Transitional Local Governance and Minority Political Participation in Post War Sri Lanka

Esther M. McIntosh


In 2011, two years after the end of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war that spanned three decades, there were more than 600,000  Tamil minority citizens in the country’s Northern Province eligible to vote in local government elections, which took place for the first time since 1998 . The Sri Lankan Tamils, the country’s largest minority group, make up 15.9% of the total population and are geographically concentrated in the northern province where they make up 93% of the population. The northern province looms large in the contemporary socio-political history of Sri Lanka. It was not only the physical battleground between the state’s army and the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but is symbolic of an ideational clash about how the state should deal with ethnic difference (De Silva 1996; Uyangoda 2007).  The defeat of the secessionist LTTE which formerly administered  parts of the northern province combine with the state’s preference for a unitary and centralized structure, suggests that it is now in the realist parameters of decentralized local spaces that the elected representatives of Tamil minorities must realize the ideals of local self-government, facilitate the complex needs of minority citizens and engage the Sinhalese-Buddhist nation state. This paper analyses several key acts, the National Policy on Local Government (2009) combined with secondary and empirical research to explore the political underpinnings of decentralization. It argues that understanding the multiple and complex ways in which minority citizens interact with, and participate in, political processes is fundamental to understanding the practice of local representation and self-government at the sub-national level, and within the wider polity of post war Sri Lanka. It contributes to the paucity of empirical research on post-conflict local governance transitions (Shou and Haug 2005, Jackson and Scott, 2006).

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