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.
The party leadership said it was ready to work with the government but would not join it.
"We are ready to work with the government. (But) That does not mean we are going to join the government," Northern Provincial Council (NPC) chief minister-elect C.V. Wigneswaran told reporters, Xinhua reported.
He added that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) would need to work with the government to address certain issues in the Tamil-dominated north.
Wigneswaran also said that once the new council takes oaths, they would discuss issues that need to be addressed, including the issue of land and police powers for the provinces.
Tamils in Sri Lanka's north backed the TNA at the polls with Wigneswaran receiving 132,255 votes in Jaffna.
"The people have spoken...This vote is a testimony to the resilience of the Tamil people, " said TNA legislator M.A. Sumanthiran, adding that this vote was an overwhelming affirmation of the mandate given by the Tamil people to the TNA to continue their struggle for equal rights.