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Time to Press the Reset Button

Time to Press the Reset Button

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 25, 2013
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09/25/2013

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September 26, 2013
With the TNA flushed with victory in the north and the President’spopular support reinforced in the south after Saturday’s provincialelections, the time has never been more opportune for the country’smain Tamil party and its ruling coalition to attempt to repair relationsand pursue reconciliation
 
The first postal vote results of the Northern Provincial Council election were justtrickling in, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa left for New York, to address the 68thSession of the UN General Assembly. With the historic northern poll just concludedand declared largely peaceful, other than for sporadic incidents of violence, thePresident no doubt left native shores with mixed feelings.On the one hand, he was going before the UN having finally delivered on a major promise to the international community, even if his Government did so through grittedteeth, and at New Delhi’s relentless prodding. But the results of Saturday’s polling hadalso ripped to shreds his Government’s consistent mantra that economic developmentwas more important than political rights to the war-battered populations of former conflict zones. The ruling coalition had registered a spectacular defeat in the NorthernProvince, its development showpiece, to the Tamil National Alliance that secured anoverwhelming mandate in the provincial election.The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had secured anticipated victoriesin the North Western and Central Provinces, typically decimating the opposition UnitedNational Party and completely knocking out the country’s third political force the JVP.Pleased as the ruling administration would be with its major victories, some discomfortis likely in the ranks over the surprise showing of its former Army Chief and currentpolitical rival, Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party, which managed a total of five seatsin both provinces in play.The main actBut in the election dramas that unfolded last Saturday,it was made clear early that the North-Western andCentral Provinces were just sideshows to the main act.For one thing, the two Southern Provinces had polls toelect provincial representatives many times before, andso with the exception of the hotly contested preferentialraces within the ruling party, there was little toanticipate. For another, the results of the two polls werea foregone conclusion and the only thing left to decidewas how big the UNP’s margin of defeat would be inthe latest round of polling.But the northern election had become a matter of global and regional relevance after sustained attemptsby New Delhi and other sections of the internationalcommunity to have the poll conducted since the war 
 
ended in May 2009. The provincial council system perceived in the rest of the islandas a resource-sapping white elephant, came about in 1987 through New Delhi’sintervention as a means to provide a degree of political autonomy to the Tamil majorityregions of the north and east.With the Government’s commitment to devolution and a political settlement to thecountry’s ethnic feud faltering four years after the defeat of the LTTE, thepostponement of the northern provincial election was increasingly seen as an attemptby Colombo to prevent northern Tamils from enjoying the most basic autonomy over certain specified areas the rest of Sri Lanka’s provinces had been enjoying for the pastquarter of a century.Tying his handsWhen President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an interview with The Hindu in July 2012casually threw out September 2013 as a probable date for the northern provincialpolls, the international community latched on to his words. In March 2013, reportedlyat New Delhi’s insistence, the second US0sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka further cemented the election date by welcoming the President’s announcement about theSeptember 2013 northern polls. The poll is seen as a much-delayed, much-neededconcession to the Tamil people of the north to whom the Government had promisedpolitical resolution when soliciting the support of the international community for itsmilitary push to defeat the LTTE until 2009. As pressure mounted in the lead up to September, a desperate administration triedhard to dilute the powers of the provincial councils as set out by the 13th Amendment.The moves were strongly backed by the defenceestablishment and hardline Sinhala parties in theruling coalition. None of these attempts withstood thecolossal pressure that was brought to bear uponColombo from New Delhi, which sent its NationalSecurity Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Sri Lanka inJuly to read the Rajapaksa Administration the riot act.Furthermore, the UPFA itself was sharply divided over the proposed dilution of 13A, with old Left parties andthe Sri Lanka Muslim Congress vowing to deprive theGovernment of the two-thirds majority it would need inParliament to enact the constitutional changes. Late inthe game, about a week before the poll, five petitionswere filed by Sinhala hardline organisations

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