Next month, Sri Lanka’s northern province, which until four years ago was the site of a devastating war between the central government and ethnic Tamil separatists, will hold its first postwar provincial elections. In an email interview, Alan Keenan, senior analyst and Sri Lanka project director at International Crisis Group, discussed the trajectory of Sri Lanka’s politics and governance since the end of the civil war.
WPR: How has the end of the war affected the political standing of Tamils in Sri Lanka?
Alan Keenan: The political standing of Tamils has been weakened since the end of the war, despite the democratic potential opened by the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil separatist group. Rather than granting Tamils a significant role in managing affairs in the Tamil-majority northern province, the central government has ruled the region directly through the all-Sinhala military and a governor appointed by the president. Militarized and centrally managed reconstruction of the north has provided only limited economic benefits to Tamils while facilitating the continuing displacement of tens of thousands from their homes. Military occupation and control has also seen the steady cultural Sinhalization of the north and large portions of the east, and increasingly appears designed to weaken the Tamil character of both regions through demographic change. September’s scheduled elections to the northern provincial council, while welcome, will offer Tamil parties very little power, as the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa remains opposed to granting provincial councils even the modest authority allowed under the current constitution.