COLOMBO: In a closely fought presidential contest in Sri Lanka, the votes of minority Tamils and Muslims, who constitute 20% of the electorate, proved to be the game changer. While Mahinda Rajapasa secured almost as many votes as his rival Maithripala Sirisena in Sinhala majority areas, Tamil areas overwhelmingly voted against him. Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) announcement of support for Sirisena seems have tipped the balance in his favour.
In an indirect acknowledgement of this fact, Sirisena thanked TNA and others for their support during the swearing-in ceremony. But he has not indicated whether he would address the issues of Tamils and Muslims immediately.
Sources said a small number of troops are likely to be recalled in a couple of weeks. Sirisena had promised partial demilitarization of the country’s north and east. While Rajapaksa was hailed as a hero for decimating LTTE in 2009 by the majority Sinhalese, most of the Tamils saw him as a villain. His divisive policy of playing Buddhist hardliners against Muslims too seems to have backfired.
The large-scale militarisation of the north and east, failure to roll out developmental programmes and slow pace of rehabilitation fuelled Tamils’ anger, say analysts.
Extending its “warmest congratulations” to Sirisena, TNA leader R Samanthan said: “New President has to urgently address many of the grave issues faced by the country such as the resolution of the national question so that the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka will be the true beneficiaries of democracy”.
Though polling in North Province was less than the turnout in the 2013 council election, which TNA won, the voting percentage doubled compared to the previous presidential election. In Jaffna district, while Sirisena secured over 74% of votes, Rajapaksa managed only 22%. In Vanni, another Tamil-dominated district, more than 78% voted for Sirisena against 19% for Rajapaksa.
Sirisena secured majority of the votes in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Digamadulla in Eastern Province. “This is the first time Tamils and Muslims have joins hands to show strength,” said K Kanesalingam, a professor of political science in Jaffna University.
He said the Tamils not only showed their anger against Rajapaksa, but also conveyed a message that they are ready to be part of the national mainstream.