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COMPARISON OF TAMIL POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

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Wyatt suggest that with effective party organizations political leaders may have been better able to accommodate Tamils within the Sri Lankan polity. Kanchan Chandra has used a rational actor model to refine the insight that inclusive political parties can accommodate different ethnic categories in multiethnic societies (Chandra 2000). Assuming that ethnic elites tend to draw the majority of their support from their own ethnic categories and that political power is sought by elites from ethnic groups that modernize at different times, she identifies a collective action problem in the inclusion of new elites. Although the incorporation of new elites would widen a party’s support base and therefore increase the chances of electoral victory, the possibility of existing elites winning important positions is reduced by the entry of new elites into the party structure. Therefore, what is good for the party as a whole is not good for any of the individuals seeking power within the party. Chandra suggests that parties that use competitive elections with open party memberships to choose candidates and distribute positions within the party circumvent the collective action problem. Existing elites in such parties have an incentive to widen their support base by recruiting rising elites from other ethnic groups. Newly recruited elites not only widen the support base of existing elites during intra-party elections, but also extend the party’s constituency during elections. In Chandra’s model the newly recruited elites take up middle ranking positions within the party and climb their way up the party hierarchy as spaces open up at higher-level positions, enlisting in the process elites from previously un-mobilized ethnic groups. Parties that rely on competitive elections will therefore be composed of multiethnic factions that compete for positions and influence within the party structure. Furthermore, in an open and competitive party displaced leaders and new entrants alike can form reliable expectations about their chances of winning important positions in future elections, thereby reducing the chances of defections and splits. Within a centralized party, however, existing elites have no incentive to widen their support base by recruiting elites from different ethnic groups, as party positions and candidacies are solely the gift of the leader or a small coterie around the leader. A small and centralized leadership that is interested as much in its own survival as in assuring the party’s victory will inevitably distribute candidacies and party positions in an arbitrary and unpredictable manner. As such elites from ethnic groups not represented in the party, unable to form reliable expectations about securing powerful positions, are unlikely to join the party. In relation to Sri Lanka, James Manor has argued that the organizational weakness of the two major parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), is a part of a wider failure of “political integration” that has hindered a solution to the ethnic problem (Manor 1979).

Sagar XVII — 2007