Defaced Mahinda poster, Jaffna town
The big question especially, it seems, is how Tamil voters will vote. And will they vote. Last election all the polling data pointed to a Ranil victory if they came out. The LTTE stopped people from voting, and that ended up being pretty much the difference. I just got back from Jaffna and drove through the Wanni, and the place is now secured. The Wanni is in no condition to really vote, but I think Jaffna will. The question is how.
Mahinda’s Hindu manifestation
The general feeling is that they wouldn’t vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa. They weren’t inclined to vote for him before and they’re less likely to after the ruthless war, his Tamilian avatars aside. However, it is not clear that they would vote for Sarath Fonseka, the blade of that ruthless war. A man I met in Point Pedro put it best. They’re both the same, but I’m voting for change. And then said he was voting for Fonseka. It doesn’t make sense, but it does.
Hence, in the numbers I’ve seen, a majority of Sri Lankan Tamils are breaking towards Sarath Fonseka. Not an overwhelming majority, but over fifty. This seems to be the feeling on the street as well. Jaffna (outside the town really) is the only place I’ve seen a lot of SF posters, and the only place I’ve seen Mahinda posters defaced.
Mahinda poster with eyes scratched out, Nagadeepa
One big variable, however, is that the last Tamil politician standing, Douglas Devananda,, supports Mahinda, visibly. Dougie D has survived like a dozen attempts by the LTTE to kill him, but he remains after they are gone. He does seem to have muscle and organizational ability, but I don’t know how much support. One man I spoke to said whatever the government is, Douglas will be on that side. In this party politics, however, the support from the EPDP (Eelam Peoples Democratic Party) could move a lot of votes.
The ghost of Douglas Devananda in front of bullet-ridden building
The TNA, however, is probably the strongest party in the region. Despite long being a proxy for the LTTE, they are now backing General Sarath Fonseka. So that too could make a difference.
What Are The Issues
I find Sri Lanka polling a bit curious in that it skips the most obvious questions. Who are you related to, what caste are you, who has given you food or visited you recently. These tend to be the things that swing votes. However, what polling data I have seen shows that A) Tamils are swinging to SF and B) economic and law and order issues are gaining on ethnic and war type issues. However, Sri Lankan Tamils do have a host of war related issues (displacement, discrimination) which don’t even really register in the south.
Candidates have been trying to assuage these concerns mainly by showing up and taking their shirts off at kovil but, interestingly, the Sunday Leader debacle where Sarath accused Gota of ordering war crimes may have, while embarrassing him in the south, somehow inoculated him against seeming the war baddie in the north.
It effectively diverted the blame for all the bad parts to Gotabaya and the Rajapaksas, or could have had that perceptual effect among Tamils. Either way, the TNA moved soon after and he started polling better in the north.
Regardless, I think it’s all a good thing. Tamil people have so much power in the political process whereas terrorism just disenfranchised them and empowered the worst and most violent (on all sides). Since a generation of leadership is dead (mostly at the hands of the LTTE) the Tamil people are not the best poised to use this power, but they have it. Through the vote. Politicians need Tamil votes to win, and that’s already changed the reality on the ground. Years of war just decimated the ground, but the political process has the potential to build stuff back up. Inshallah.
View full set on Flickr