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Lankan peace bid sidelined in local elections

Lanka voted at local polls after a lacklustre campaign where even the usually divisive peace bid was pushed to the background.
None | By Agence France-Presse, Colombo
PUBLISHED ON MAR 30, 2006 05:21 PM IST

Sri Lanka on Thursday voted at local elections after a lacklustre campaign where even the usually divisive peace process was pushed to the background, officials and analysts said.

Voting was slow across the country, elections officials said adding, however, that there was no balloting in the island's restive northern and eastern regions where Tamil Tiger rebels are in control.

"This is not an election that will impact on the peace process," said Sunanda Deshapriya, director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank. "The peace issue was left out of the campaign by almost all the key parties."

The vote is the first test of public opinion since President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power at the November 17 election with the support of nationalist Buddhist monks and Marxists.

The Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, appeared more active in the campaign that was dominated by local issues such as garbage disposal and public utilities.

The JVP as well as the party of monks oppose Norway's role as peace broker and is also against any concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels.

Although they are united in their opposition to the peace process, they are contesting against each other at Thursday's vote where the two main parties in the fray are the president's People's Alliance and the main opposition UNP.

Tamil politician Dharmalingam Sidhathan said he did not believe the election "will impact on the peace process".

"But if the president's People's Alliance does well, he could go for a quick general election to tighten his grip on parliament."

Some 10.1 million people are eligible to vote for municipal and urban councils as well as village councils responsible for the maintenance of utilities.

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake 10 days ago put off polling for six months in restive northern and eastern regions, large tracts of which are under the control of Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

The decision followed reports from local administrators, who complained of practical difficulties in staging the poll in areas where the rebels hold sway.

Court cases have blocked voting in several key local councils, including in the capital.

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