Jaffna, Sept. 22: Despite an apparent campaign of dirty tricks by its opponents and reported efforts at intimidation, the Tamil National Alliance won a sweeping victory today in the first provincial elections in 25 years in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north.
The Tamil alliance won 30 of the 38 seats on the Northern Province. The governing coalition won seven of the seats, with a Muslim party winning the final seat.
“These results show that we want political rights and not just peanuts from the government,” said E. Saravanapavan, a member of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance. “We are equal citizens and want political power to run the place.”
Four years after the bloody end of the Tamil insurgency, Tamils in the north yearn for a reduction in the still vast military presence. The army continues to occupy thousands of homes and administer its own farms, factories and resorts on appropriated land for which the government has paid little or no compensation.
Analysts say it will be increasingly important for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to follow through on more of his promised reconciliation efforts to avoid frustration among the Tamils. Since he has concentrated much of the government’s power in his and his family’s hands, the provincial councils have little power.
The elections were hard-fought, and a variety of apparent dirty tactics were used to try to defeat the Tamil alliance. Campaign posters appeared for Tamil candidates that gave incorrect selection numbers; voters here choose candidates by numbers and not names, so the posters seemed intended to fool voters into selecting the wrong one.
A fake version of a respected newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayan, was also distributed. It stated that Ananthi Sasitharan had left the Tamil National Alliance and joined a party associated with the governing coalition. The story claimed that as a result, the Tamil alliance was boycotting the poll.
“We got hundreds of calls asking us if the story was true,” said S. Anuraj, an editor of the actual Uthayan. “People said the papers were being handed out by military men dressed in civilian clothing.”
The fake newspaper may explain why turnout in the first hours of the election was relatively light in Jaffna, with many polling places reporting only a trickle of voters. But by midday, turnout had become decidedly heavier.