By mid-afternoon, more than half the voters in most areas of the five districts of the province exercised their franchise, according to unofficial figures.
Voting at some 850 stations began on schedule at 7 am (local time) amid tight security to elect the provincial administration in the region dominated by the Tamil Tigers until their defeat by the military in 2009. Soldiers patrolled the streets with police, election observers said.
The election is expected to give minority Tamils a chance at self-rule after decades of ethnic conflict that left over 100,000 dead.
Earlier, election officials said a turnout of about 35 percent was recorded in Jaffna by 10 am (local time). Kilinochchi district saw a turnout of 29 percent, Mannar 30 percent and Vavuniya 24 percent, they said.
More than 2,000 local and foreign observers were deployed in the province, where nearly 715,000 people are eligible to vote in the election to choose a 36-member Northern Provincial Council for a five-year term.
Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaithivu and Vavuniya districts form the provincial council's jurisdiction. For decades, these districts were the main strongholds of the LTTE.
The run-up to the election saw allegations of voters being intimidated by the army. The charge was firmly denied by the military.
There are nearly 906 candidates for the polls in the Northern Province, which is witnessing its first election after councils were created under the 13th Amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.
In the first north and east provincial council elections in 1988, only one political party participated due to the LTTE's armed campaign to set up a separate Tamil homeland.
"My family and I want to maintain the peace here," an elderly man said after voting in Jaffna. He said he was supporting President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Tamil ally, Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), which is a part of the ruling coalition.

However a majority was expected to favour the main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA). "Tamils have a lot of problems which are yet to be resolved," said a trader who did not want to vote.

The TNA maintained that Tamils were keen to vote but were prevented from doing so by the military, which had intimidated them. It also complained that fake propaganda material, which said leading TNA candidate Ananthi Saseetharan had defected to the ruling coalition, had been didtributed by government supporters.

Posters appeared in several areas warning that a vote for the TNA would be a return to the period of terror when the LTTE ran its parallel administration. It was not known who put up these posters.

A TNA candidate's vehicle was attacked at Jaffna's Kodikamam sector while another attack against the TNA was reported in Chavakachcheri area, local monitors said.

The TNA seeks a self-autonomous administration in the Northern Provincial Council. However, the central government has the powers to control provincial councils through the executive powers of the President.

One of the election monitoring groups, The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), predicted a low turnout for the Northern Provincial Council election due to widespread disillusionment with the poll process and unacceptable long distances to polling centres.
Elections are also being held in the Sinhala-dominated Southern areas, Central and North Western provinces.

Ironically, in the run-up to the polls, the northern election campaign was fought not in the north but from the capital Colombo and the rest of the south. The reason was the government's blistering attack on the TNA's manifesto.

It was the Vadukkodai resolution which inspired slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran to wage his bloody separatist campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the north.     

President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused the TNA of trying to drag the island back to LTTE's demand for separation. The TNA manifesto also vowed to retain the existing system of provincial councils through their mandate.

This would strike a chord with India as New Delhi had urged Colombo to shelve its plan to dilute the provincial powers that became part of the Sri Lankan constitution due to the Indian intervention in 1987.

The TNA is expected to win in the northern region. Its main rival is the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Rajapaksa. The rebels were defeated in May 2009 but the final phase of that conflict remains dogged by war crimes allegations and the government's rights record since then has come in for criticism.

The ruling UPFA candidates have been arguing that President Rajapaksa deserves credit for ending the war and bringing development to the region.



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