The people of Jaffna filed into polling stations in a steady stream yesterday to elect members to the country’s first Northern Provincial Council.  Enthusiasm was high, with many people acknowledging that they had voted for the Tamil National Alliance. Polling was, for the most part, peaceful. Some parts of the district were so quiet yesterday [...]


Heavy and peaceful poll in Jaffna: TNA victory expected

Fake issue of Uthayan says ITAK has pulled out

The people of Jaffna filed into polling stations in a steady stream yesterday to elect members to the country’s first Northern Provincial Council.  Enthusiasm was high, with many people acknowledging that they had voted for the Tamil National Alliance. Polling was, for the most part, peaceful. Some parts of the district were so quiet yesterday morning that an international journalist remarked, “If you didn’t know there was an election on, you would not have guessed it.”

Voter enthusiasm in the north is evident in long queues as these pictures taken in Jaffna and (inset) Mannar show. Pix by Namini Wijedasa and Lambert Rosarian

Foreign and local election observers drove around the district throughout the day. Security was tight at polling stations. Policemen refused to let anyone without a voting card or official authorisation into the premises or vicinity of polling stations. Journalists were turned away at the gates and questions were asked of persons loitering around polling stations without reason to be there. 

However, the presence of Army intelligence officers was observed. One or two officers in civilian clothes were seen outside many polling stations in Jaffna town. They were easily identifiable by their buzz haircuts, their build, by the fact that they had no purple ink on their little fingers and by the fact that they stood or sat there for hours without doing anything.

Reporters in other parts of the Northern Province also said that men with “military-like haircuts” were positioned near polling stations. In Jaffna, however, voters did not appear intimidated by such surveillance — the purpose of which was difficult to decipher — to keep away.

“They are a nuisance to us as well,” said a police officer stationed outside St Patrick’s College in Jaffna. “That man in the green shirt is from army intelligence. I told him several times to stay 500 metres away from here but he doesn’t listen. This impedes our duties because, when we tell civilians not to hang around here, they ask us why they can’t stay if that man does.
“We are worried, too, because who knows what kind of intelligence gathering they are doing or what sort of reports they will give,” he said.

An elderly Jaffna resident reads the real Uthayan newspaper while a man standing beside him reads the fake one

These men did not, however, interfere in the voting process. There was also no uniformed military presence on the streets, even in other Northern Province districts such as Mullaitivu.  The police were seen to be particularly active yesterday. Near the Jaffna Hindu Ladies’ College in Arasady Road, a police van drew up next to two men in civilian clothes who appeared to be military intelligence. They claimed they were workers attached to the Road Development Authority (RDA), although there was no construction work in sight. 

“Where are your identity cards,” one policeman in the van asked the two men. He questioned them at length and noted down their details before driving off. One man said he was from Anuradhapura. 

At Navalar Road in Jaffna, some supporters of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party had obstructed voters who were on their way to polling stations. “They told them to vote for the EPDP candidates,” said a man who was standing on the roadside. “But the police chased them away and some TNA parliamentarians also came here to see what was going on.”

There was no “circumstantial evidence” that pointed to an organised move to keep voters away from polling stations. But there were reports of attempts to influence the choice of voters. For instance, an eight-page, fake Uthayan newspaper was published and distributed in the Jaffna Municipal Council area early yesterday. It claimed in a banner headline that TNA candidate Ananthi Sasitharan had crossed over to the government and that the Ilankai Thamil Arasi Katchchi (ITAK) will not be contesting the election. The publishers of the legitimate Uthayan newspaper condemned the incident. In some areas, candidates occasionally came to polling stations with vehicles displaying their numbers. More serious attempts to influence the voters’ choice were also reported. Outside the Navanthurai Roman Catholic Vidyalayam, bottles of alcohol were distributed to policemen and voters. Also handed out were small pieces of paper stamped with the Number 4 and the betel leaf symbol.

The candidate to whom this number belongs is M. M. Shiraz or “Annan Shiraz”. It was learnt that this same candidate had handed out alcohol, parcels of biriyani and money near other centres. Meanwhile, posters had been crudely torn off most walls. But some, mainly those advertising government candidates and also TNA ones, seemed to have escaped the law. There were no banners or placards. Vehicle movement was also low with most voters preferring to come on foot, by bicycle or motorbike. 

At the Vasavilan Junction outside the High Security Zone (HSZ) in Palaly, a group of people were waiting to board buses provided by the Ministry of Provincial Administration. It was 8.15 am and they were returning from voting in their villages inside the HSZ, where they are still registered. The ministry had organised a shuttle service for this purpose.
Paripooranathar is the 72-year-old fisherman and village leader. A Catholic, he wore a rosary around his neck. Families from his village are living in temporary shelters in Polikandi, he said.

“We were displaced from Palaly several times since June 15, 1990,” he recounted. “What we expect from this election is our lands back. The common thinking among the peoples is that the TNA will win the election by a large margin.” Nationalistic sentiments were high. One woman leaving the Jaffna Hindu Ladies’ College polling station said she had voted to have her “homeland” back. “We have always been voting but nothing has happened,” she reflected, refusing to be named. “This time we are voting in the hope that we will get something.”

“I cast my ballot for the house symbol,” she continued. “I want our homeland and our freedom back. We have no freedom to live here but we want to ensure it at least for our children and future generations.” Another voter outside the same polling station said he, too, had voted for the house symbol. “We want freedom,” he said. “Now, it’s like we are living in an open prison.”

“Already there is a large military presence in Jaffna,” he explained. “We are fearful that if the TNA loses, it will get even worse.”

Some shortcomings observed in previous elections (in all parts of the country) were also reported in Jaffna yesterday. For instance, Joseph Rayappu from David Road in Gurunagar said around 50 families in his area had not received their voter cards. When they complained to the Grama Niladhari, he had asked them to present themselves at the polling station with their ration cards which contain the names of all family members.

“But when we came here, the Grama Niladhari is absent,” he said, holding out his ration card. “We don’t have a telephone number for him and we don’t know what to do.”

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