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Sri Lanka

Tamil party sweeps Sri Lankan council poll

Historic victory, but reports of multiple violations

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: September 23, 2013 07:52 AM GMT

Updated: September 22, 2013 09:45 PM GMT

Tamil party sweeps Sri Lankan council poll

A Tamil voter leaves a polling station in Vavuniya on Saturday

Independent monitoring groups say over 500 election violations were reported before and during historic polls at the weekend that saw Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party win a landslide victory in the first provincial elections held in the north for 25 years.

“Polling day and the campaign period saw a series of electoral malpractices and violations which seriously undermined the free and fair nature of the electoral process,’’ the Center for Monitoring Election Violence said on Sunday.

"There was a heavy army presence and much violence against our candidates," said K Shivajilingam, a TNA candidate who won in Jaffna district.

These included an alleged attack on Ananthi Sasitharan, a popular Tamil candidate, prior to the election.

Her house was attacked on the eve of the election by a group of armed men, some of them wearing military uniforms, according to a report by the New York Times.

“The military has been visiting houses all over the area and telling people not to vote for the Tamil National Alliance,” Mavai S Senathirajah, deputy leader of the Tamil alliance, was quoted as saying in the report.

The authorities denied the allegations, with the election commission calling the vote largely free and fair.

An estimated 1,600 local monitors were deployed along with four Commonwealth observers and 20 South Asian and Asian observers.

In the poll on Saturday the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) took 30 out of 38 seats up for grabs in the Northern Provincial Council. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's coalition won seven seats, while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won the other.  

Rajapaksa announced the election following international pressure on his government to make a greater effort toward national reconciliation following the end of the country’s civil war.

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The TNA will now form the first post-war provincial administration in what was the Tamil Tiger rebels’ former stronghold. Until now the northern region has not had its own council.

The government says it has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in the north as part of its reconciliation efforts.

President Rajapaksa and his coalition candidates have further accused the TNA of fueling expectations of a separate Tamil state in the lead-up to Saturday’s elections, according to local media reports.

However, Tamil candidates and independent analysts have said the polls were not a referendum on separation but on the failure of the government to address the concerns of the Tamil ethnic minority, which requires a greater level of autonomy.

“Tamil people have given a clear message and they feel that their needs and concerns have not been addressed effectively by the government,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Sri Lankan think tank.

“This result despite government’s huge infrastructure development says that you cannot substitute political autonomy with economic development.” Saravanamuttu told ucanews.com.

The result also poses a huge challenge for both the government and the TNA.

“The government and the TNA must compromise to work for the common good. There is a huge responsibility for both parties,” Saravanumuttu said.

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