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Sri Lanka’s first post-war polls show mixed results

[Reuters, Sunday, 9 August 2009 09:16 No Comment]

The political allies of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels won the most seats at local elections in a northern town, while the ruling coalition sailed to victory at local and provincial polls, results showed on Sunday.

Saturday’s polls, one each for local councillors in the northern towns of Jaffna and Vavuniya and one to elect councillors for the southern Uva Province, were the first since the government crushed the Tigers’ 25-year insurrection in May.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pledged to give Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils a greater political voice through elections, and the votes in Jaffna and Vavuniya were the first test of that.

Analysts and allies say he has been using the provincial elections to gauge his popularity before holding an early national poll to secure a second six-year term. He is expected to cruise to victory with popular support from the war victory.

Both Jaffna and Vavuniya were on the periphery of the area the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ruled as a de facto state for decades, and neither town had held an election in 11 years.

The polls in the north were held under heavy military security and foreign journalists were not allowed in. Opposition candidates complained they had to get permission to travel there while the ruling party’s candidates could move freely.

In Vavuniya, site of a major military base, the Tamil National Alliance’s Ilanghai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) party won five of 11 seats on the municipal council, the government’s Information Department said.

The Tamil National Alliance is a coalition of LTTE supporters.

A party of a former Tamil militant faction that opposed the LTTE won three seats, and Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won two. Turnout was 50 percent, election officials said.

In Jaffna, where turnout was 25 percent, the UPFA won 13 seats and ITAK took eight, results showed.

Voters had said the polls may have come too early, with about 250,000 Tamils who fled the final fighting between the government and the Tigers still languishing in refugee camps under military guard.

Rajapaksa has vowed to resettle 80 percent by year’s end and let them vote in an election across the Northern Province, which the LTTE had largely controlled for decades as part of its plan to create a separate state for Tamils.

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