Sri Lankan vote tests a peacemaking strategy
Saturday's elections in an old Tamil Tiger stronghold offer the prospect of more autonomy and an end to civil war.
(Page 2 of 2)
But many observers say the TMVP is intimidating voters into backing the government's UPFA. "There may not have been much open violence but there's been a lot of hidden intimidation," says Jehan Perera, an analyst with the National Peace Council, an advocacy group in Colombo. "Though the TMVP goes canvassing without guns, everyone knows there are men in guns waiting in vans nearby."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But analysts say that if the government wins in the east, it should not be attributed to intimidation alone. Voting along ethnic lines may also play a part.
Eastern Sri Lanka has a recent history of conflict between Muslims and Tamils, though the two communities once got along well. Tamil voters, says Mr. Perera, know that if the opposition United National Party wins, the chief minister may well be a Muslim. But if the UPFA wins, the chief minister will likely be a Tamil, because Sinhalese constitute the smallest of the three ethnic communities in the east.
The government may also benefit from the fact that the east has remained largely peaceful in recent months. The government has begun redevelopment work, building a new road network. It is seeking $1.8 billion in international aid to rebuild the area and bring investment and tourism to an area that boasts a 265-mile coastline.
But analysts say that though there are improvements in the east, the sufferings endured by people here in recent years – from displacement to child recruitment and disappearances – could backfire against the government. "It's really up in the air," says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think tank in Colombo.
Speaking from his church in Trincomalee, Father George Dissanayake, a former member of the monitoring team that oversaw a now defunct cease-fire agreement, said some Tamils hoped elections would be the first step in achieving greater autonomy for the region. "The east could also become a model of how all three communities can live together peacefully," he says.
However well elections go in the east, fighting continues in the north. "The fate of the north is still in contention," says Dr. Saravanamuttu.