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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 17:53 GMT
Analysis: Violence sets poll agenda

Anti-violence campaigners put up signs ahead of the vote Anti-violence campaigners put up signs ahead of the vote

By Susannah Price in Colombo

One local newspaper has called the Tamil Tigers the 14th candidate - once again they have set the agenda for an election in Sri Lanka.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • On Saturday, the final day of campaigning, a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew herself up just 5m from President Kumaratunga at her last election rally in Colombo, killing more than 20 people.

    An earlier explosion at an opposition United National Party meeting left 11 dead including a former army chief of staff.

    There are mixed views about how much President Kumaratunga, who suffered injuries to her right eye, will benefit from a sympathy vote.

    President Kumaratunga The president has capitalised on her attack

    However she has been capitalising on the occasion to address the nation twice - first on radio and then on television where she appeared with a white patch on her eye.

    She called for support for her government's efforts to end the violence created by the Tamil Tigers.

    Buoyant opposition

    President Kumaratunga announced in October that the elections would be held nearly a year ahead of schedule.

    She appeared confident that her personal popularity, known to be higher than that of her ruling People's Alliance, would give her a good majority.

    However her main rival among the 13 candidates, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was thought to have made up lost ground with a successful election campaign.

    Sri Lanka votes
    13 candidates
    11 million voters
    Governing party People's Alliance
    Main opposition United National Party
    1,000 incidents of pre-election violence

    His party chairman Karu Jayasuriya said they believed that while people sympathised with the president, they were mature enough not to let that swing their vote.

    Many have said this campaign has been more about the personalities of the two leaders than issues.

    However a survey carried out by Professor ST Hettige at Colombo University showed that less than 15% of people voted for a personality and that more than half based their support on the candidate's programme.

    The main issue, highlighted by the bombing at the Town Hall, is, as always, finding a solution to the 16-year-old war.

    Ranil Wickremesinghe at a campaign rally Ranil Wickremesinghe is thought to have made up ground
    President Kumaratunga says she is seeking a mandate to continue with her plans to devolve power to the north and east, the area the Tigers are demanding as a homeland for the minority Tamil community.

    She failed to persuade the opposition to give her the two-thirds majority in parliament she needed to bring in this plan.

    The opposition has said it will open a dialogue with all parties including the Tigers.

    This is a particularly pressing issue in the north and east where many feel the president let them down by failing to end the conflict.

    Fears of violence

    Usually there is a high turnout for elections in Sri Lanka which has more than 11 million voters.

    Fears expressed of ballot rigging Fears expressed of ballot rigging

    However the level of violence between the supporters of the various parties which has marked the past two months of campaigning may deter voters.

    The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence says there have been more than 1,000 incidents of violence including murder and arson.

    Another monitoring group said there was a real threat of vote rigging and impersonation.

    Army troops have been placed on standby to help police deal with any violence.

    In the absence of any independent opinion polls it is difficult to gauge the support for each of the main candidates.

    However observers say that the new president will have to move to persuade the public that they can succeed in delivering peace to this war-torn country.

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    See also:
    17 Dec 99 |  South Asia
    Chandrika Kumaratunga: Politics in the blood
    17 Dec 99 |  South Asia
    Ranil Wickramasinghe: The opposition's hope
    18 Dec 99 |  South Asia
    Analysis: Fifteen years of bloodshed
    20 Dec 99 |  South Asia
    Prayer beats politics on the plantation
    10 Nov 99 |  Talking Point
    Can there be peace in Sri Lanka?
    16 Nov 99 |  South Asia
    Sri Lanka battle lines drawn

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