Muslim refugees based in Puttalam put on big show for Jaffna election

By Hiran P. Jayasinghe

Six voting stations will be put up in the Puttalam refugee camps

It is “all systems go” for the August 8 Jaffna Municipal Council elections, which are taking place after a break of more than a decade. Elections had to be suspended during the years of the conflict in the North and East.

Four popular political parties and two independent parties are fielding 174 candidates for 23 seats on the municipal council. Election fever is particularly strong in Puttalam, where thousands of Muslims who were former residents of Jaffna are living in refugee camps. They were forced out of the peninsula by the LTTE in 1990. These voters say they need a representative to hear their problems and speak on their behalf. More than 6,000 Jaffna Muslims are housed in the camps.

Sixteen voting stations have been set up. Six in Puttalam, two each in Colombo and Gampaha, one in Kalutara, four in Anuradhapura, and one in Jaffna. The Jaffna refugees living in Puttalam are putting on a particularly big hustings show, decorating the camps with colourful campaign flags, banners and cardboard cut-outs.

Muslims housed in Puttalam camps have plenty to discuss

Candidate B. A. Roomy Badurdeen was eight years old when he and his family fled Jaffna in 1990. The 19-year-old joined the government ranks through the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. “We must be grateful to the parents who sacrificed their sons to end what sometimes seemed an unwinnable war,” Mr. Badurdeen said.

“We are grateful to the President for ending the conflict. If the war had not ended when it did, we would not have had an election for another decade at least. The resettlement minister Rishard Badurdeen is often seen in the company of the President, so we have nothing to fear now.”

Ajimel Aswar, another candidate with the government party, said the ousted Muslim community was optimistic about the election. “We now have a good opportunity, and we must make the most of it. The people are behind us in this election,” he said.

M. S. Abdeen, secretary of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) in Puttalam, said it was a good sign that the Muslim and Tamil communities were both represented at the election. “Some wonder why we have joined hands with Tamils in this race,” he said. “But we have the honourable Mr. Douglas Devananda on our side. We are confident.”

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