Former Tamil militants sweep east Sri Lankan elections

March 11th, 2008 - 1:53 pm ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 11 (IANS) A new political party comprising those who quit the Tamil Tigers has swept the local body elections in the Tamil-speaking eastern Sri Lankan district of Batticaloa amid accusations of intimidation. The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), founded by breakaway Tamil Tiger commander Karuna in 2004, won all the nine local bodies called Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Batticaloa town municipal council up for grabs in the Monday ballot.

“Of the total votes cast, the TMVP got over 70 percent,” said Batticaloa district Assistant Election Commissioner T. Krishnananthalingam.

Unofficial reports said that 50 to 56 percent of the electorate had voted, which is low by Sri Lankan standards. The normal polling is over 80 percent.

TMVP was one among nine political parties and 22 independent groups that fielded 831 candidates for 101 posts in nine Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Batticaloa town municipality.

The Batticaloa municipality was contested by the TMVP in alliance with Sri Lanka’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The mayor of Batticaloa is likely to be Pradeep Master, a former military commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who had fought in the famous Jeyanthan Brigade, and who, for sometime, had been LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran’s bodyguard, an informed Tamil source told IANS.

Pradeep Master is now second only to TMVP’s chief Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pillaiyan, who inherited the post after the party’s founder Karuna was jailed by British authorities for travelling to the country on a forged diplomatic passport.

The TMVP, which has an armed wing supposedly to protect itself from its erstwhile comrades in the LTTE, has been working closely with the government and its armed forces to maintain order in Batticaloa district and hunting down remnants of the LTTE.

The local body elections had assumed importance because they were the first to be held after the Tamil areas of Batticaloa district were take over from the LTTE in mid 2007.

The successful conclusion of the elections was hailed by Rajapaksa, who said Monday that they had helped restore democracy in Batticaloa and bring about an environment in which all communities could live in harmony there.

The government now plans to hold elections to an eastern provincial council. The Sri Lankan northeast has not had provincial council elections since 1989.

Being the only armed group in the area, the TMVP was feared by most people in Batticaloa although in the run up to the current elections it did not use the arms it had. The campaign, at least in the final stages, was violence free.

However, the TMVP’s rivals had complained of intimidation by overt as well as covert means over a long period. The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was “banned” by the TMVP, and therefore it could not contest.

Sri Lanka’s main opposition United National Party (UNP) did not contest saying the playing field was not even. Other Tamil parties tried to get the elections postponed and the TMVP disarmed. Their campaigns had been low key because of fear.

“All this explains the relatively poor turnout on polling day,” said Nesan Shankar Rajee of the Eelavar Democratic Front.

Sources in Batticaloa said that the election victory would give the necessary legitimacy to the TMVP’s activities, fair and foul. A section of the voters felt that it might give the TMVP a chance to carry out its promise to bring development to the people of Batticaloa who had been denied economic development because of war and terrorism over the past 25 years.

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