After decades of bloody civil war that ended with the decimation of the LTTE in 2009, the Tamil-majority Northern Province in Sri Lanka will go to polls on September 21 to elect a council for the first time since 1988. The election gives the people in the region that was once controlled by the LTTE a chance to elect their own government and chief minister after 25 years and comes ahead of the November meeting of the heads of Commonwealth nations in Colombo.
One of the nine provinces of Sri Lanka, Northern Province with five districts – Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya – bore the brunt of the ethnic conflict. Though the region witnessed elections twice after the end of the war – presidential polls in January 2010 and parliamentary election later that year – the voter response was muted. Central and North Western Provinces too will go to polls on September 21.
Campaign for the elections ended on Wednesday with pre-poll surveys predicting a win for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is hoping for a significant increase in its vote share. The UPFA has launched an aggressive campaign to woo the Tamils that included a 64-page booklet titled ‘Vadakkin Vasantham – Anrum Inrum’ (The glory of the North – Then and Now). The booklet has articles comparing the current situation with that under the LTTE rule.
Leaders of all parties, including Rajapaksa, addressed campaign meetings on the last day. The TNA has fielded former Supreme Court judge C V Wigneswaran as its chief ministerial candidate, but the ruling alliance has declined to project a candidate for the post. While TNA leaders have been stressing on the right of self-determination for Tamils and the sufferings of war widows and orphans, the ruling UPFA candidates have been highlighting the development projects of the Rajapaksa government. Among the prominent faces in the ruling party, S Thavarajah of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and Angajan Ramanathan of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) have been campaigning hard for the government’s “reconciliation” work.
“Implementation of 13th amendment will result in a political solution for Tamils. For that to happen, the northern and eastern provinces should be merged and special powers should be given to them,” TNA MP Suresh Premachandran told TOI. He said there were about 50,000 war widows and 12,000 orphans who are struggling to lead a normal life. “We would provide housing and other basic facilities to the affected families.” he said. Currently, the powers to rule provincial councils rest with the governor. “The government should give powers to the chief minister and the cabinet for better governance,” he said. Stressing India’s role in the welfare of Tamils, he said the TNA always believed the country’s intervention would help provide a political solution for Tamils in Lanka.
Angajan, the ruling alliance candidate for Jaffna district, said, “This is a great opportunity for Tamils to select their own government after a long time. This election process is the first step for a long-term solution. People are coming to us with their problems. It shows they have begun to trust the ruling alliance,” he said.
A team of observers from SAARC countries led by former chief election commissioner of India N Gopalaswami has been meeting a cross-section of people in the Northern Province. “We have been meeting many people. We also met the candidates of all political parties on Wednesday. We are going to meet the voters on Thursday,” Gopalaswami said.(The Times of India)