Given the hum generated by the Sri Lankan government around the northern provincial elections, there is no doubt that it has vested significant care and attention in the holding of the polls. This is not unexpected. The start of a democratic process in the Tamil-majority area, which had been under the Tamil Tigers till the war of 2009, is the surest way to reconciliation with a disaffected minority population apart from a means to placate the international community. The development projects unveiled in the region, from housing to the construction of road and rail networks to the setting up of garment factories, show a certain earnestness about wooing the area’s population. But this is not always matched by the government’s rhetoric. There have been repeated reminders about its dislike of the 13th amendment to the constitution that guarantees devolution of powers to the provinces. Not surprisingly, the predominantly Tamil population of the north has come to view the polls with some suspicion. The continued presence of the military and the recent attacks on the independent press have deepened the suspicion about the government’s intentions. Nevertheless, the people are eager to make the best use of the opportunity that has come to the region 30 years late. This is the first time the northern province of Sri Lanka will have its elections since the time the country agreed to the principle of devolution of powers to provinces under the India-Sri Lanka accord that drove the 13th constitutional amendment.
The chief concern of the people of the region is to wrest a certain amount of agency for themselves in the reconstitution of the area in the post-war period. To have a say in land redistribution, the level of militarization and control over the finances is a necessary aspect of this. These concerns have, naturally, found their reflection in the election manifesto of the Tamil National Alliance, the most popular political organization of the region that has voiced the demand for provincial autonomy. The call has, however, been severely contested by members of the ruling alliance, who see it as a secessionist demand. The government too has come down heavily on the TNA manifesto’s demand for military withdrawal. The reaction indicates that the northern province continues to be viewed as a security threat — a reason why it may never have what it demands and needs, even if it votes overwhelmingly for the TNA.