Ballot or bullet? - Let people decide
on the heels of the Local Government polls for the Batticaloa district
on the March 10 and the Government decided to hold the Provincial
Council elections for the Eastern Province. How do you see this
DEW: To sustain peace in the East, those people should be
given their political rights. For the democratic system to continue the
Government thought, that it would be prudent to hold Provincial Council
Soon after the East was liberated the Government started the 180 day
development programme for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the East
and I was personally involved in that. And this first step towards peace
and development in the East was highly successful.
National Intergration Minister DEW Gunasekara
M.P. - United National Party
Pix by Kavindra Perera
The Provincial Council system was intended primarily for the North
and the East although it was an extension of democracy to other
provinces. It was created to provide a lasting political solution to the
people of the North and the East.
On the other hand when we restore power to the people and thereby
activate the Provincial Council system I think it will have an impact on
the Northern province as well. That will enlighten the people of North.
GK: During the Batticaloa Local Government Elections many
mainstream political parties stayed away from contesting, because the
ruling party was in ally with a party that was still carrying arms. If
any armed group enters in to the democratic mainstream they should
totally disarm themselves. They initiated the election campaigns by
threatening other candidates.
Therefore, we had to boycott that election which was confined only to
a few areas of the district. But with regard to the Provincial Council
elections, UNP working committee decided that the party should contest.
Now the SLMC joined us as well. But we have put forward three conditions
to the Government: Number one, there can be no armed groups operating in
Two, restore the removed STF camps in the respective areas. Three,
participation of foreign observer teams, a must. We strongly believe
that according to the law of the country only the security forces and
the Police can use weapons. We are ready for the elections. We will face
it and we will win.
What do you think of the build up of this new political culture in
the area with a series of elections?
DEW: This step will restore democracy and that will focus on
sustained peace and development and national integration; it will have
an impact on the whole country as well.
This would definitely sends a message to the International community
stating that we are capable of solving our own problems and we are
continuing in finding a solution. East is an area economically,
politically and sociologically backward yet abundant with untapped
Hence its contribution to development is essential. Really this is a
testing ground for policies on national integration due to its unique
distribution of the population. Politicians should very carefully handle
the situation because of the high importance of the area.
GK: We insist that the Government should hold free and fair
elections. Government is trying to ally with an armed group and enter
the fray. We do not approve it. We can only call the election free and
fair when those armed groups are totally disarmed. During the UNP regime
in 1994 the total Eastern sector was free.
We held the elections accordingly and when the ruling party was
defeated we handed over a free Eastern Province.
During their time the Army camps had to be removed and certain areas
were returned to the LTTE due to the wrong political decisions. They
themselves lost the East. But now they claim that it was they who
liberated the East. People will not forget as to who really liberated
the East for them.
Certain political parties raise objections saying the Government
is facilitating certain armed groups in the East. What is your comment
DEW: Those armed groups who have now come to the democratic
political path should disarm themselves. Knowing the ground situation as
they are at the receiving end of the LTTE there is a genuine fear. So it
is duty of the security forces to provide protection.
During the time of an election no political party can afford to keep
armed members around. Otherwise all the political parties will claim for
equal rights. Therefore, it is the duty of the Security forces to
provide security to these politicians under threat. All political groups
should be disarmed.
GK: Irrespective of the party hues we appreciate any armed
groups falling in to the democratic mainstream. But we insist that they
should adhere to the law of the country. If Pillayan has a threat on his
life provide him security through the security forces or the Police. We
never oppose that. But they can not keep weapons. We accuse the
Government for facilitating this armed group.
How can you assure your people that the Provincial Council
elections will be totally free of pressure from armed groups?
DEW: I believe the security forces should keep away from the
elections. It should be handled by the civil staff and the election
officers. The election law is quite strong where the Elections
Commissioner is given immense powers.
Even the Police should take orders from the Elections Commissioner.
Most importantly the political parties should be self-disciplined.
Because we politicians must behave exemplarily as the whole world is
watching these events in the Eastern theatre. Let the people use their
rights freely and allow the democracy to prevail.
GK: We insist on the Government to disarm these armed groups,
restore the STF and invite foreign election observers to be present at
the elections. Creating an environment for a free and fair election is
Governmentís duty. The STF protected these areas for a long time. We are
against their removal.
A Muslim upheaval, supported by extremist elements in the East is
predicted by certain political analysts. How do you see this situation?
DEW: Iím also aware that several microscopic groups are
operating. Therefore the only thing is we should not create conditions
for them to nurture. We have learned enough from what happened in the
50 years of ethnic conflict and 25 years of war has given us enough
lessons. As I see at the moment it is not even at a level of nuisance.
This is happening all around the world. There are international forces
that are waiting to come and help these groups, if chances arise.
GK: The population in the East in general consists of the
minorities. Therefore, based on the past incidents the people will make
a decision. We can make an analysis only after that.
Since the ruling party is in alliance with the Pillayan group one can
not stop the Sinhala Buddhists and the Muslims recollecting the gloomy
past filled with massacres. First, the elections should take place and
then we can see what the people have to say!
Many critics point out that although the politicians speak of
freedom and liberal democracy, people of the East live in constant fear
due to the presence of militant groups. So how can you then, assure a
free and fair election for your people in the East?
DEW: It is like this. Distrust, suspicion and fear are among
the communities. Depending on the character and the nature of the entire
province, this situation exists. At the lower levels of the society high
polarization is present. For example, people still would remember the
Kattankudi massacre where hundreds of Muslims were butchered.
GK: That is why we insist on the Government to disarm the
armed groups,restore STF in their camps and assure security and invite
foreign election observers. Everyone needs a free and fair election.
We will contest the elections with the people. But we are doubtful
about the Government plans. Several Ministers reiterate about holding
the elections. And we have seen the Government do not adhere to what
There is widespread poverty among your respective communities.
What are the concrete steps you have taken so far to eradicate poverty?
DEW: Eastern province is a victim of nature-made and man-made
disasters. Then, a victim of neo-liberal economic policies as well. At
present the development focuses mainly on Colombo as a result of the
open economy. This is happening globally. East faces uneven development.
The Northern Province shows only 3% growth. East 4 -5% growth. Where
there is no war the Uva is showing only 4% and the North Central
Province, adjacent to the war affected areas, shows 4%.
In addition Eastern province has drawn back socially as well. That is
why the Government has given highest priority in developing the area. If
we speed up the social and economic development, then I think we can
rest assure that the dawn of peace is imminent.
GK: As a Party in the opposition what can we or how can we
implement programmes to eradicate poverty? During our regime we had not
increased the prices of goods in such an accelerated speed. We had not
put people in trouble. We brought back peace and liberated the East.
Established civil administration in the East and held the elections.
People are aware of all these facts.
They will definitely use this opportunity to give the Government a
signal to remind them that they are going in the wrong direction. The
Government increases the prices of goods blaming the war and Prabhakaran.
They have no effective economic policy. People will keep in mind all
that they have gone through in the past and based on that they will
decide about casting their vote.
The Tamil political parties which were earlier insisting on a
merged Northern and Eastern Province have now come forward to contest in
the Eastern PC polls. How do you see the new stance of the Tamil
DEW: The merger of the two provinces came under the Indo-Sri
Lanka accord as we all know. The Supreme Court gave the decision based
on the reality. I am happy that many of the national parties are
participating in the elections. However, all the political parties are
in the fray. It is a good sign!
GK: As the Supreme Court had decided to keep the two provinces
demerged those parties have to adhere to it. As Members of Parliament we
are bound to protect the constitution of the country.