The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) may have reached a historic, political milestone in winning the Northern Provincial polls, but the actual game begins now.

Attired in a spotless white dhoti and a kurta in pastel blue, C.V.Wigneswaran who, as of Sunday evening was emerging the first preference among TNA candidates with over 1.3 lakh votes, was a restrained man at Sunday’s press conference.

The retired Supreme Court Judge, fielded by the TNA despite internal differences, will know the huge task that waits him — making his council, the only one among the nine in Sri Lanka to be formed by a party that is not with the ruling coalition, work. With apparent awareness of the unique challenge in seeking more autonomy in a context where other provincial councils are subservient to the all-powerful Governor appointed by the President, Mr. Wigneswaran on Sunday said the council will have to work with the government to push for change.

Even as the TNA comes to terms with its remarkable success in the polls — winning 80 per cent of the total votes — it must understand that its victory was essentially an outcome of a “negative vote” against the government, say analysts.

The ruling coalition, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), secured 18.38 per cent of the total votes polled. Reading such a stark defeat along with the TNA’s decisive victory, it is evident that the people of the north did not buy the government’s propaganda, said an election monitor with the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence. This was only reaffirmed by the ruling coaltion’s defeat in its traditional strongholds such as Kayts island, where collation member Eelam People’s Democratic Party had secured 71.99 per cent of the votes in the 2010 parliamentary elections. In Saturday’s provincial elections its share of votes fell by over half, to 31.48 per cent.

Some sections saw the elections as being irrelevant to them, said the election monitor, since several fundamental issues around land, livelihood and economy, facing the poorest sections, hardly came up in the pre-poll rhetoric. “Even then, the people were determined to register their protest,” said the monitor, who has been monitoring elections in Mullaitivu, which saw a 72.28 per cent voter turnout.

Concurring with the view that TNA’s landslide victory reflects a major protest vote against the Sri Lankan government, Jaffna-based political economist Ahilan Kadirgamar said the Tamil population has decisively responded to militarisation, the scuttling of a meaningful political solution and humiliating repression.

“The government coalition campaigned on its development achievements. While the people have benefited from rural electrification and newly-laid rural roads, the thrust of development focused on big infrastructure such as highways and expansion of banking has for the most part failed the people and thrown them deep into debt,” he said, adding that the 26 per cent-GDP growth in the northern province last year, which the Central Bank boasts of, is in fact banking and construction on debt.

Given the TNA’s inexperience in actual administration, it might require a well thought-out strategy, in addition to active field engagement to address such issues, he emphasised.

Despite the rather poor record in the north, UPFA secured a convincing victory in the largely Sinhala-speaking Northwestern and Central Provincial Council elections, held simultaneously, obtaining 34 and 36 seats respectively.