Sri Lanka’s Tamils wary of election spotlight

JAFFNA, January 17, 2010 (AFP) – Scarred by decades of war and official indifference, Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils are now being courted as political kingmakers — a shift that many of them view with bitter scepticism. With a presidential election just two weeks away, the two main candidates have been desperately wooing Tamil voters, offering them the same social, economic and political opportunities enjoyed by the Sinhalese majority.

The incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapakse, and his main challenger, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, are both Sinhalese.

If they split the Sinhalese vote, then the support of the Tamil electorate could prove decisive. Hence their overtures to a community that for the most part views both men with deep suspicion.

“Having bombed and shelled us, and restricted the Tamil community’s movements for years, they are now asking us to vote for them,” said social worker K. Radhakrishnan, as he bought some flowers outside a temple in the northern Tamil heartland of Jaffna.

Both Rajapakse and Fonseka played pivotal roles in the military victory last year over Tamil Tiger rebels that ended a bloody, decades-old separatist insurgency for an independent Tamil state.

The conflic