KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka - Minority Tamil candidates are hoping a weekend election in their heartland in northern Sri Lanka will give them a mandate to demand self-determination, but the nation’s ruling coalition has campaigned with unexpected zeal.
Its aim is a victory that would blunt calls for an international war crimes investigation and vindicate the harsh tactics that killed thousands of Tamil civilians here in the final months of its quarter-century civil war.
The Tamil regions in the island’s north and east, areas once controlled by the Tamil Tigers rebel group, account for 26 of the 65 local council races being decided today. There are no reliable preelection polls to predict the outcome.
Sri Lanka’s top officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Cabinet ministers, have jumped into the fight for minority Tamil votes, with help from a progovernment Tamil paramilitary-cum-political party. They have cut ribbons on projects for sports complexes and played cricket with local youths. They promise to rebuild Tamil homes and insist they are trusted friends.
It is a rare effort for a minor ballot, but the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition insists it is committed to communal reconciliation - though none of its touted programs toward healing has begun.
This victory “is of value to the government,’’ said Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage while campaigning in the former Tamil Tiger northern rebel base of Kilinochchi. “It will enable us to tell the world that we have won the confidence of the Tamil people after winning the war.’’
Since the war ended in 2009, the former rebel proxy Tamil National Alliance has won most of the region’s parliamentary seats.
But local elections held last year in the main Tamil city of Jaffna dealt the alliance a major blow by handing control to the governing coalition.