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LTTE condemned as Tamils boycott poll

Whilst large numbers of Sri Lankans turned out to back their candidates of choice in Thursday’s Presidential elections, the ballots were cast mainly in the island’s Sinhala dominated south and in parts of the multi-ethnic east.

There was a near-total boycott in the Tamil dominated north and few Tamils voted in the eastern province after the Liberation Tigers and Tamil parliamentarians urged them to stay away.

“The Tigers had clearly sent a message to the people not to vote. They called for a boycott without actually saying it,” a military commander told AFP.

In the lead up to the election, the Tigers made no secret of their lack of interest in the outcome, but said they would not interfere in the elections.

“After the election, all promises are forgotten. We are totally unconcerned about the outcome of this election. We are a responsible political organization and have decided that people are at liberty to decide whether to vote and how to vote,” LTTE political head S.P. Tamilchelvan told Reuters

Less than one percent of voters in Jaffna turned out to vote. Turnout amongst Tamils was low in the eastern Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Amparai also, though Sinhalese and Muslims voted.

In parts of the east, LTTE supporters and cadres burned tyres and manned barricades at crossing points between LTTE-controlled and Army-controlled areas, sparking furious condemnations from election monitors and supporters of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) whose candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was relying on a large number of Tamil votes.

After the scale of the Tamil boycott became clear, the UNP formally demanded a repeat of the polls in the Northeast, saying voters had been denied the vote by the LTTE’s call and disruption.

However, when Sri Lanka’s Election Commission declined to re-poll, on the basis the disruptions – as opposed to the heeding of the LTTE call - would not have altered the outcome, the UNP agreed to abide by the victory of Mahinda Rajapakse, Wickremesinghe’s archrival.

The BBC reporter in Colombo, Sanjoy Majumder, said it is clear that Wickremesinghe lost not just because of the Tamil boycott in the north and east of the island, but also because many Tamils in Colombo, where his support has been strong, did not vote for him.

UNP party workers were bitter about the Tamil boycott in the north which, they say, not only denied Wickremesinghe potential votes, but also facilitated electoral fraud on behalf of Rajapakse.

Even in the predominantly Tamil Batticaloa district, Rajapakse, despite campaigning on a hardline Sinhala platform, had apparently secured several thousand votes, they said.

The European Union and the US State Department condemned the Tigers, accusing them of interfering with the election and of intimidating Tamils into boycotting the elections.

International ceasefire monitors of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said that whilst accusations the LTTE set up barricades could not be proven, the Tiger should have ensured there was free movement of people.

Complaints were made that angry crowds gathered to prevent Tamils from leaving LTTE-controlled areas to vote in polling booths set up in Army-controlled regions.

However, LTTE spokesman Thaya Master pointed out that it were crowds of unarmed citizens gathered, not LTTE soldiers.

“They were expressing their disinterest toward the elections, and protesting against the Sinhalese candidates,” he said. “It is not our business to do something like this, but if our people choose to demonstrate, we will not stop them.”

The scale of the Tamil boycott startled many. Sri Lanka’s Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said: “We have never seen anything like that before. I can’t say what caused this.”

From the Kilinochchi district, only 1 person out of 66,596 voters – and he picked Wickremesinghe.

In Jaffna, about only 8,500 people voted (of which 5,500 opted for Wickremesinghe and almost 2,000 for Rajapakse). Election officials said over 701,000 people were eligible to vote in Jaffna, but pointed with many abroad or displaced, in the last Parliamentary elections only 250,000 voted.

The Jaffna electorate comprises Kayts, Vaddukoddai, Kankesanthurai, Manipay, Kopay, Udupiddy Point Pedro, Chavakacheri, Nallur, Jaffna and Kilinochchi towns.

In Vanni, comprising Mullaithivu, Mannar and Vavuniya, 85,874 of 250,386 registered voted. Wickremesinghe took 65,798 against Rajapakse’s 17,197.

In Trincomalee, where eligible voters are split 34.3%, 32,7% 26.4% into Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese, 154,000 of almost 239,000 cast their ballot, just over 92,000 for Wickremesinghe and almost 55,700 for Rajapakse.

The Trincomalee electorate comprises Mutur, Trincomalee and Seruwila. In areas of Trincomalee where the government arranged for buses to transport people from Tiger-controlled areas to polling booths in government-held regions, the buses travelled empty.

In Batticaloa electorate, comprising Kalkudah, Pattiruppu and Batticaloa, 154,615 of the 318,728 eligible voters cast their ballots – 121,514 for Wickremesinghe and 28,836 for Rajapakse. Of the eligible voters in the electorate, 76.4%, 23.5% and 0.25% are Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese.

In the Digamadulla electorate, comprising Amparai, Sammanthurai, Kalmunai and Pottuvil, 288,208 of 396,453 eligible voters cast their ballots – 159,198 for Wickremesinghe and 122,329 for Rajapakse. Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils comprise 41.7%, 39.3% and 18.8% respectively of the eligible voters in the Digamadulla electorate.

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