Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party has scored a landslide victory in the first semi-autonomous council elections in the island’s north after decades of ethnic war.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) swept all five districts in the Northern Provincial Council which went to the polls on Saturday, the department of Elections results showed on Sunday.
The TNA bagged 30 out of a total of 38 seats in an election held under a system of proportional representation.
In the most populous district of Jaffna, the TNA secured more than 84 percent of the popular vote, exceeding the party’s own projections of 66 percent.
President Mahinda Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance was a distant second with just seven seats, while a Muslim party picked the other seat.
The TNA, which has vowed to press a demand for “self-rule” for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation of 20 million, made a clean sweep in the war-affected region despite allegations that the army was trying to discourage TNA voters.
The government said 68 percent of the 719,000 electorate in the Northern Province turned out to vote Saturday.
‘Plenty of complaints’
The Sinhalese-dominated government called the election under international pressure to share political power with the Tamils four years after defeating separatist Tamil rebels who had fought for full independence.
The TNA, a coalition that includes moderate Tamils, former Tiger rebels and their opponents, has charged that the military was intimidating their supporters and forcing them to stay away from voting.
Elections officials said they had “plenty of complaints”, but there were no major incidents during a nine-hour voting period.
Saturday’s elections were seen by the United Nations and the world community as a crucial test of reconciliation between Tamils and the majority ethnic Sinhalese, who control the government and military.
The election was promoted by the UN Human Rights Council as a step towards ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka after nearly four decades of fighting that killed up to 100,000 people.
At least 80,000 people were killed and northern cities, including Jaffna, were reduced to rubble when the Sri Lankan government troops decimated the rebels in 2009.
Saturday’s poll is also the first local election to be internationally monitored. Dozens of observers from South Asian nations and the Commonwealth were involved along with hundreds of private monitors.
The Northern Provincial Council was set up in 1987, but elections were never held and its functioning was controlled directly by the Sri Lankan president because of fighting in the region.
President Rajapakse has accused the TNA of raising expectations of a separate state that is opposed by the majority Sinhalese.