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Tamils to play kingmakers in presidential polls

world Updated: Jan 24, 2010 23:50 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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During their campaign, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and retired army general Sarath Fonseka made a point to pay their obeisance to Hindu God of War Kandasaamy at the ancient Nallur temple in Jaffna, the seat of Tamil culture and identity in Sri Lanka.

The symbolism is hard to miss.

Rajapaksa, 65, and Fonseka, 60, know the importance of the Tamil vote in the Tuesday’s presidential elections. They are expected to split the majority Sinhala vote. So, the ‘kingmakers’ are likely to be the eligible voters in the Tamil community (12-13 per cent of the 14 million Sri Lankan population).

In the 2005 polls, when Rajapaksa was pitted against the United National Party’s Ranil Wickeremsinghe, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ordered the community to boycott voting. They did. It is widely believed that had Tamils voted, Rajapaksa would have lost the elections, which he won by less than 2 per cent margin.

This time, the LTTE is not there. But on the surface, the Tamil voters seem divided.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance is stacked behind Fonseka — as is the Democratic People’s Front. Rajapaksa has the support of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, the People’s Liberation Organisation for Tamil Eelam and the TMVP.

“On the face of it, in the post-LTTE phase the Tamil community is not looking for a long-term solution to the ethnic issue. They seem to going for pragmatic political alliances for immediate gains,” an analyst, not willing to be named, said.

Tamil historian S Pathmanathan said the Tamil community wants the general problems of every day life — like high cost of living and corruption — to be resolved. “Then for the Tamils displaced in the north, there are the issues of resettlement and rehabilitation. They also want that any government they choose, the voices of their representatives should be heard,” he said.