Sri Lanka to hold eastern provincial elections in May

March 12th, 2008 - 9:16 pm ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 12 (IANS) After the successful local body polls in Sri Lanka’s war-hit eastern district of Batticaloa, the government has decided to hold elections to the eastern provincial council in May. Because of war and terrorism, there had been no provincial council elections in the island’s north and east since 1988. And there has been no provincial council in this part of the country since the earlier northeastern council was dissolved in 1990.

The area has been ruled directly by the central government in Colombo since then.

The government’s move to hold provincial council elections now is being opposed by the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers.

The UNP had boycotted the local body elections, complaining of intimidation by a government-backed Tamil armed group. It has now urged the commissioner of elections not to hold the provincial council elections unless their fairness can be guaranteed.

The TNA is wary because it was “banned” by the government-backed Tamil Makkal Vidulai Puligal (TMVP) and could not contest the local body elections. In retaliation, it had asked its supporters not to vote for TMVP or the government party, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

But the government is determined to hold the eastern provincial elections, saying that it is following a road map to restore democracy and normalcy in the eastern and northern districts.

Speaking to newspersons here Wednesday, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that when the government withdrew from the ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in January, it promised to announce a political road map to solve the ethnic question while showing ‘zero tolerance’ for the LTTE as a military force.

It was in line with this roadmap that the government held the local body elections in the Tamil-speaking areas of Batticaloa that had not had balloting in the last 14 years because of the war against the LTTE.

In a contest involving eight other parties and 22 independent groups, the TMVP won control of the nine “pradeshiya sabhas”, or local bodies, up for grabs. Its ally, the ruling UPFA, won the Batticaloa municipality.

About 60 percent of the electorate voted in the elections, and out of the votes polled 70 percent was secured by the TMVP.

The transformation of TMVP - made up of Tamil guerrillas who broke away from the LTTE in 2004 - from a militant group to a democratic one would be significant for the “liberation of the Tamil people in the north who were still under the sway of the LTTE”, Bogollagama said.

As per the recommendation of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), the president would soon appoint a representative interim political advisory council for the Tamil speaking northern province, the minister added. “The president is now discussing nominees for the council.”

The government had also recruited 2,000 Tamil-speaking policemen, out of who 175 were ethnic Tamils, Bogollagama pointed out.

The minister, who met Colombo-based diplomats before he met the media, urged the international community to appreciate that the government was putting in place a system of post-conflict management that would be a model for the entire world.

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