It’s a fever that Sri Lankan Tamils have waited to catch for a quarter of a century. Sri Lanka’s Northern Province will go to the polls on Saturday: historic elections that are almost certain to see the oppositional Tamil National Alliance (TNA) come to power in provincial capital Jaffna under former Chief Justice CV Wigneswaran as chief minister.
For weeks, compound walls have been plastered with colourful posters and buntings in party colours have criss-crossed streets across the five districts of the province.
Allegations of intimidation of voters by government troops stationed here since the end of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in May 2009 to vote in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have prompted the deployment of more than 20 election monitors including India’s former election commissioner N Gopalaswami.
The army, too, has largely withdrawn to its barracks far from Jaffna town; the only visible uniformed presence is that of the provincial police. Wigneswaran has vehemently denied that his party’s manifesto hints at the creation of a separate Tamil state within Sri Lanka. However, there was a two-minute silence at the party’s last election meeting on Wednesday ostensibly in memory of those who died in the war’, a gesture, that a woman in the audience whispered was to actually commemorate the LTTE. However, the majority of those questioned at the meeting said they wanted “maximum rights for Tamils” “but ‚within a united Sri Lanka”.
For Rajapaksa’s alliance to get even a respectable vote, much will depend on first-time voters too young to have experienced the worst phases of the 30-year long civil war in which 120000 people were killed.
“I am undecided whom to choose,” said 21-year old pharmacist Sindhuja. “After all, Rajapaksa has brought peace.”
Yet others are appreciative of the army’s efforts at development and say they will not vote for the TNA, whose Colombo-based leaders have shown up in Jaffna for the first time, only for votes’.
Neither will others who received houses and medical treatment from the Sri Lankan army.
Karthiga Jagadeeswaran is a 30-year old snack-maker whose husband works as a coolie. The couple’s 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a critical heart condition and operated upon free of cost by the army’s medical corps. “If it weren’t for the army, Abisha would have died,” she said. “We will not vote for the TNA which wants to throw it out.”