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Elections

Sri Lanka elections: 'A milestone for the future'

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party won a major victory in the first-ever provincial poll in the former war zone. Expert Dinesha de Silva says the vote will contribute to the reconciliation process between Tamils and Sinhalese.

Out of the 38 seats in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 and secured more than 78 percent of the votes. The UPFA-led government coalition won seven seats with about 20 percent of the votes.

It was the first provincial council election held in the north in decades and is therefore regarded as an indicator of the state of the ethnic reconciliation and political progress in the South Asian island nation after the 25-year long civil war, which cost the lives of more than 80,000 people, according to United Nations' estimates. In a DW interview Sri Lanka analyst Dinesha de Silva says the results of the poll reflect a strong feeling among the Tamil population of the country in favor of a political solution and more direct efforts to promote reconciliation

DW: How important were these elections?

Dinesha de Silva: The elections in the Northern Province were very important as it is the first time in 30 years that a Provincial Council election in the former war-zone has been held. Previously, the Northern Provincial Council Secretariat was operating solely through an appointed official - the Governor.

Dinesha de Silva is The Asia Foundation's country representative in Sri Lanka (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

De Silva says the poll results will have a positive impact on the reconciliation process

It was therefore important for the citizens of the province to have the chance to elect their own provincial representatives four years after the end of the civil war. The existence of this council is also important for basic governance, such as the approval of by-laws that permit local governments to raise revenue and deliver services. The recent poll also represents a step towards the further normalization and implementation of the 13th amendment, which grants the devolution of certain powers to the councils.

There were allegations of military involvement and intimidation in the run-up to the elections. Have there been any reports of malpractice?

The NPC elections, for the most part, are reported by election observers to have been free and fair. There have, however, been several reports alleging military involvement and intimidation in the run-up to the elections, but, these reports have mostly been denied by the military who have responded that they were simply maintaining order.

There was 60 percent voter turn-out, so even if the alleged efforts at intimidating voters and creating an environment of fear that would reduce voter turnout were true, they were not successful.

One troubling event, however, was the publication and distribution of a dummy Tamil newspaper (Uthayan) with headlines stating that the TNA withdrew from the election and requesting the public to refrain from voting.

What did the chief ministerial candidate of the TNA, C. V. Wigneswaran, promise during his election campaign?

Former Justice Wigneswaran had a reputation as an exemplary judge, is respected widely and seen as a balanced and independent person. His stature is expected to provide the level of gravitas needed to enable future negotiations with the military, the Governor, and the Sri Lankan government led-by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen how he will be able to deal with the differing positions and views within the TNA and whether he will manage to hold the NPC in a position that will enable them to work with the central government to meet the development needs of the people of the North without getting swayed by the more extremist elements within the coalition.

What were the other parties campaigning for?

The parties affiliated with the ruling coalition in Colombo, UPFA, were campaigning on the basis of the success of their infrastructure development work, resettlement and reconstruction of the Northern Province after the end of the war.

What impact will the election results have on the reconciliation process?

The Northern Provincial Council Election is an important milestone for the future of Sri Lanka and the results will have a positive impact on the reconciliation process. In the coming months, the political differences between the governing UPFA coalition and the TNA will be crucial for the newly elected NPC.

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party's chief ministerial candidate C. V. Wigneswaran speaks to reporters in Jaffna, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Colombo on September 22, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

Wigneswaran was the TNA's chief ministerial candidate

The immediate challenge will be how the TNA is going to work with the powerful, centrally appointed Governor who has significant influence on the day-to-day functions of the NPC.

The TNA manifesto states that it is not the government in Colombo that holds the right to govern the Tamil people, but the people themselves. But this view may lead to conflicts and legal battles with the central government since the manifesto is regarded by the majority of the UPFA coalition parties as supportive of Tamil separatism, an argument refuted by the TNA who say their view lies strictly within the constitutional framework of the country.

Dinesha de Silva is The Asia Foundation's country representative in Sri Lanka. She has two decades of experience in the field of international development, with special interest and experience in economic governance, rule of law, access to justice, and conflict resolution.

The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.