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TNA suffers losses in North-East as Tamils frustration mounts

The scene outside Jaffna Central College earlier, where security forces attacked Tamils amidst tension over voting counts.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) suffered high profile losses in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections this week, losing seats to paramilitary groups, government-aligned organisations and other Tamil nationalist parties, amidst allegations of election fraud.

Tensions build over in Jaffna in the early hours of the morning, with Sri Lankan security forces attacking Tamils who had gathered outside Jaffna Central College where a recount was taking place. The dramatic recount stretched late into the night in Jaffna, as TNA members were engaged within an intra-party battle over preferential votes, in a close fight to secure seats.

Reports suggest that M A Sumanthiran came from behind to controversially win the TNA’s preferential vote over Sasikala Raviraj, amidst concerns of vote-rigging.

See more on the controversy here.

Across the North-East, with more than eleven years having passed since the end of the armed conflict, issues of accountability for war crimes, devolution of powers and uplifting livelihoods dominated campaigning in the Tamil homeland, which continues to lag behind the rest of the island economically.

Amidst a voter turnout that was higher than the rest of the island and the highest it has been in Jaffna for decades, the TNA lost seats across the North-East.

The Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF) secured two swats and the newly formed Thamizh Makkal Thesiya Kootani (TMTK) gained one seat, marking the first time that the two parties will send representatives to Colombo. 

However, Sri Lankan government-aligned parties and paramilitary groups also made gains in the region, with pledges of jobs and bringing economic opportunities to the region which is still reeling from the impacts of armed conflict and continued military occupation.

Angajan Ramanathan of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was aligned to Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna's (SLPP), won a seat in Jaffna. A close Rajapaksa associate whose father is reported to have made billions of rupees through people smuggling, Ramanathan spent $14,502 on at least 259 Facebook advertisements during the campaign, the second highest on the whole island. The lure of jobs and livelihoods also won the Rajapaksa aligned SLPP votes in the North-East. Whilst the paramilitary Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a government-aligned organisation accused of running child sex trafficking rings and committing executions, also managed to pick up two seats in the region.

Despite being government-aligned, many of the candidates still expressed Tamil nationalist sentiments. One SLFP candidate in Jaffna even claimed that he would get justice for his party’s “direct involvement” in the “wiping out of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)” and “nullification of the [Tamil] freedom struggle”.

Much of the focus however, will be on how parties in the North-East all deal with a Rajapaksa dominated central government, after the SLPP predictably swept polls in the South on a staunchly Sinhala nationalist platform. With human rights violations on the rise, and Tamils and Muslims increasingly under threat, the months and years ahead remain bleak for the North-East.

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