Democracy has triumphed in the East. What is of import is not who has won the local government bodies in the Batticaloa District but the fact that the Karuna Group (TMVP) has entered the democratic mainstream and Monday s polls were peaceful and free and fair but for some minor incidents. Those who went all out to thwart that election by citing various reasons have had to eat their words. The voter turnout (56 per cent) was impressive.
Probably, nowhere else in the world did a civil society try so hard to torpedo an election! Another first for Sri Lanka! The excuses the NGO worthies trotted out for opposing the Batticaloa polls, as we repeatedly pointed out in these columns, were lame, to say the least. In a way, those who are living off the conflict, like maggots off a festering wound, cannot be expected to help resolve it. Will a beggar ever want his sore cured once and for all? The election of an anti-LTTE group like the TMVP, those pro-LTTE elements knew, would give the lie to the sole representative claim of the LTTE without representation at least in a Pradeshiya Sabha.
Those who opposed the mini polls can no longer pretend to be champions of democracy. They have laid bare their true faces! Had they and their foreign sponsors succeeded in having the polls put off or called off, that would have been the biggest disservice to democracy. The best that can happen to the people in a highly militarised zone is to have an opportunity to exercise their franchise. Any flawed election is a thousand times better than no election at all! How can the democratic rights of people be protected so long as they are not entrusted with the administration of their own affairs? Using the army to engage in civil administration militates against the very concept of democracy. That may be permissible in the aftermath of a disaster or in a conflict situation as pis aller but the sooner the armed forces are put behind barracks the better it is for any society. Thus, as for the successful conclusion of Monday s polls, it may be said that the civilised society has won against the civil society! (It needs to be added that the conduct of a few civil society outfits was exemplary.)
The UNP by boycotting the mini polls made the same blunder as the SLFP in 1988. The SLFP didn t contest the first Provincial Council elections held that year, only to regret its decision later. The UNP and the SLFP have no moral right to boycott any electoral exercise on grounds of violence or rigging. The UNP was responsible for the 1982 Referendum (as well as the Presidential and Parliamentary polls in the late 1980s) marred by large scale violence and rigging. The SLFP outdid the UNP at the 1999 Wayamba PC polls, perhaps the worst ever election in this country.
It will be interesting to know the UNP s position on the elections to the Eastern PC to be held soon. Will it boycott those polls as well? Logically, it will have to do so as the factors it blamed for its boycott of mini polls are very likely to prevail at the PC election as well.
It was heartening to see Pillaiyan cast his vote. He said he had voted for the first time in his life! However, casting a vote or contesting an election alone doesn t make a person a democrat. That might show that a person is not beyond redemption. Pillaiyan will be able to call himself a man only if he bids farewell to arms and lets go off child combatants in his ranks. Most of all, he will have to learn to tolerate dissent. True, old habits die hard. But, he and his cadres will have to bury their ugly past and begin a new life if they are to be different from their former boss in the Wanni and his death squads who are now paying for their crimes and intransigence.