Eastern province: Impact of altered demographics

Following every terrorist act in Sri Lanka there arises a refrain that the countryA?a??a??s conflict cannot be resolved militarily, followed by the proposition that since the conflict is essentially political in nature, the focus should be on finding an acceptable political arrangement instead of the military approach currently pursued. However, it must be conceded that there is a nexus between political goals and the choice of means and tactics, which in Sri LankaA?a??a??s case has been determined by the LTTE to be a separate state won through an armed conflict.

The leaders of the civil rights movement in the US realizing this nexus, consciously and deliberately decided on non-violence as the means to achieve their goals. By contrast, the Sri Lankan Tamil community resolved with conscious deliberation to resort to an armed conflict to achieve their political goal of a separate state. Under the circumstances, the choice for the Sri Lankan state has been to either to accept the creation of a separate state or to resist such a creation by neutralizing the means to create it. Since the choice undoubtedly has to be for the latter course, there is no option but meet the military threat militarily. Furthermore, as long as both positions remain unchanged, the armed conflict would continue. For there to be peace, therefore, either the Sri Lankan state has to accept the idea of a separate state, or the LTTE has to abandon its goal and dismantle the means as well.

Since it is the LTTE that has set the goal and adopted the means, the only option available to the Sri Lankan state is to address the military capabilities of the LTTE and weaken it to a point where the LTTE realizes that a separate state through armed conflict is not a realistic proposition. It was the reaching of such a point in the dynamics of the Northern Ireland conflict that forced the IRA leadership to abandon violence and seek a negotiated solution. A similar realization dawned on the Ache rebels when the tsunami of 2004 destroyed their military capabilities.

A similar dynamic has to occur in Sri Lanka for the LTTE to realize that the original goal is an unrealistic proposition. It would be only at such a point that the LTTE would be prepared to consider alternatives to its original proposition. The weaker the LTTE, the more significant would be the shift from their original position. Therefore, the military capabilities of the LTTE have a direct bearing on the nature and scope of the political arrangement that the LTTE would accept and which the rest of the country would tolerate.

This military/political dynamic was reached in the Eastern Province. It was the neutralization of the military capabilities of the LTTE in the Eastern Province that has paved the way for Peoples of the Eastern Province to exercise their civil and political rights. This and other developments taking place in the Eastern Province could very well undermine the whole concept of a separate state; a notion that is clearly NOT viable without the Eastern Province.


An imperceptible but pertinent fact that is emerging is the demographic changes in the Eastern Province. These changes have gone unnoticed since the Census of 1981. The 2007 enumeration conducted by the Census and Statistics Department reveal that the Muslims are not only a majority in the province but also that they are the majority in the Districts of Trincomalee and Ampara. This trend could lead to the Eastern Province becoming the territorial base of political power for the Muslims.

According to the data in the Preliminary Report of 2007 the distribution within the province is: Muslims 40%, Tamils 38% and the Sinhalese 22%. According to the Report the distribution by district is: Trincomalee District: 45.4% Muslim, 28.6% Sri Lankan Tamils, 25.4% Sinhalese; Batticaloa District: 25% Muslim, 74% Sri Lankan Tamil, 0.5% Sinhalese; and Ampara District: 44% Muslim, 18.3% Sri Lankan Tamil, 37.5% Sinhalese. These ground realities could have a profound effect on the short and long term trajectories of power sharing arrangements in Sri Lanka.

The immediate impact of this statistical data is that the Muslims are emerging as the most populous ethnic group in the Eastern Province, with the Sri Lankan Tamils remaining as the most populous ethnic group in the Northern Province. Even though each province may evolve as a political base of each respective group, the fact remains that the majorities of both communities reside outside these political bases. Under the circumstances, political arrangements based on territorial distribution makes no sense.

Perhaps, it is the awareness of these developments that prompted the Muslim leadership to take the forthcoming Provincial Council elections seriously to the extent that some of them have given up their seats in Parliament in order to contest the election. If not at the forthcoming election, there is a strong possibility that future elections may return Muslim majorities with Muslim Chief Ministers in the Eastern Provincial Council.

