Peaceful polling in eastern Sri Lanka

March 10th, 2008 - 7:15 pm ICT by admin  

Colombo, March 10 (IANS) Polling in the local body elections in the eastern Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking district of Batticaloa went off peacefully Monday, though there were some allegations of vote rigging, sources in the district said. There were nine political parties and 22 independent groups fielding 831 candidates for 101 posts in nine Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Batticaloa town municipality.

Security was tight with 6,425 police and paramilitary personnel on duty in the 285 polling booths.

The elections had assumed importance because they were the first to be held after the Tamil areas of Batticaloa district were liberated from the clutches of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in mid 2007.

The successful conclusion of the elections is expected to enthuse President Mahinda Rajapaksa to hold elections to an eastern provincial council. The Sri Lankan northeast has not had provincial council elections since 1990.

The chief contenders for the local bodies in Batticaloa district are the Muslim parties and Tamil ex-militant groups, including a breakaway group of the LTTE called Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP).

The TMVP was formed by Karuna, a renegade LTTE commander, in 2004 but is now led by his deputy Pillaiyan.

TMVP is fighting the elections in alliance with Sri Lanka’s ruling party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Political rivals had christened it the King’s Party.

Being the only armed group in the area, the TMVP is feared by the people of Batticaloa, reports reaching Colombo say. But in the run up to the current elections, it did not use the arms that it had. The campaign, at least in the final stages, was violence free, local sources said.

However, the TMVP’s rivals had bitterly complained of intimidation by overt as well as covert means over a long period.

The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had been “banned” by the TMVP. The TNA appealed to the voters not to vote for the armed groups (read TMVP) and the ruling party with which it was in alliance.

The opposition United National Party (UNP) had opted out of the elections saying that it was not going to be free and fair.

US Ambassador Robert Blake had publicly warned that US aid to Batticaloa would not be forthcoming if the elections were not free and fair.

Human rights groups and the media had reported that fear was palpable, and that the TMVP was set to win partly because of this.

But legal action to get the elections cancelled had failed.

On voting day, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) had complained to the authorities of vote rigging by the TMVP.

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