Another JVP Map: 1988 and 1989 elections

The JVP in Sri Lanka continues to be my “fun” project, a distraction from a book and multiple APSA papers. In future posts I’ll list a couple more sources I’ve found on this conflict. I also want to discuss the PDP in Kashmir and parties like it: “loyalist” parties on insurgent peripheries.

Here’s a map following up on my post about 1988’s election and what it might tell us about JVP (and LTTE) influence: the logic is that both groups wanted elections boycotted, so turnout levels provide a very rough proxy for where the groups were best able to exert their will.

This is district level data from 1988’s Presidential and 1989’s Parliamentary elections. In future, I’ll map out the 160 polling division results for each election to systematize substantial within-district variation. Unfortunately, polling divisions don’t line up with the main sub-district administrative unit, Division Secretary’s Divisions, so we can’t easily line up administrative data with disaggregated election data. Still, it’ll be a more useful map once I someday get around to it. I similarly want to get at the vote shares of different parties in these elections, plus go back to the 1982 presidential election.

You should play with turning the layers on and off; they are aligned right on top of one another so viewing them simultaneously doesn’t add anything (the top layer is the third layer below, % change in turnout by district from 1988 to 1989); click the weird arrow/drawer button on the top-left to toggle the layer options.

The first layer (blue) is the December 19, 1988 turnout percentages, just using the main town in a district as the location (I use Vavuniya as an arbitrary location for the Vanni electoral district). We see what I noted below: a low-turnout crescent from the deep south around through Uva province, into the north-center and north. Note the similarities in the deep south to the 1971 map of attacks I posted, but also a big difference: the Colombo-Kandy line appears much less hit by the JVP in 1988 than in 1971 (Kegalle was a hotbed of the 1971 revolt).

The second layer, in red, is 1989 parliamentary turnout, from February 15 (just 2 months after the presidential). We see overall major upticks in turnout, likely driven by a combination of the new, vigorous President Premadasa replacing JR and heightened security force operations in response to the JVP also targeting security forces more intensively. Overall turnout was up ~15% from 1988 (from 55% to 64%). If you click on the icon, you can see the raw percentages differences.

The third layer, in yellow, is the percentage change between 1988 and 1989. I’m not sure what to make of this: did the security situation really change so much in the space of a couple months? Did parliamentary elections drive turnout in different ways than presidential? A lot remains to be figured out.

Nevertheless, some striking stuff. Both the Vanni and Jaffna districts saw huge increases, though from low 1988 values. This is the IPKF buckling down and trying to get rid of the LTTE and prop up the EPRLF and its TULF coalition. However, EROS vote share – as “independents” in Vanni and Jaffna – may indicate support for the Tigers, so turnout alone doesn’t do the job here as a proxy for group influence. Eliyathamby Ratnasabapathy was a big vote-getter in Jaffna, and also happened to be a founder of the (by 1989) LTTE-aligned EROS; Eliyathamby Pararasasingam was another MP from EROS. Batticaloa and Trincomalee move upwards as well, from much higher baselines. These are where the EPRLF tried to make its political stand under the TULF banner.

There is some very interesting stuff in the primarily-Sinhalese districts. Massive increases in Matala, Moneragala, and Badulla, and substantial increases in Galle, Polonnaruwa, and Kurunegala. Something is shifting quite radically in these districts. Crudely, this seems like it might be a useful way of identifying where government control is returning, especially the districts with tripling or doubling of turnout.

Yet we see actual decreases in Hambantota, Matara, and Kandy. Matara and Hambantota are commonly identified as the heart of the JVP, so it’s no surprise to see that the situation does not seem to have improved at all in those districts: both remain ~20%. Interestingly, these are two of the lowest population density districts in Sri Lanka (and were in 1986 as well based on a Census estimate I found in Chicago’s library). Some of the literature also suggests that the JVP moved north as it was being hit elsewhere, which may help explain the the 18% drop in Kandy, but that’s speculative given increases or stasis around it.

This variation leaves a lot of big questions unanswered. But it valuably gives us places to look in the specialist qualitative literature (which is bigger and better than I initially thought, so though still small) for shifts in counterinsurgency strategy, security force deployment, political party campaigning, JVP strategy and operations, and other possible influences, rather than solely relying on broad macro-level claims about the conflict.


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