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Sri Lanka

Post-war ballot opens in ravaged north

Article published on the 2009-08-08 Latest update 2009-09-27 17:36 TU

Sri Lanka's defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella. (Photo: Reuters)

Sri Lanka's defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
(Photo: Reuters)

Sri Lanka held the first elections on Saturday in 11 years in two northern towns in the area formerly ruled by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were defeated by a government offensive in May. Turnout was mixed for the polls to elect local councillors in Jaffna and Vavuniya, where campaigning took place without violence.

The military laid down tight security which required opposition candidates to get permission to visit the areas, while ruling party candidates moved about freely.

“The main justification as far as the government is concerned is security,” says correspondent Amal Jayasinghe. He points out, however, that officials “are unhappy about independent observers getting into these areas even though these are not areas where there has not been fighting recently.”

Interview: correspondent Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo

08/08/2009 by Jessica Phelan

“The government doesn’t want the outside monitors, journalists or observers to have access to these people displaced by the conflict,” which critics describe as “concentration camps,” Jayasinghe says.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised Sri Lanka's minority Tamils more democracy after defeating the Tigers, who fought a 25-year civil war to create a separate nation for Tamils, who complain of abuses by governments led by the Sinhalese majority.

“When you say ‘we are having local elections’ it gives the impression that these are elections in which people who were recently displaced would be voting. In fact, none of them would be voting in these elections,” Jayasinghe told RFI.

Analysts agree. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo says the elections are a “political strategy” which completes the military operation “to be able to extend its writ and control over the entirety of Sri Lanka.”

“In terms of the really pressing needs of the people of the area, an election here is not going to make a great deal of difference,” Saravanamuttu told RFI.

“The government wants to be able to say that having defeated the LTTE, it is now moving towards normalisation and that the population at large will express its gratitude in electoral terms,” he says.

Riding a wave of popularity since winning the war, Rajapaksa is expected to hold early parliamentary and government elections to secure himself another six-year term.