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Raising the LTTE bogey in a tight presidential race in Sri Lanka

Published : Oct 15, 2019 15:35 IST

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka People's Front’s candidate in the presidential election, at a campaign rally in Kadawatha on October 13.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka People's Front’s candidate in the presidential election, at a campaign rally in Kadawatha on October 13.

Although there has been no terror incident involving the Tamils in Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the war between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the LTTE bogey is always raised by the Sinhala-majority political parties, ahead of an election. It is no different for the presidential election to be held on November 16.

Just as campaigning for the election peaks, the hardline former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose main plank is security, received a boost in the form of two sets of arrests of alleged former Tamil Tigers on October 14—one from northern Sri Lanka and another in Malaysia.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Defence Secretary when Sri Lanka won the war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Even in the run up to the last presidential election, in which former President and Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa contested unsuccessfully, one of the main issues that he sought to highlight was the safety and security of Sri Lanka. In that election, too, there were arrests of a few Tamils who were allegedly plotting against the Sri Lankan state.

In this case, two claymore mines were discovered in the northern Tamil-dominated town of Jaffna, based on information provided by a former Tamil Tiger cadre, according to the police. Claymore mines are routinely discovered in northern Sri Lanka because there are still areas mined by the LTTE that have not been cleared. While the de-mining of most of the north has been completed, the state does not have a complete picture of the extent of mines across the north.

As for the arrests in Malaysia, they happened when the police were investigating a terrorism money trail. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, on Monday, justified the arrests and the use of the draconian Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma). “The police have briefed me. They [the police] have reasons to take action. I am satisfied with the explanation given by police on the crackdown,” Mahathir Mohamad told the media.

There is also an internal dymanic at play here as two of those arrested are state lawmakers of the Democratic Action Party, which is part of the four-party Pakatan Harapan coalition. Despite this, the timing of the release of the news of the investigation helps no candidate more than Gotabaya, who is ahead in a close race.

The arrests in Malaysia are front-page news in Sri Lanka. The news has also given traction to the story that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Sri Lanka Podujana Party have been selling to Sinhalese masses—that of an LTTE resurrection and a return to the days of uncertainty and civil war.

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