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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 08:03 GMT
Tamils give election the thumbs down

By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC News, Trincomalee

Millions of Sri Lankans will vote in Thursday's crucial presidential vote. But the country's minority Tamils say they are not interested in the election process and may not cast their votes.

Ranil Wickramasinghe poster
Mr Wickramasinghe will lose most if Tamils do not vote

And that could have a significant impact on the results.

Opposition candidate Ranil Wickramasinghe and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, both from the majority Sinhalese community, have made last-minute efforts to garner support.

But there is little sign that they have won over the hearts of Tamils in the war-ravaged northern and eastern part of this island.

"Successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to address the sufferings of the Tamil people," says Susaipillai Jesudasan, an ethnic Tamil from the eastern port city of Trincomalee.

"So, we have no faith in either of the candidates."

Mr Jesudasan has lost relatives in the war. He says his house was flattened twice by shelling and then badly damaged again by last December's tsunami.

But he says he has yet to get any compensation from the government.

Can we genuinely expect a solution to the ethnic crisis?
Vendan, UK
More than 20 years of civil war has left more than 65,000 people dead in Sri Lanka. In addition, nearly a million people have been displaced by the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the security forces.

Thousands continue to languish in refugee camps in Sri Lanka and India.

Many Tamils agree that the 2002 ceasefire agreement brought peace. But they say the subsequent peace process did not improve the lot of displaced people.

'Last straw'

"In the name of high-security zones, thousands of homes are still occupied by the security forces in the north," says Mr Sasikumaran, a university student from the northern town of Jaffna.

Tamil Tiger rebel
The Tigers are not providing transport to polling booths

"What effort was taken by the government to allow people to return to their homes?"

The Sri Lankan government argues that vacating high-security zones in the north may jeopardise the safety of the security forces. They will only contemplate moving out once a permanent peace deal is clinched.

Tamils say they were also angered by the Sri Lankan High Court's decision to suspend the Tsunami Joint Mechanism, a body set up to distribute aid to tsunami-affected regions in the north and the east.

Sinhala hardliners argued that the administrative body gave excessive powers to the Tamil rebels.

"The blocking of tsunami aid body was the last straw. They are not even willing to give money to tsunami affected Tamil regions," says Mr Yoganatharaja from the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Forgotten promises

The apathy among ordinary Tamils is mirrored in the stance of the Tamil Tiger rebels who say they are not interested in who wins the presidential race.

They argue that both the main presidential candidates have used the peace issue to win votes. After the elections, they say, promises will be forgotten.

Susaipillai Jesudasan
Susaipillai Jesudasan - still waiting for tsunami compensation
The rebels may not have openly asked Tamil civilians to boycott the elections but the message seems to be clear.

The rebels have announced that they are not making any transport arrangements for people living in areas under their control to go over to the polling booths set up in the government-held territory.

There are no polling stations in the rebel-held territories.

Without any transport help it will be extremely difficult for the residents in rebel-held areas to travel on their own.

And Tamils living in the government-held areas in the north and the east are not sure about voting without getting the go-ahead from the rebels.

If the Tamils stay away from the polls, it is widely expected that it will hurt the opposition candidate Ranil Wickramasinghe who talks about a federal structure for Sri Lanka.

Some people argue that if the northern and eastern Tamils decide not to vote this may send a negative message to the Sinhala-dominated south, causing resentment there against Tamils.

"I understand the rebel position. But the decision could pose a threat to the security of the Tamils living outside the north and east," says P Chandrasekaran, who heads the Upcountry People's Front, a party representing the Indian-origin plantation Tamil workers.

He has urged the Tamil Tigers to reconsider their decision.

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