Colombo: Foreign observers today held talks with officials and candidates in Sri Lanka`s Tamil-dominated north to ensure free and fair polls in the former war zone`s first elections in 25 years on Saturday.
A Commonwealth Mission headed by Kenya`s former vice president Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka urged all stakeholders to ensure that the elections on September 21 pass off peacefully as the delegation held a series of meetings in Jaffna.
"I call on all stakeholders to play their part to ensure that the remaining days of the electoral process promote confidence in voters to freely exercise their franchise, marking a forward step in the post-conflict development of the Northern Province," Musyoka said in a statement.
"We are hoping for a free and fair election," he said in the statement issued by the Commonwealth secretariat.
The team would consider all the factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole, and assess whether the election is conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which Sri Lanka has committed itself, with reference to its own election legislation as well as relevant regional, Commonwealth and other international commitments, the statement said.
The Mission has been drawn from across the Commonwealth, and includes persons with political, electoral and local government experience and comprises Jenni McMullan, former Electoral Officer for Victoria, Australia; Shamsul Huda, former Chief Election Commissioner, Bangladesh; and Examin Philbert Secretary, Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities, St Lucia.
A 20-member team from South Asia, including monitors from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal, are already observing the electoral process, Sri Lanka`s elections commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said.
They are reviewing the election process in central and northwestern provinces where similar council elections will be held on September 21. All campaigning will end by tonight.
The focus, however, is on the Northern Council based in Jaffna where a total of 714,000 voters will exercise their franchise to choose a semi-autonomous council. The country`s biggest Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance, is expected to win in the region.
There are nearly 906 candidates for the 36 seats in the Northern council which is witnessing its first ever elections after councils were created under the 13th Amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.
In the first north and east provincial council elections held in 1988, only one political party participated due to the LTTE`s armed campaign to set up a separate Tamil homeland that ended in 2009.
Provincial councils do not have land and police powers, two key demands of minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation of 20 million.