Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), on Thursday officially endorsed presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa, ahead of the November 16 poll.

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The TNA, which represents Tamils of the war-affected north and east, said it based its decision on the past track records of the two main candidates – Mr. Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa – and on a reading of their respective manifestos. In the event of a likely close contest between them, Tamil (from the north, east and hill country) and Muslim votes could prove crucial in determining the winner, who requires a vote share of 50% plus one. The minorities are widely credited with propelling the current Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe government to power in 2015.

Over 8.5 lakh people in the Tamil majority-Northern Province are registered to vote, while nearly 12 lakh are registered to vote in the Eastern Province, that is home to Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. A total of 16 million Sri Lankans will get to vote in the country biggest election in less than two weeks.

Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party-led New Democratic Alliance, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party), Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Party and former army general Mahesh Senanayake are prominent among the 35 candidates contesting the poll for the office of executive President of Sri Lanka.

The people expected the newly elected President to be “genuinely committed” to democracy, opposed to authoritarianism and totalitarianism, the protection and preservation of the independence of the different institutions of governance, the protection of fundamental rights and human rights, justice and equality for all citizens irrespective of ethnicity or religion, Alliance Leader R. Sampanthan said in a statement endorsed by all constituent parties.

Further, the people also aspired “to genuinely partake in governance, both nationally and regionally, leading to the creation of a united undivided and indivisible country. “The above are lofty aspirations and it would be the duty of the voter to make a well-informed judgement as to who best could be entrusted with this great responsibility. An error in judgement could lead to disastrous consequences,” the TNA warned voters.

Pointing to issues such as the pending political solution to Sri Lanka’s national question, the prolonged detention of some prisoners, the release of military-held lands and disappeared persons, the TNA said they needed to be addressed urgently.

Terming the Rajapaksas’ track record on human rights and power devolution “dismal”, the TNA referred to Mr. Premadasa as a “leader with clean hands”, though a few other Tamil parties in the north have raised questions over Mr. Premadasa’s specific position on power devolution. Neither Mr. Rajapaksa nor Mr. Premadasa has shown willingness to engage on a 13-point demand put forth by university students and Tamil parties, including the TNA.

However, taking “all factors” into account, “particularly past performance on vital fronts and future performance based upon their respective manifestos,” the TNA has urged all people, particularly the Tamil people, to vote for Mr. Premadasa.

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