Action Alert Archive
Structural problems within Sri Lanka's democracy prompt minority's boycott
November 23, 2005
We would like to call your attention to the history of marginalization of the Tamil community within Sri Lanka's democracy. This legacy of minority disenfranchisement is what prompted Tamils to entirely boycott Sri Lanka's election last Thursday.
In the Sri Lankan presidential elections held November 17th between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, Rajapakse was elected as the next president. Rajapakse has openly campaigned against the peace process, a mechanism to share tsunami relief with all communities in Sri Lanka, and any degree of autonomy to resolve the ethnic conflict. This prompted questions about the efficacy of the election boycott by the minority Tamil population. However, such questions are on a tangential plane to the deep-seated reasons for the boycott, and neglect the Tamil perspective on the situation as well as the structural problems within Sri Lanka's democracy.
Sri Lanka's democracy ignores and dilutes any representation of ethnic groups other than the Sinhala majority, except for the superficial formality of voting. Historically, there has been overwhelming support within the Tamil community for a system of devolution to facilitate power-sharing and minority representation in policy formation. However, Sinhala leaders have responded to Tamil demands for federalism by enacting laws to promote the Sinhala advancement, language and culture at the expense of the minorities.
Thus, last Thursday's boycott was not merely to protest one particular candidate or another. It was done to protest a political system that has denied the Tamils political equality for over half a century. The idea that Tamils in the Northeast were intimidated into supporting the boycott, as depicted in sensationalized news reports, belies the pervasive disillusionment of Tamils throughout the region. Even the governmental Elections Commissioner declared the elections to have been free and fair. What are most revealing are BBC reports on voting patterns in Jaffna and Colombo, two cities in government-controlled areas that lack Tamil rebel presence. In both cities, Tamil turnout was lower, and in some places, the lowest ever anywhere in Sri Lanka's history: a record 0.3% in Jaffna. This phenomenon is an expression of Tamils all across Sri Lanka in solidarity with the call for a boycott in the Northeast.
A boycott is an act of abstention in protest of injustice. In Sri Lanka, the political system itself has revealed itself to be an instrument of injustice, and the most recent boycott by Tamils is a demonstration of their refusal to support it any longer. In the aftermath of the tsunami, the Tamils undeniably have every reason to be disillusioned with the government. It took six critical months for the Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure to be created to distribute aid throughout all tsunami affected regions of Sri Lanka, and only one month for the mechanism to be struck down as unconstitutional. With frustration among Tamils at an all-time high, we urge the international community to respond to the drastic message Tamils conveyed by their refusal to vote for either candidate. We call upon Congress to show the marginalized minority of Sri Lanka that they have not been forgotten, by pressuring President Rajapakse to enact a joint mechanism to distribute tsunami relief throughout all communities in Sri Lanka.
The mission of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) is to end the systemic human rights abuses against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and promote equality, rights and justice on the island. PEARL is 501(c)3 non-profit organization led by human rights activists concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka.