People in the Eastern Province exercise the right to vote after 14 years of being stifled by LTTE terrorism

Mrs. Sivageetha Prabahakaran, the new Mayor of the Batticaloa Municipal Council, has become a symbol of restored democracy in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. In addition to being female, Mrs. Prabahakaran, a member of the registered Sri Lankan political party, Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), is the daughter of Mr Rajan Sathyamoorthy, a candidate fielded by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the General Elections in April 2004, but slain by the LTTE almost on the eve of the elections, because of his affiliation to Karuna, who broke away from the LTTE.

On March 10, 2008, the Sri Lanka government restored to the people in the Eastern Province, a right that had been snatched from them by the LTTE in 1995 - the right to vote. The people in the east voted on March 10 after 14 years, in local government elections held in the Batticaloa District. The elections were contested by 9 political parties and 22 independent groups which fielded 831 candidates. About 60% of the 270,471 registered voters exercised their franchise. The TMVP won eight of the nine local bodies which polled, while the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), an alliance between the ruling People’s Alliance (PA) and the TMVP, won the Batticaloa Urban Council.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a message to thank all who helped stabilize democracy in the east, said, “This peaceful election underlines the aim of the government to create an environment in which all our people could live in freedom and harmony.” He added, “I believe that the representatives of the people chosen in this peaceful election are the harbingers of success in the historic march to strengthen and widen democracy in our country.”

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, who briefed the diplomatic community in Colombo, said, “You would recall that addressing you on 4 January 2008 in the aftermath of giving notice on the termination of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) I made clear that “the termination of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) does not in anyway hamper the process of moving towards a negotiated political settlement,” and “that infact it gives broader space to pursue this goal through an inclusive process which includes all minority groups of Sri Lanka.” I observed that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, “while dealing militarily to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from our land, will spare no effort in our bid to arrive at a practical and sustainable political settlement”.

In 1995, when the government withdrew troops from the east for deployment in the battle to retake Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE infiltrated into the east again and wrested control over its more remote areas.

The government’s attempt to hound the LTTE out of the east began in August 2006, following the LTTE’s depriving water for 60,000 people in a farming hamlet in the east, by closing the Mavil Aru sluice gates. Confronted by the superior fire power and the determination of the government forces, the LTTE was forced to withdraw from the east in July 2007, yielding the territories they had controlled since 1995.

Since the eviction of the LTTE from the Eastern Province, the Government has embarked on the Nagenahira Navodaya Programme (Reawakening of the East) under which it has restored civil administration, resettled Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), provided immediate infrastructure development, and encouraged private sector participation and promotion of industries in the east. The immediate areas of focus include agriculture & irrigation, roads, power and energy, livelihood support, fisheries and livestock development, education, civil administration, health & sanitation etc. This program is an integral part of the National Development Plan, including mega infrastructure projects which are aimed mainly at improving the connectivity with other regions. These projects are expected to create new employment opportunities for people in the region and boost economic activity, particularly through the promotion of private sector investment.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have acknowledged that the voluntary resettlement of IDPs in the East has been undertaken in keeping with international standards. In the Eastern Province, most IDPs have returned to their homes and the remainder will be resettled, after clearing the remaining areas of landmines. The Government, with the assistance of the WFP, provides food rations to the displaced families and returnees.

The law and order situation in the East is improving as well. New police stations have been established while existing stations are being strengthened to provide a better service to the community. 2000 Tamil speaking police officers are being recruited to serve the province, of which 175 Tamil police officers, including 50 women police constables, have already been recruited and trained and deployed. The civil administration is also being strengthened, with more office buildings and new staff competent in Tamil.

The Negenehira Navodaya programme has been implemented with the assistance from the international community, the UN agencies as well as international and local NGOs.

Minister Bogollagama said, “The elections held on Monday would have been inconceivable a year ago if not for the successful clearing of the East of LTTE terrorism and the restoration of normalcy. It is also noteworthy that these military operations were conducted with great care to ensure minimal disruption to civilian life. Other than for a single incident where civilians were killed when the LTTE fired mortars from their midst, there were no reported incidents of civilian casualties. Sri Lanka has proved through its Eastern operations that terrorism can be defeated with far less damage to civilians than in any comparable situation.”

These local government elections in the east have proved a triumph for Sri Lanka against great odds, with hardly any election-related violence. Not only did the government restore democracy in the east after 14 years, and the right to vote for the people in the east, it also helped to persuade into the political mainstream, an armed group that broke away from the LTTE. The recent election has paved the way for Provincial Council elections in the east, which President Rajapaksa hopes to hold by mid year.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

12 March 2008

Home | Sri Lanka-US Relations | Trade | Investment | Travel | Consular | Press Releases |
Statements | Features | Reports & Publications | Archive | Contact I Ideas Line