will bridge the divide that our mother tongues have created.
Vote in politicians who can improve the quality of life
– Indepedent Group 8 Jaffna District candidate Ainkeranesan Ponnuthurai
Many of the political parties contesting in this election have no regard for protecting the environment. As an environmentalist, I believe that all the pollution that we have caused has now come to taunt us.
There is rapid development taking place across the country with little to no regard about how to conserve forests and wildlife, and launch sustainable development plans. Our party, although an independent party, is here to back the decisions of the Government and remind them about the importance of protecting our environment.
Furthermore, we hope that this time, people will vote in politicians not based on their party but based on the amount of work they have done towards the betterment of the people and whether they are going to be there for the people after getting elected to Parliament after 6 August.
At the end of the day, what really matters is that every citizen in this country is afforded equality and is allowed to peacefully enjoy their lives under a united government. This can only be achieved by voting in politicians who can improve the quality of life of everyone by taking an interest in the common man’s problems.
Ensure shared sovereignty through share of power
– TNA Secretary General, ITAK leader, and Jaffna District candidate Mavai Senathiraja
In a democracy, the government elected by the people should stand by its people. Only on this basis can a participatory democracy be established and sustained. However, the Constitution does not provide for Tamil-speaking people to associate with the Sinhalese and enjoy their sovereignty. Because of this deficiency, they have been subjected to political subjugation, economic recession, and cultural marginalisation. We will work to change this adverse situation through a joint effort to put an end to the exploitation and repression of state agents.
Only through a constitutional arrangement incorporating community policies within a united Sri Lanka can the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils and other Tamil-speaking people living in the northern and eastern parts of the island be met.
In fact, such an arrangement has become essential for the sustainability of the citizens. Looking at the recommendations of the parliamentary select committees drawn up over the last 30 years and the constitutional proposals based on them, successive governments have moved towards a cohesive structure.
Negotiations were held with the governments on the basis of such proposals, and we will continue to pursue these endeavours regardless of any future challenges. Whenever sincere efforts are made to bring about national reconciliation, we are obliged to repay accordingly.
The principles and exclusive constitutional provisions that the TNA considers essential to the solution of the national ethnic problem are primarily aimed at ensuring shared sovereignty through the sharing of power between the various peoples living in the island.
The TNA* believes that the following power-sharing principles are important for achieving genuine reconciliation, lasting peace, and development common to all Sri Lankans;
- Tamils are a unique national race with its own civilisation, language, culture, and heritage. Also, the Tamil people who have been living in the island since time immemorial are living with the Sinhalese people and other people in this island
- The North-East Provinces, which are geographically bound and have a majority Tamil-speaking population, are the native habitat of the Tamil people and the Tamil-speaking population
- The Tamil people are entitled to the right of self-determination on the basis of their rights as a separate people in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter on Citizenship and Political Rights and the Charter on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, adopted by Sri Lanka
- Decentralisation arrangements must continue to be implemented within the harmonious framework of a unified north-eastern unit as before. It must be such that it does not have any contradictory impact on any of the people living in the North and East
- Of shared sovereignty; the basis of the devolution arrangement is to ensure the security of the land and the Tamil people; law and order and law enforcement, as well as the elements of socioeconomic development such as health, education, higher education, and vocational training, agriculture, fisheries, industry, livestock development, culture, and domestic affairs
- Should also be on the mobilisation of resources and financial authority from abroad
- All of the above must be implemented and implemented through dialogue on a non-violent peace process within a united and undivided Sri Lanka
- The Tamil-speaking Muslims, the historical inhabitants of the North and East, are entitled to the benefits of all devolution arrangements
* The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comprises the Ilankai Tamil Arsu Kachchi (ITAK), Ealam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Ealam (PLOTE), Tamil Ealam Liberation Organisation (TELO)
Photos Saman Abesiriwardena
Video Sudarsha Kannangara