The relatively violence-free conduct of the first ever election to Sri Lanka 's Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) is a feather in the cap of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which teamed up with the breakaway LTTE group led by Pillayan, has emerged victorious with 20 of the 37 seats.
The opposition parties have charged the government with large-scale electoral irregularities. The reports of independent observer groups provide some support to such complaints. However, the fact that the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) combine polled over 42 per cent of the votes cast indicates that the charge of large-scale rigging has no leg to stand on. Quite apart from who won and who lost, the EPC election has far-going political significance. The very fact of an elected council coming into existence, after a gap of two decades, in a province that was the theatre of war between the security forces and the LTTE less than a year ago is cause for cheer to all who believe that democracy and genuine devolution of power are the solution to Sri Lanka's principal national question. The constitution of a democratically elected government in the Eastern Province will also set at rest the controversy triggered by the October 2006 judgment of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court declaring the merger of north and east, effected after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, to be illegal.
"Now that the EPC is a political fait accompli, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the winning alliance must move forward quickly to give meaning to the devolution exercise. They must respect the rights of the democratically elected opposition and accommodate its legitimate demands.
The choice of Chief Minister will be watched with keen interest, especially because the Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhala populations are evenly balanced. Given the tensions involved in the past over the demographic change brought about by state-sponsored colonisation, the sound and progressive course will be to go for a rotating arrangement in which the chief minister-ship will be shared by the Muslim and Tamil groups that have done well at the polls.
Providing security to all the displaced people, rehabilitating them, and rebuilding the war-affected areas must be taken up as top priorities. Finally, there is the tricky task of disarming the militant groups, especially the cadres of the breakaway LTTE, and integrating them in civil society and democratic politics. What all this demands is far-sighted political statesmanship by an administration that has proved highly effective in the military field."
Courtesy : The Hindu