The nearly-25-year wait came to an end for the people of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province when about 70 per cent of them exercised their franchise on Saturday.
Barring a few incidents of violence and intimidation, as reported by local election monitors, the provincial council elections in the North, Central and North Western Provinces were largely peaceful.
The outcome of the polls — Sri Lanka follows the preferential voting system where a voter can choose a party and up to three candidates from it — will be known on Sunday.
The elections evoked much interest in India, as the councils were a consequence of the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, out of which the 13th Amendment was born.
The conduct of the elections, though after some speculation, signalled an important step towards a political solution to the Tamil question. This is the first-ever Northern Provincial Council elections after 1988.
On Saturday, the otherwise calm streets of Jaffna looked busy with small groups of people huddled outside schools and colleges that had morphed into election booths for a day.
A stream of voters trooping in to these centres could be seen from as early as 7 a.m.
Voters like Bhuvaneswari Dharmarathinam, a nursing officer, decided to head to the polling station first thing in the morning.
“I had to go for work and decided to come and vote before that,” she said outside a school in Nallur, a vibrant area around the famous Kandasamy temple around Jaffna. “This is a very important day for us,” she said.
Symbol of hope
Many others also seemed to share the view that the elections were crucial. Sivayogam, 80, who came with her husband in an autorickshaw, said:
“Last elections [parliamentary] we were able to walk and come, but now we are old. But the future of our people depends on what this newly-elected provincial council can do, so we are here,” she said.
Some see the election as the only symbol of hope left. For C. Rajamani, 84, the elections bring with them a distant possibility of returning to a “place called home.”
“It has been many, many years since I left my place fearing death. All I had was the sari I was wearing. I could not take even a single vessel or utensil,” she said.
Barring a few incidents of violence, polling was largely peaceful.