This article discusses a feature published in Aruna Sinhala newspaper with a heading that meant ‘What happened to the Sinhalese who contested from Wanni?’
We cannot avoid studying ethnic diversity when we explore the society of Sri Lanka. Ethnicity, religion, caste as well as the geographical division among Sinhalese as Upcountry and Low Country are examples for the diversity. An argument that human society must not be diverse cannot be justified because a community with variety is beautiful.
However, a homogenous framework for all citizens in terms of governance, public service and the rule of law is justifiable. It does not mean ignoring cultural differences. While respecting the diversity, we must not overlook the right of all citizens for equality challenged or violated. Advocating the citizen to rehearse sovereignty on equal ground in an existing context of ethnic-based political parties is precarious.
The article mentioned above focuses on an issue of Sinhalese candidates failing to elect from the Vanni district at the 2020 parliamentary election. Sri Lanka is comprised of 25 administrative districts and 22 electoral districts. Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim ethnic populations are distributed in these districts in various proportions. No person must be restricted the opportunity to contest an election from any of these districts. However, representation on ethnic terms depends on the distribution of ethnic populations in the districts, and the majority and minority electorates on ethnic terms are unavoidable.
However, the ethnic identity must not be the basis for the election of a candidate because the representation must be an interaction between the citizens and the representatives. No vote is counted as a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim unit. The election is based on the number of valid votes cast for the party or the candidate. People’s representatives must represent all the public and not the people who cast preferential ballots to them only. If any representative segregates the electorate on ethnic and religious terms, that is undoubtedly pathetic backward thinking.
Vanni district is an ethnically Tamil dominated district. The six seats in the district were distributed as three for Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, one for Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, one for Ealam People’s Democratic Party and one for Samagi Jana Balavegaya. The ethnic representation of the elected members of the parliament is four Tamils and two Muslims. The article discusses that although Sinhalese candidates contested, they have failed to elect. We have to focus to the point of debating so passionately about the failure of the Sinhala community to elect a candidate from a district where that particular ethnic community is a minority.
However, out of the 22 electoral districts of Sri Lanka, eight districts do not have any representation for Tamil or Muslim communities on ethnic terms. They are Rathnapura, Kalutara, Galle, Matale, Matara, Kurunegala, Hambanthota, and Monaragala districts where Tamil and Muslim communities are minorities. If we especially focus on the lack of Sinhala representation in Vanni district, we must equally focus on the lack of minority representations in these districts as well. However, every person who appreciates justice and democracy will agree that such a discussion is not based on a fairground. Elections must be empowering people and must not be racist.
We must not forget that Vanni is a district affected by war, and the Sinhalese might have subjected to injustice because of their ethnic identity. However, we must be fair to understand that Tamil and Muslim minorities also face the same situation in many other districts. The primary action that we must initiate to solve this crisis is accepting the right of all ethnic communities for equity.
The people of this country are equally affected, irrespective of race or religion, by the acts of the politicians. The politicians do not have racial and religious differences among them. They are benefitted due to the divisions among people, and therefore, they divide and rule the public. The media that bridges the people and the politician must educate the public on this. The duty of the media is to appear for the interests of the people and not the politicians.
We can appreciate media if they advocate for the problems of the people due to insensitive political decisions, instead of the lack of representation in parliament for the minority Sinhala community. If the lack of representation is the cause for the plight of the Sinhalese in Vanni, the problems of the Sinhalese in other districts where many MPs represent them must be fully resolved. Likewise, the problems of Tamils must be solved in the Northern Province because they have the majority representation in the representative bodies. Muslims must have the same advantage in the Eastern Province. However, the reality is contradictory. People of all communities equally suffer from problems like housing, employment, water, electricity, education, and health.
The perception of the reality that the actual problem lies not in the ethnic or religious difference but the political and media practice will lay a concrete foundation for authentic good governance.