One of Sri Lanka’s hard line Sinhala nationalist parties has warned the government to scale down Northern Provincial Council powers for fear that the TNA’s landslide victory and the powers it will acquire will breed separatism.
Sinhalese hard liners have urged Sri Lanka’s president to reduce powers of a regional council won by the country’s main Tamil party, with fears the win could revive calls for Tamil autonomy.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has won the first local election to be held in the country’s north after decades of civil war.
The election over the weekend has been hailed internationally as a step towards ethnic reconciliation and comes four years after the army defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in the country’s civil war.
The National Heritage Party (JHU), coalition partner of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, said the first semi-autonomous body won by the minority TNA could eventually lead to the division of the island on ethnic lines.
The opposition TNA won 30 out of 38 seats in polls for a provincial council in Jaffna established 26 years ago.
The area was previously ruled directly by the President Rajapaksa.
JHU leader Udaya Gammanpila fears the TNA victory will revive calls for autonomy among Tamils, who make up about 14 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people.
“The real war has just begun,” Mr Gammanpila said.
“We are entering a new phase of the war. It is not a war that will be fought with guns and bombs.”
“The TNA will revive the separatists’ campaign through the provincial council.”
In theory, the country’s nine provincial councils have powers over police and land.
Until now, none of the councils have actually exercised those powers but the TNA is pressing a claim to have both under its control.
President Rajapaksa came to power in 2005 on a strong nationalist platform, supported by the JHU, a party initially formed with a band of influential Buddhist monks who oppose power-sharing with Tamils.
President Rajapaksa has strengthened his hold on power after crushing Tamil rebels in May 2009 and declaring an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed in which at least 100,000 people were killed, according to UN estimates.
During a bitterly fought election campaign, President Rajapaksa has accused the TNA of raising expectations of a separate state.
However, after the results were announced, TNA’s chief minister-elect C.V. Wigneswaran said he was willing to work to resolve differences.
He said there was mistrust between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, but he had “great faith in humanity” to resolve differences.
“There is a fear of separation, but all we are asking for is a federal state which exists within the boundaries of Sri Lanka,” he said.
For decades the goal of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who launched their war in 1983, was to end what Tamil activists saw as systematic discrimination by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.(AFP)