35% voter turnout recorded in Sri Lanka provincial council elections
Colombo: About 35 per cent of voter turnout was recorded in Sri Lanka’s Tamil majority Northern Province today for the first local polls in 25 years to elect a 36-member northern provincial council. The council will be for a five-year term to govern the former war zone, four years after the military defeated rebel LTTE. Voting at some 850 stations began on schedule at 7.00 am (local time) amid tight security to elect the first post-war provincial administration in the region dominated by the Tamil Tigers until their defeat in 2009. Soldiers were patrolling the streets with police, election observers said. A voter turnout of about 35 per cent was recorded in Jaffna by 10 a.m. (local time), provincial election officers said. Among other places, Kilinochchi district saw a voter turnout of 29 per cent, Mannar 30 per cent and Vavuniya 24 per cent. More than 2,000 local and foreign observers were deployed in the province where nearly 715,000 people are eligible to vote.
Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaithivu and Vavuniya districts form the northern provincial council’s jurisdiction. These districts for decades held sway as the LTTE heartland. The run-up to the election has seen allegations of army intimidation. But this has been firmly denied by the authorities. There are nearly 906 candidates for the polls in the northern council which is witnessing its first-ever elections after councils were created under the 13th Amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. In the first north and east provincial council elections held in 1988, only one political party participated due to the LTTE’s armed campaign to set up a separate Tamil homeland. One of the election monitoring groups, The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), predicted a low voter turnout at the Northern Provincial Council elections due to widespread disillusionment with the election process and unacceptable long distances to the polling centres.
The elections are also being held in the Sinhala-dominated Southern areas, Central and North Western provinces. Ironically, in the run-up to the polls this time, the northern election campaign was fought not in the north but from the capital Colombo and the rest of the south. The reason was the Government’s blistering attack on the main Tamil party, TNA’s manifesto. It was the Vadukkodai resolution which inspired slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran to wage his bloody separatist campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the north. President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused the TNA of trying to drag the island back to LTTE’s demand for separation. The TNA manifesto has also vowed to retain the existing system of provincial councils through their mandate.
This would strike a chord with India as New Delhi had urged Colombo to shelve its plan to dilute the provincial powers that became part of the Sri Lankan Constitution due to the Indian intervention in 1987. Another point of irritation to Colombo was Wigneswaran’s remark hailing Prabakaran a hero. Rajapaksa’s dislike for Wigneswaran was manifested in his address in Vavuniya. He said it was regrettable that TNA had chosen Wigneswaran who was someone from Colombo to be its northern chief ministerial aspirant. The TNA is expected to win in the northern region. Its main rival is the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Rajapaksa.