Sri Lanka's main Tamil party on Sunday secured a landslide win in the historic provincial council polls held after a gap of 25 years in the former Tamil Tigers-ruled northern province, an outcome expected to give limited autonomy to the Tamils after the end of decades of ethnic war.
Tamil National Alliance convincingly trounced the ruling UPFA coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, grabbing 30 of the 38 seats in the much-awaited polls in the province.
The 30 seats won by TNA include two bonus seats allocated to the winning party under Sri Lanka's proportional representation system, according to official results.
The UPFA coalition won just 7 seats and the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress only one. The TNA defeated the ruling UPFA coalition in all five districts in the once LTTE bastion.
The Tamil alliance received over 80 per cent of the votes polled in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi districts. In Mullaithivu and Mannar districts, they won 78 and 61 per cent respectively.
In Jaffna, regarded as the cultural capital of the Tamils, the TNA garnered 86 per cent of the votes polled.
Over 2,000 local and foreign observers, including from India, were deployed in the Northern Province, where people voted to choose the 38-member council for a five-year term.
Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said the polls held for the Northern, Central and North Western provinces are by and large free and fair except for some minor incidents.
The ruling party has won all the seats in the Central and North Western Provincial Councils, the other two councils that held polls on Saturday except for the MahaNuwara seat in the Central Province which was the only one secured by the UNP.
Reacting to the party's stunning performance, senior TNA legislator MA Sumanthiran said the Tamils have spoken.
"We told them this election was an opportunity for them to declare their political stance. They have clearly made a statement by voting for UNA," Sumanthiran said.
Suresh Premachandran, a veteran legislator, said the northern people have sent a clear message to the government that they want a political solution without separation.
The ruling coalition's election campaign was centred on attacking the TNA manifesto. TNA was accused of trying to drag the country back into the LTTE's era of terror.
The main Tamil party was arguing that they were espousing the cause of Tamil self-determination in a federal set up.
The northern council polls -- the first ever since the provincial councils became part of the island's statutes in 1987 -- was much anticipated by international watchers who had urged Colombo to achieve reconciliation with the Tamils.
In the first north and east provincial council elections held in 1988, only one political party participated due to the LTTE's armed campaign to set up a separate Tamil homeland.
The two provinces de-merged in 2006 as a result of a court order and the first ever eastern provincial council election was held in 2008.
With the LTTE's elimination in 2009, elections to the northern council were held back given the resettlement and rehabilitation in the former war ravaged areas.
There were nearly 906 candidates for the polls in northern council which witnessed its first ever elections after councils were created under the 13th Amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.
The landmark polls was seen as a test to decide whether the predominantly Tamil province wants more opportunities for developments or the people want more autonomy.
The election is expected to give minority Tamils a chance at self-rule after decades of ethnic conflict that left over 100,000 dead.
Image: Ethnic Tamils wait in line to cast their votes at a polling station in Jaffna, on Saturday.
Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters