The May 10 election in the three eastern provinces of Sri Lanka has brought the country closer to resolving the two-decade old ethnic conflict between the Sinhala majority and the minority Tamils, a top government official said on Wednesday.
By participating in the election in large numbers last weekend, the people of the three provinces have also rejected the “myth” of a separate homeland propagated by the LTTE, minister of foreign employment promotion and welfare and defence spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella said at a news conference.
Three eastern provinces, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara went to polls on Saturday. The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the tense and closely followed polls, winning 20 (they won 18 and two bonus ones for winning the most number of seats) of the 37 provincial seats amid allegations of large-scale electoral malpractices. The primary Opposition party, United National Party (UNP), won 15 seats.
The elections were intended to give a degree of self-rule to the region, divided among Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils, and to counter demands for a separate Tamil state. The civil war between government forces and the LTTE, however, continues in the north, particularly in Jaffna.
Rambukwella admitted authorities had received 132 electoral complaints. “Ninety per cent of the complaints have been resolved and the remaining cases have been referred to the courts. There have been complaints and counter-complaints. (But what is important is) 600,000 people stepped out and cast their votes,” he said.
The minister said after the government ejected the LTTE from the east, it realised military victory alone was not sufficient for the development of the people. “The economic and political desires of the people had to be fulfilled,” he said, adding it was soon after that the government decided to hold elections as a stepping stone to development.
Rambukwella also referred to the controversial 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution signed in July 1987 by former President J.R. Jayewardene and former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi as part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The amendment, among other provisions, provided for the devolution of powers in Tamil dominated regions. It was rejected by the LTTE as well as the Sinhalese majority.
The minister said as a consequence of the amendment, polls were held in parts of the country but never in areas where ethnic strife has been raging since the mid-1980s.