Tamil party en­dorses op­po­si­tion in Sri Lanka polls


Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party Tues­day en­dorsed the main op­po­si­tion can­di­date in next week’s elec­tion, ac­cus­ing Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japakse of fail­ing to de­liver rec­on­cil­i­a­tion after the coun­try’s eth­nic war.

The Tamil Na­tional Al­liance (TNA) said it would work to de­feat Ra­japakse, who crushed separatist Tamil rebels in a 2009 of­fen­sive that sparked war crimes al­le­ga­tions, in the Jan. 8 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Although the TNA has been a long-time critic of Ra­japakse, it is the first time it has ex­pressed support for op­po­si­tion can­di­date Maithri­pala Sirisena, who hopes to end the in­cum­bent’s nine-year rule.

“The TNA at forth­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ex­tends its fullest support to the joint op­po­si­tion can­di­date Maithri­pala Sirisena,” the party’s leader Ra­javaroth­iam Sam­pan­than told re­porters.

The an­nounce­ment came two days after the sec­ond largest mi­nor­ity party, the Sri Lanka Mus­lim Congress, de­fected from the gov­ern­ment and pledged support to Sirisena — who him­self quit Ra­japakse’s cab­i­net last month.

Mi­nor­ity Tamils and Mus­lims ac­count for nearly 23 per­cent of the elec­torate and could emerge as king­mak­ers in the elec­tion if the majority Bud­dhists, who are mainly eth­nic Sin­halese, are split down the mid­dle.

Both Ra­japakse and Sirisena, the for­mer health min­is­ter, are Bud­dhists from the Sin­halese com­mu­nity.

TNA leader Sam­pan­than ac­cused Ra­japakse of fail­ing to en­sure eth­nic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion after crush­ing Tamil sep­a­ratists in May 2009.

Ra­japakse’s pop­u­lar­ity among the Sin­hala in­creased after he ended the 37-year-old guer­rilla war, which the U.N. says left at least 100,000 peo­ple dead be­tween 1972 and 2009.

How­ever, his party’s pop­u­lar­ity showed a 21-point de­cline at lo­cal elec­tions in Septem­ber.

“The pres­i­dent had the op­por­tu­nity to solve the na­tional (eth­nic) ques­tion, but he failed,” Sam­pan­than said.

“We are look­ing for a peace­ful, hon­or­able and a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion within the frame­work of a united and an un­di­vided Sri Lanka.”

Tamils have been press­ing for limited au­ton­omy in ar­eas where they are con­cen­trated.

In­tim­i­da­tion Fears

Sam­pan­than said he was con­fi­dent that Tamils would top­ple Ra­japakse, but ap­pealed to the elec- tions chief and the po­lice to en­sure that Tamils are not in­tim­i­dated into stay­ing away from the poll.

Pri­vate elec­tion mon­i­tors have ex­pressed fears the gov­ern­ment may de­ploy the mil­i­tary in for­mer war zones to dis­cour­age Tamils from go­ing to polling booths, and thereby re­duce the op­po­si­tion’s vote.

“We ap­peal to the Elec­tions Com­mis­sioner (Mahinda De­shapriya) and the In­spec­tor Gen­eral ( N. K. Il­lan­gakoon) to en­sure that peo­ple able to ex­er­cise their sov­er­eign right to vote,” Sam­pan­than said.

De­spite al­le­ga­tions of mil­i­tary threats against vot­ers, large num­bers turned out at Septem­ber 2013 lo­cal elec­tions in the north­ern prov­ince, the Tamil-majority for­mer war zone, and elected a TNAled coun­cil which was given a twothirds majority.

Sam­pan­than said Tamils be­lieve that Ra­japakse, who is ac­cused of in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies, blocked the lo­cal gov­ern­ment body from car­ry­ing out any mean­ing­ful work in the past year.

Within a year of de­feat­ing the Tiger guer­ril­las, Ra­japakse re­moved the two-term limit on the pres­i­dency.

He has also taken con­trol of key state in­sti­tu­tions and sacked chief jus­tice Shi­rani Ban­daranayake last year after she gave rul­ings that went against the gov­ern­ment.


Sri Lankan Tamil Na­tional Al­liance (TNA) leader Ra­javaroth­iam Sam­pathan ges­tures as he ad­dresses a press con­fer­ence in Colombo on Tues­day, Dec. 30.

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