Where were the LTTE & JVP strongest in 1988?

I’m in the process of trying to recreate the two JVP rebellions in Sri Lanka. One admittedly rough measure I’m using of armed group strength is a group’s ability to drive down turnout when they call for elections to be boycotted (caveats abound – many things drive turnout, but less then 30% turnout is not normal for a Sri Lankan election).

The 1988 Presidential election provides one way to get a sense of the geographic patterns of armed group strength (the all-Sri Lanka turnout average was 55.32% in 1988). Neither the LTTE nor the JVP wanted voters involved in these elections; the JVP in particular was unleashing a total war against UNP politicians and supporters during this period (only mid-way through the war did they go after the security forces). Here’s a map of Sri Lankan electoral districts, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Districts of Sri Lanka

In Tamil/partly-Tamil areas, we see Vanni electoral district down at 13.79% and Jaffna at 21.72%, with Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts coming in at 58.48% and 53.81%. The IPKF and EPRLF would be able to drive up those numbers for the 1989 parliamentary elections, but Jaffna and Vanni were clearly “abnormal” in 1988 and comparatively in 1989 as well. The more ethnically mixed composition of Trinco and Batti, the greater presence of Indian-linked Tamil paramilitaries in those areas, and initial northern social core of the LTTE are all reflected in these differences.

The Sinhalese areas are quite interesting. Hambantota, Matale, Matara, Moneragala, and Polonnaruwa are all below 30% turnout, while Colombo, Kandy/Mahanuwara, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Puttalam, Ampara/Digamadulla, Nuwara-Eliya, and Gampaha are all over 68%. The JVP’s impact on the Sinhalese heartland was spatially very heterogeneous: Kandy neighbors Matale and Ratnapura neighbors both Matara and Hambantota. We need to understand how seemingly-similar rural Sinhalese districts ended up taking such radically different political/military trajectories.

There is much more I will do with these (and other) elections to try to understand this divergence. But for now, this gives a crude but useful overview of where these two conflicts were likely the most intense in 1988 Sri Lanka’s cauldron of violence.

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