There is therefore, a need to rethink the whole premise of regional devolution of political power. The alterations to the demographics in the Eastern Province demonstrate the fluidity of population growths and distributions. Therefore, formulating political arrangements based on present ethnic or other concentrations could with time be not only meaningless but also inappropriate. Changes in power bases could lead to new ethnic tensions; a sure formula for instability.


If and when the Eastern Province becomes a non-Tamil political base, the foundation of a separate state of Tamil Eelam would be undermined because the very heart of this concept was underpinned by the resources and potential of the Eastern Province. Furthermore, the ethnic mix of the Eastern Province together with the concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern Province was intended to mirror the scene in the rest of the country with the concentration of Sinhalese in the South, thus creating the “image” that the country was divided between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

With the real possibility of losing the Eastern Province politically to another ethnic group, the political power base of the Tamils would be confined to the Northern Province which by all accounts would be mono-ethnic. A separate state in such a context would have little or no attraction. Therefore, with these facts in view, there is an urgent need to reconsider the relevance of former political arrangements contemplated in the light of existential realities.

Buy avapro blood pressure medicine One political arrangement that would be acceptable to the overwhelming majority in the light of this background would be to abandon the whole concept of ethno-territorially based power sharing and seriously explore central power sharing. This would give all communities the opportunity to be represented in the governing processes instead of regionally based power sharing; a concept that Sri Lanka has been forced to consider based on a demographic premise that has no relevance today. It is vital that the APRC becomes aware of these emerging transformations if its deliberations are to have any meaning.


It is the LTTE that has set the goal of a separate state and it is the LTTE that has adopted violent means to realize it militarily. Since the Sri Lankan nation finds both goal and means set by the LTTE unacceptable, Governments representing the Sri Lankan nation have no option but to respond to LTTE efforts militarily. Not to do so would leave the military capabilities developed by the LTTE intact and the issue would remain open ended without finality and closure. For the military operations to cease, either the LTTE has to dismantle its military capabilities voluntarily, or the Government has to neutralize it militarily.

A military approach is being pursued by the LTTE on the premise that the conditions that existed at the commencement of their endeavour to create a separate state, still exist. The notion that the Northern and Eastern Provinces could form a political unit exists among the non-LTTE Sri Lankan Tamils as well. These positions long held have no relevance in the context of two facts relating to the Eastern Province. The first being the reestablishment of the writ of the state and the second, being the transformed demographics. Both facts make it necessary for political goals once conceived to be revisited.

The impact of the transformed demographics in the Eastern Province is that this province could emerge as a political base for the Muslims; a fact that may emerge even as early as the forthcoming Provincial Council election. If the Eastern Province becomes a Muslim political base and the Northern Province becomes a Tamil political base with the rest of the 7 provinces becoming a Sinhala political base, the political boundaries would become coterminous with ethnic concentrations. Devolving power under such conditions is a sure recipe for instability as has happened with the former Yugoslavia, and more recently with Kosovo.

These developments would undermine the very foundation of a once conceived separate state consisting of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Despite the change in the scope of the original project, for the armed conflict to continue in order to create the Northern Province as a political base for Sri Lankan Tamils is senseless because this is already an accepted fact. Despite this reality, if the LTTE continues the conflict, it can only mean that its intention is to create a separate state consisting of the Northern Province all by itself.

Cheap atorlip While the conflict in Northern Ireland was resolved due to the IRAA?a??a??s self realization that violence was not taking them any closer to their political goal, and the conflict in Ache, Indonesia, was resolved because of the effect of the tsunami on the Free Aceh Movement/GAMA?a??a??s military capabilities, the transformation in the military/demographic dynamic in the Eastern Province will force the LTTE/Sri Lankan Tamils to consider alternatives hitherto not considered. Since these changing circumstances are also underscored by the security implications of devolving power to ethnically based territorial units, Sri Lanka can find resolution to its conflict only if its communities together explore arrangements where political power is shared by all at the Center.


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