By Shihar Aneez | Reuters
Sri Lanka's northern cities hold local polls for the first time in many years on Saturday amid opposition and poll monitor complaints of intimidation.
Healing after a 25-year war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended in May 2009, Tamils in the northern city of Jaffna, long the centre of Sri Lanka's Tamil culture, feel there is little to gain from voting.
"There were a number of elections like this and a change has never happened. I have little doubt that this is also going to be the same," said Thuvaraki Nakeswaran, 22, a journalism student who will vote for the first time in her life.
"I will vote for those who think to help Tamils."
She is among 350,000 voters in 16 constituencies registered to elect local leaders. But voting in Jaffna, as it did in war time, will take place with a heavy military presence.
Tamils in Jaffna are reluctant to speak in public due to the presence of government intelligence officers and soldiers, and many Reuters approached gave a brusque "No comment."
Free expression has not been a way of life for decades: either the government or the LTTE routinely killed, beat, harassed or otherwise punished critics via unidentified gangs.
Rajapaksa has launched many infrastructure projects under a rebuilding programme he has dubbed the "The Northern Spring", some of which are rejuvenating roads and railways that fell into neglect during the war.
But building trust between Rajapaksa, who is from Sri Lanka's Sinhalese ethnic majority, and Tamils is a difficult task. No government since independence in 1948 has given Tamils much confidence, and many have grown up around the LTTE's rabidly separatist and anti-Sinhalese doctrine.
"I am your friend; I am your relative; You can trust me," one poster of Rajapaksa says. "We will build our villages together."
The campaign posters of Rajapaksa and candidates from his ally, the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), were all over Jaffna, but those of the opposition were scarce.
The evidence of development and economic revival, which Rajapaksa has said will help Tamils rebuild their lives, are ample in Jaffna. Numerous private banks have opened up in the town and many roads are under construction.
"There is a selfish motive behind the government's development programme and it's Sinhalisation that really has been taking place," a 59-year old man told Reuters on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal.
Sinhalisation, a term espoused by the LTTE, refers to the moving of Sinhalese people into areas the separatist group said were traditionally Tamil-majority, throughout Sri Lanka's nearly three millennia of history.
"All the jobs created through these projects are given to Sinhalese people," the man said. "The government has never involved us in the development projects either through providing job opportunities or giving the contracts to Tamils here."
Thambithurai Hariharan, a 55-year-old farmer, complained that the development has not helped bring down the high cost of living or created jobs for the unemployed.
"Now some agricultural produce is brought here from the rest of the country despite being grown here. That has reduced our profit margins," he said.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Posted by JDS
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Posted by JDS
Two and a half million people are to vote at more than 2200 polling stations with some 20 political parties and independent groups contesting the elections.
Sri Lankan Tamils in the former rebel held town of Kilinochchi in the north of the country turned up in small numbers early Saturday to cast their votes and select a local council representative after more than 25 years.
The local council elections are being conducted in several parts of Sri Lanka but the focus is on Kilinochchi as well as Jaffna in the north where former war displaced minority Tamil communities will vote, two years after a 30 years war came to a bloody end.
Most of the displaced people were in temporary camps since the end of the war, in conditions which drew criticism from international human rights groups, and were later resettled over the past several months.
Saturday's elections were already marred by reports that some Tamil voters were intimidated or had their voting cards forcefully taken away by unidentified groups.
"We have received complaints of unidentified groups visiting the homes of some people in Kilinochchi and forcefully taking away their voting cards last night," Rohana Hettiarachchi from a local election monitoring group told Xinhua.
There were also reports of a house belonging to a supporter of a Tamil political party being set on fire in Killinochchi.
The election was going ahead with one death reported so far in Anuradhapura, in north-central Sri Lanka.
A police unit tasked with monitoring election related violence also said that the polls were so far being conducted in a peaceful manner.
Gamini Navaratne of the police elections unit said that they have been given strict instructions to take stern action on anyone attempting to disrupt the polls.
The election results are expected to be announced Sunday and the ruling party led by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to win the ongoing elections.
In the first stage of the elections held in over 200 local councils in March, the ruling party recorded a landslide victory.
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