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Crucial polls for Sri Lanka's Tamils

world Updated: Apr 07, 2010 23:34 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The question before the Presidential election in January was whether retired army chief Sarath Fonseka could defeat incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa. Many, at least, in urban centres and certain regions of Sri Lanka thought he could. In the end, he could not and Rajapaksa won a contested but strong victory.

The same voters would troop out to vote on Thursday to elect the seventh Parliament, but a different question is making the rounds now: will the Rajapaksa-led ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) be able to secure a 2/3rd majority in a Parliament of 226 members? That majority is needed for the government to bring about changes in the Constitution; the government said that it needed the majority to continue to develop Sri Lanka.

Much has changed between the Presidential election and tomorrow’s Parliamentary polls. Within two weeks of defeat, Fonseka was thrown in a military jail, accused of doing politics during service and contravening procurement procedures while army chief; he is currently under-going two court-martials.

Fonseka of course is fighting the election from jail as the leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), which is largely filled with the Marxist Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna (JVP) members.

United during the January 26 poll, opposition parties have since gone their separate ways. The principle opposition party, the United National Party, is heading the United National Front with former PM Ranil Wickramasinghe as its leader.

The principle Tamil umbrella group, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has also broken up into smaller groups like Tamil National Liberation Alliance.

For the Tamil community, and Tamil political parties, it would be the first time that they would be participating in a Parliamentary election without the shadow of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) looming behind.

`` The Sri Lankan Tamils require a credible “voice” to articulate their grievances and aspirations. Such a voice must be elected democratically and spurn separatism and violence. In that context the 2010 poll provides an appropriate opportunity for the election of a strong Tamil voice,’’ noted columnist DBS Jeyaraj wrote last week.

One aspect hasn’t changed about the two polls; it would be held under the stringent Emergency Laws, which gives the government sweeping police powers, still functional almost a year after LTTE’s military defeat.

Statistics at a glance

Electorate – More than 14 million with more than 50 per cent women voters

Candidates – 7620

Political parties – 36

Polling stations – 11,102