After decades of strife, residents of the insurgency-torn Eastern Province are hoping a recent vote will help its diverse communities co-exist peacefully.
B.R. Piyadasa returned to his native village Thiriyaya at the end of Sri Lanka's ethnic war in May 2009. He had been away for 24 years. He found his house in ruins. His garden had become a jungle populated by wild elephants.
Piyadasa, 65, cleared the land and started living in a new home built for him and other returnees by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Now he yearns for peaceful co-existence with Muslims and Tamils living in and around his village in the district of Trincomalee.
"We Sinhala people lived in this village peacefully. But in 1985 we were chased out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They killed some of our people. In the past, we did not have any problem with Tamil and Muslim people. We co-operated with each other," Piyadasa told Khabar South Asia.
After LTTE's defeat by the Sri Lankan Army, displaced people throughout the country started returning to their villages. Resettled people were eligible to vote in the Eastern Provincial Council elections conducted September 8th, the first since the war ended.
The ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the vote and received 14 seats on the 37-member council. But the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), was not far behind, winning 11 seats.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the largest Muslim party, won seven seats. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) won four seats, and the National Freedom Front (NFF), a Sinhala nationalist party, got one.
Piyadasa said he hopes the newly elected representatives will create opportunities to earn a livelihood, restore basic facilities and infrastructure, and promote tolerance.
"We all want communal harmony. Other than that, we do not have political aspirations," he said.
A diverse blend of peoples
Mohamed Shaul Hameed, 50, a Muslim married to a Tamil, said it is important to live with people of different ethnicities instead of having separate communities.
"There should be a mix of people. Then problems will not crop up. We can reach out to each other well. We can understand each other's needs," Hameed told Khabar.
In the postwar period, unemployment, inadequate livelihood and lack of basic needs such as housing, good roads, electricity and running water, are common for everyone, he said.
"We should try to resolve all these problems instead of spewing ill-will," Hameed said.
Tilakarani, 26, a Tamil from Trincomalee whose husband fought for the LTTE and is now in a prison, lives with her 4-year-old child. With the assistance of Sarvodaya, a local NGO, she started a boutique.
"I live with little income from this boutique. I want to get my husband released. He was forced into conscription by the LTTE," she told Khabar. "I hope local political representatives will help me in this case. We are ordinary people only seeking to live peacefully with everyone. As a Tamil, I do not have any animosity against another community. We want to be equal citizens of this country."
Tamils, Muslims voice their concerns
TNA candidate S. Thandayuthapani, who was elected from Trincomalee with the highest number of preferential votes, said Tamils only seek equal rights.
"Whatever rights are given to the majority community should be given to the minorities as well. It is true that livelihood, unemployment and high cost of living are the major concerns of our people," he said. "At this election, we have renewed our demand for self-determination."
SLMC candidate M.N. Mubeen said Muslims want their land issues to be resolved.
"During the insurgency, Muslims could not cultivate their lands in the uncleared areas. Those lands were encroached by others at that time. We want these land problems resolved as soon as possible," he told Khabar.
He added that Muslims are troubled by attacks on several mosques in the past few months.
"Muslims also suffered a great deal due to the war. We want equality. If a power sharing arrangement is worked out, we will also demand it for Muslims," he said.
Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), said the Eastern Provincial Council election is a 'test case' for pluralism in Sri Lanka because of the population balance.
"The elected members should be empowered by the Constitution to serve the interest of their people," he told Khabar.