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War-battered Lanka Tamils lukewarm on Jan 26 vote

[Gulf Times, Saturday, 23 January 2010 09:03 No Comment]

2_338552_1_248 Less than a sixth of Sri Lanka’s war-displaced civilians have applied to vote in next week’s presidential elections, the top election official said yesterday.

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said only 45,732 displaced people had registered to vote in Tuesday’s polls although official figures show more than 300,000 people were driven out of their homes during fighting last year.

“If you are an IDP (internally displaced person), your priority may not be voting, but getting back to your own home,” Dissanayake said. “I can understand their plight after facing many difficulties and hardships in recent months.”

However, he said he was arranging free transport for any war-displaced persons wanting to return to their original homes and vote.

Most of the displaced people are from the minority ethnic Tamil community whose vote is seen as decisive in the event that the majority Sinhalese electorate is split down the middle between the two main contenders.

The government held the 300,000 ethnic Tamils in internment camps and did not allow them freedom of movement until last month, saying they needed time to weed out remnants of the Tamil Tiger rebels who were defeated in May.

President Mahinda Rajapakse faces a tough challenge in his bid for re-election from his former army chief, Sarath Fonseka.

Both men are from the Sinhalese community and have been trying to woo the Tamil vote to tip the scales in their

favour.

Dissanayake said he had arranged security for Tuesday’s vote with the help of the police and the military and was not too concerned about escalating violence in the run-up to the

election.

“Violence is not a new thing in Sri Lankan elections,” he said. “I am not concerned about the violence, but the contestants are concerned.”

A bomb ripped through the home of a key opposition activist in Colombo yesterday in the latest incidence of violence. At least four people have died and hundreds have been wounded in the past four weeks in election-related clashes.

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