Australian Tamils vote in independence referendum

Socialist Alliance candidate for Grayndler, Pip Hinman, at a Sydney polling booth. Photo by Peter Boyle.

This article first appeared at TamilNet.

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More than 10,000 Tamils in Australia registered to cast their votes in the referendum across Australia over April 17 and 18 on the creation of independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, reported SBS Australia, citing organisers.

However, the successful mass participation in the poll provoked Colombo's envoy to Australia to retaliate that "the Tamils who are in Sri Lanka at the moment are perfectly happy to go on with the present system. It is only the diaspora who are trying to force this thing on the people in Sri Lanka.”

However, the poll won the support of John Dowd, the president of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, SBS said. Dowd said that the referendum highlighted the aspirations as well as the plight of Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka.

"Australians need to be reminded that there is a common obligation to these people who for centuries or indeed millennia have led their own lives there", said Dowd.

The results of the referendum, which includes postal votes, will be announced on April 22, the organisers told TamilNet.

The Tamil referendum in Australia has been declared a success by organisers and political activists, who were optimistic of its effects.

Challenging the assertion of Senaka Welgampaya, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, the spokesperson of the Australian Tamil Congress Dr. Sam Pari called for a United Nations-led referendum in Sri Lanka's north-east to ascertain Tamils support for the creation of an independent Tamil homeland.

Adrian Francis, the spokesperson of Tamil Referendum Council Australia (TRCA), an independent body established to run the voting process, said that the “present system the High Commissioner speaks about is the same one that led to the mass slaughter of thousands of Tamils".

Francis added the High Commissioner, along with the entire Sri Lankan establishment, "seem to ignore the fact that this mandate was one supported by the Tamils across the north-east".

Sri Lanka-born Larry Marshall, of La Trobe University, said the timing of the referendum, less than an year after the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka is unhelpful.

"It's a little too soon to try to plumb the feelings of the very confused and divided Tamil community in Canada, in Melbourne, in Australia, in the US, in Europe and to try to say that they speak with one voice, still for Tamil Eelam, for a separate state". SBS cited Mr. Marshall as saying.

But speaking to the Melbourne Age, TRCA spokesperson for Victoria Bobby Sundaralingam said that the current plight facing thousands of Tamils at the hands of the Sri Lankan administration made participation a prerogative.

“Tamils in Sri Lanka are voiceless and in a state of despair. It is the duty of the diaspora to be their voice and express what the Tamil people want."

Socialist Alliance candidate for the Sydney seat of Grayndler Pip Hinman visited a suburban polling booth to observe the voting. Hinman told media: “Just because they are safe in this country, they have not turned a blind eye to their people's ongoing struggle for a separate homeland.

“They clearly want the Australian government to take a better position and support the Tamil people's rights to live in peace and safety in Sri Lanka."

Citing the invaluable contributions of the country's large diaspora population, forced to Australia “as a result of the decades-long war against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka waged by several Sinhala chauvinist governments”, Hinman urged the Australian government to “speak up for the right of the Tamils to form an independent separate homeland”.

Polling booths across NSW, Victoria and the ACT were bustling with voters throughout April 17th and 18th, according to TRCA reports.

Francis said: “The mass participation illustrates the capacity of the Tamil people to organise themselves in a democratic fashion and more importantly, shows that the fate of our brethren and our nation is an issue that burns at the forefront of the conscience of millions of Diaspora across the world.”

Australia is the 10th country, but the first in the eastern hemisphere, to conduct the referendum on the creation of independent and sovereign Tamil Eelam, the main principle of the Vaddukkoaddai Resolution of 1976.

The polls in several countries have delivered a resounding “yes”, SBS World News noted.