Sri Lanka's Tamils vote after decades of conflict and death
By Amal Jayasinghe, AFPJAFFNA, Sri Lanka -- Minority Tamils voted in large numbers Saturday in a landmark election they hope will give them a chance at self-rule in Sri Lanka's north after decades of ethnic conflict that claimed over 100,000 lives.
September 22, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Balloting closed on time after nine hours, but the main opposition Tamil National Alliance, which is expected to win the semi-autonomous Northern Provincial council election, said the military tried to intimidate and discourage voters.
Despite reports of sporadic minor “incidents,” about 60 percent of the 426,000 electorate in Jaffna district voted, deputy elections commissioner S. Achchuthan told AFP.
“We took several measures to ensure people could vote freely and those steps appeared to have worked,” he said. “A turnout of over 60 percent is very, very good for Jaffna.”
Provisional figures indicated similar turnouts in the four other districts in the province. Results are expected by Sunday.
The vote in the former rebel stronghold has been promoted by the U.N. Human Rights Council as a step towards ethnic reconciliation after decades of fighting that ended when troops crushed Tamil separatists in 2009.
The poll was held amid international pressure on the Sinhalese-dominated national government to share power with Tamils who are a national minority, but are in the majority in the battle-scarred north.
Printing press worker Anandan Kumaraswamy, 57, was among the first to vote near Jaffna's landmark Nallur Hindu temple. He said he was “praying for change.”
The Northern Provincial Council was set up in 1987 but elections were never held and its functioning was controlled directly by the Sri Lankan president.
Retired Supreme Court judge Kanagasabapathy Wigneswaran is expected to be the region's first elected chief minister in a council that will have limited powers over the local administration.