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05 October 2023

Most northerners seek change in Sri Lankan presidential election

By Correspondent

Sri Lanka’s Northern Province is split in its ideologies and political aspirations during the current presidential election too, compared to people of the south who want the incumbent president to stay in power.

The Tamil speaking people of the north were set to vote for change, while the Sinhalese who live there are expected to support incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa to finish the task  he undertook five years ago, after eradicating the LTTE, claiming that it  cannot be done by any others, particularly his opposing candidate Maithripala Sirisena.

Jaffna, which looked too sombre during the Northern Province election held last year, is calm but not as active the south. There are hardly any traces of presidential campaigns to be seen.  There are two huge cutouts of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in two places right outside the Jaffna railway station but his picture is fully plastered with scotch tape, supposedly by his own party people who follow the election rules.

However there is no trace of Maithri campaign. According to people there were no Maithri or Ranil posters ever printed for campaign except for the Tamil National Alliance calling Tamils to vote for Maithripala Sirisena, the common presidential candidate.

A youth in his 30s showed a fake ballot paper which was printed with the three-wheeler as the symbol pointing at the name Maithripala Sirisena.

A youth, who works for a kiosk, said, “This is to confuse the people. This fake ballot paper was even printed in Tamil newspapers paying enormous money to mislead the people. However, people are set to vote for Maithri,” he added.

Former Chief Elections Commissioner (CEC) of India  Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, who is the poll observer heading the Association of Asian Election Authorities (AAEA),   who has been in Jaffna, was informed about the fake ballot paper. He told ‘Ceylon Today’ that it has been brought to the notice of the election commissioner.

Taxi driver Jegan (36) says he likes President Rajapaksa but not for another term. “We have had enough of him and there should be change in the regime.”
He referred to president as ‘king’ as the southerners call him.  “There is no king or kingdom to be ruled. Therefore, the regime should change as there is dictatorship at present. I feel a ‘king’ is ruling us.”

Many Tamils recalled the last phase of the war, though the incumbent president urged the northerners to ‘forget the past’. They also recalled that their kith and kin have gone missing due to the war. Many are also disturbed by the fact that internally displaced people have spent more than 20 years in the camps and want to return to their own land.

‘Ceylon Today’ visited the Konapulam welfare camp in Valikamam North where nearly 330 families were asked to settle on private land. \

Yoganathan (56), initially from Myiliddy, who has lived in the Valikamam welfare camp for the last 20 years, says, “I am not keen on seeing who the next Sri Lankan president is but to return to my land in Myliddy where my living condition was 20 times better than what it is now.”

Having had his fifth child in the camp, he lamented he is sad that a child was born to him in the camp while he has a house and property in Myliddy. The state of the welfare camp in Valikamam is pathetic. There were floods in the recent past and their houses were submerged.

“There is no electricity. I have no job but work as daily wages . I am a fishermen and I only know my trade well,” he lamented.

Stressing that he makes a monthly income of little more than Rs10, 000 but half the month he is at home having no work to do. “I am from Myliddy and during heavy airstrikes we were displaced to Wanni but during the last phase of the war we had to come here and remained here since 2010.

According to the statistics of the Valikamam Police Station, there are 37 welfare camps in the Jaffna peninsula. And around 9,900 families are displaced as their land has been demarcated as high security zone. Media has repeatedly exposed many of the IDPs’ conditions in the past and it remains the same, according to officials of the Valikamam North Pradeshiya Sabha and so a change in power is needed address the problems people face, the officials added.

Another voter, A. Kadiragamanathan, 56, a watchman, says, “We are poor and we have nothing. My land and house, I wonder whether I will see them again again. I still dream to be there,” he added.

However, when ‘Ceylon Today’ met Governor of Northern Province G A Chandrasiri in his office in Jaffna, he denied that northerners ae unhappy. In fact, the youth will be happy to have President Mahinda Rajapaksa as president for one more term, he claimed.

“I will tell you today, there is no place for regime change. The President has pledged to restore the honour and dignity of the people of Jaffna and the Northern Province and he has done much to restore peace. The younger generation sees him as someone whom they can rely on,” he added.

When asked why the northerners, with all the development brought by the President, were not been in his favour at all, the governor said the older generation don’t want  change in society and cannot change their ideologies. However, he said 60 per cent of the population in Jaffna consist of  youth and they are keen on the election.

S. Thavarajah of the UPFA, representing the Jaffna District, stressed that the victory for Rajapaksa is needed today, failing which the influence of Tamils in mainstream politics will decline. “Tamil politicians don’t want to be in power and gradually secure what they want. I don’t see why President Rajapaksa will not give us what we want. Firstly, we should learn to work with him amicably without craving for power overnight and refusing to adjust,” he said.

“Tamils are deprived of power mainly because they do not want to do mainstream politics. They want their share and that too immediately,” he said.

Recalling the TNA’s performances from the day they were elected, he said they are incompetent and people have already started to lose faith in them. He was referring to Ananthi Sasitharan who boycotted the presidential election stating that TNA should not support Maithri who had joined hands with extremist allies who hate  Tamils.

“Their coalition with Maithripala and Champika Ranawaka and Ven. Rathana Thera will drag them into a terrible situation. What are the Maithri faction’s promises for the people of the north? Nothing,” Thavarajah said.

When asked why the people are listening to the TNA, Thavarajah said  it is  because they are emotionally attached to their traditions and beliefs and TNA plays with their emotions well. Tamils are highly sensitive and hardly can break out and think differently, he added.

He said  anyone in his right senses should not vote for Maithri because he is surrounded by extremists. “I can sense it and I am not saying it because I am a UPFA politician.”
 “I don’t mind if they don’t vote for the incumbent but why Maithri?” he asks. “People are confused over Maithri’s pull out from the government, the sudden shift from ‘Only Mahinda contest’ to Maithri-Mahinda contest.

Northern Provincial Council Chairman C V K Sivagnanam said everyone wants a change including me. President Rajapaksa sent all of us a SMS few days back that he will ‘restore the honour and dignity of the people of Jaffna and the Northern Province’ which means he has not done it yet.”

“We announced our support to Maithri and removed the confusion people had. TNA knows both Mahinda or Maithri are our enemies and the national issue would remain the same, but let us see how it goes. We only want the regime changed. Once upon a time even a UNP leader said he will not join the TNA, and look today, he has come forward. We want to try it without speculating anything at this moment.

“The President said he is a known devil and better to vote for a known devil that an unknown angel. What I say is that there is a difference between a devil and an angel and the better choice is the angel even if he is unknown. Maithri also stressed that he will keep the army in the North. Let him keep anyone they want but they should not interfere in ordinary people’s lives and let us see how it goes. At the moment there is no major agreements signed. Our people will grieve till there is a common solution. We also know that CBK has admitted that there is a Tamil issue. We want more autonomy within the unitary state. Our priority is to return to our land, release the 462 political prisoners, resettle the displaced people on their own land and not anywhere suggested by the officials.”

He also said the TNA is happy that KP and Karuna and many others will be booked if Maithri comes to power. He finally said that the TNA had only submitted their grievances and no MoU or pact had been signed as the UPFA claims.