For many, the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which brought to a close over two decades of civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives, marked a welcome end to the darkest and bloodiest era in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history.
But the defeat has also left a void in Tamil politics. The LTTE’s intolerance for democratic processes and dissident Tamil opinion saw it spearhead a sustained campaign to eliminate rival Tamils that is widely believed to have included the assassination of more than 50 Tamil leaders from 1975 to 2008.
‘Killing people.opposed to the LTTE was one of the greatest wrongs of the LTTE,’ says SC Chandrahasan, son of the late Tamil leader SJV Chelvanayakam, who founded the Federal Party and who believed in non-violence. ‘It not only eliminated many experienced and talented leaders, but also prevented many up-and-coming people from contributing to the cause of the Tamil-speaking people of the island.’ Estimates vary as to how many rival Tamils the LTTE ‘eliminated’ during the conflict, though most range from between 8,000 to as many as 18,000 Tamils. ‘This is one of the things that prevented the LTTE from becoming a popular movement,’ he adds.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Tuesday’s election–Sri Lanka’s sixth presidential election–is expected to be one of the closest in decades and pits President Mahinda Rajapakse’s United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), against the United National Party (UNP), which has been revitalised since the emergence of former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka as leader. And both sides have been making significant efforts to secure Tamil votes, a bloc whose support many commentators believe could be decisive if the race is tight.
Rajapakse has so far secured the support of seven Tamil parties, and in an effort to placate Tamil voters has expedited reconstruction and large development projects in Northern and Eastern provinces and pledged to implement the 13th Amendment, which essentially provides for regional autonomy at the provincial level.
The UNP, for its part, has traditionally been seen as supportive of ethnic minority interests and has typically attracted Tamil support and votes. Indeed, as part of his election platform, Fonseka has offered to move beyond the 13th Amendment as a way of addressing Tamil grievances, and the party has also attracted the support of the Democratic Peoples Front, which has a seat in parliament and a Tamil support base in the Colombo District. The most significant boost to the UNPs campaign, though, has been the support obtained through the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil democratic party, which holds 22 seats.
However, it remains unclear how the Tamil vote will play out now that the LTTE is no longer trying to stifle rival voices. Opinion was divided among Sri Lanka’s main Tamil parties over the LTTE defeat, although the four Tamil constituents of Rajapakse’s government–the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, the Up-Country Peoples Front, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal and Eelam Peoples Democratic Party–were united on the issue. In addition, the influential Democratic Tamil National Alliance(DTNA), which includes the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front-Naba (EPRLF-Naba) and People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), also endorsed the outcome.