Colombo: Sri Lanka`s main Tamil party on Sunday secured a landslide win in the historic provincial council polls held after a gap of 25 years in the former LTTE-ruled Northern Province, an outcome set to renew demands for greater autonomy for Tamils after the end of decades of ethnic war.
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) convincingly trounced the ruling UPFA coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, grabbing 30 of the 38 seats in the province. The 30 seats won by TNA include two bonus seats allocated to the winning party under Sri Lanka`s proportional representation system, according to official results.
The ruling UPFA coalition won just 7 seats and the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress only one. The TNA defeated the UPFA coalition in all five districts in the once LTTE bastion.
C V Wigneswaran, senior TNA leader and the chief minister elect, welcomed the result, saying people have spoken democratically and the government in Colombo should "learn from our victory".
Wigneswaran, retired Supreme Court judge, said the results were an overwhelming vote for self-rule for Tamils. "That (army presence) is the primary problem the Tamils of the northern province are having today," he reporters in Jaffna.
"You have to get rid of the army. They must be put in barracks somewhere else," Wigneswaran said. "We are for an undivided Sri Lanka and self-rule under a federal system."
Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa in a statement hailed his government`s ability to hold a free election in the north.
In an apparent reference to the TNA, Rajapaksa said certain parties who remained silent when the LTTE ran its campaign of terror were now free to indulge in democratic politics.
Senior minister and government spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella also termed the victory of TNA as a "reflection of democracy" in Sri Lanka.
Rambukwella, however, added victories of the ruling party in other two provinces were an endorsement of the government. He said the government had expected the TNA to win, and that it was now an opportunity for the Tamil party to prove itself.
Asked about giving more autonomy to the minority dominated region, the government spokesperson said only changes within the existing constitution would be allowed.
The TNA secured an overwhelming 78.48 per cent of the vote in the north while Rajapaksa`s coalition got 18.38 per cent.
The high poll in the north of 67.52 per cent defied early fears of a low poll expressed by monitoring groups. The Tamil alliance received over 80 per cent of the votes polled in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi districts. In Mullaithivu and Mannar districts, they won 78 and 61 per cent respectively.
In Jaffna, regarded as the cultural capital of the Tamils, the TNA garnered 86 per cent of the votes polled.
Over 2,000 local and foreign observers, including from India, were deployed in the Northern Province, where people voted to choose the 38-member council for a five-year term.
Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said the polls held for the Northern, Central and North Western provinces are by and large free and fair except for some minor incidents.
Rajapaksa`s UPFA bagged complete control of the Central and North Western Provincial councils, which also went to polls yesterday. The ruling party has won all the seats in both the provinces.
Reacting to the party`s stunning performance, senior TNA legislator MA Sumanthiran said the Tamils have spoken.
Suresh Premachandran, a veteran legislator, said the northern people have sent a clear message to the government that they want a political solution without separation.
The ruling coalition`s election campaign was centred on attacking the TNA manifesto. TNA was accused of trying to drag the country back into the LTTE`s era of terror.
The main Tamil party was arguing that they were espousing the cause of Tamil self-determination in a federal set up.
The northern council polls the first ever since the provincial councils became part of the island`s statutes in 1987 - was much anticipated by international watchers who had urged Colombo to achieve reconciliation with the Tamils.
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.
The two provinces de-merged in 2006 as a result of a court order and the first ever eastern provincial council election was held in 2008.
With the LTTE`s elimination in 2009, elections to the northern council was held back given the resettlement and rehabilitation in the former war ravaged areas.
There were nearly 906 candidates for the polls in northern council which witnessed its first ever elections after councils were created under the 13th Amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.
The landmark polls was seen as a test to decide whether the predominantly Tamil province wants more opportunities for developments or the people want more autonomy.
The election is expected to give minority Tamils a chance at self-rule after decades of ethnic conflict that left over 100,000 dead.