SL voting ends with high turn out; Rajapaksa faces tough test
Colombo: Sri Lankans today voted in large numbers in the bitterly contested presidential election in which incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa is seeking a record third term against his friend-turned-foe Maithripala Sirisena, with an unusually high voter turnout in Tamil and Muslim areas.
Election officials estimated more than 65-70 per cent voting in most places in the first seven hours of voting.
There were no major reports of violence, although private monitoring group the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said some voters had been prevented from voting that ended at 4 pm local time.
“We hope to announce the first postal vote result by 10 pm tonight,” Mahinda Deshapriya, the Commissioner of Elections, said.
Some 1,586,598 of the country’s 21 million population are eligible to vote. About 1,076 polling stations were set for elections.
There are 19 candidates in the fray. But the main fight is between two-term president 69-year-old Rajapaksa and his 63-year-old former cabinet colleague Sirisena.
Long queues were seen outside the polling stations around the country.
“There is heavy polling everywhere,” Keerthi Tennakoon of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) said.
Rajapaksa said he was confident he would return to power as he cast his ballot.
“We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear. From tomorrow, we will start implementing our manifesto,” he told reporters in his constituency in Hambantota.
Voters from minority Tamil community turned out to vote in large numbers in the areas dominated by them, defying intimidation attempts.
In the three northern districts of Tamil regions in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu over 50 per cent polling was recorded.
In some Muslim dominated areas, mosques’ loudspeakers were used by the community members to encourage voters to cast their votes.
“People are keen to vote, there were several hundreds already queueing up when the poll stations opened,” said E Saravanabhavan, a Tamil parliamentarian from Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Tennakoon said that there was remarkable enthusiasm in the Muslim dominated Puttalam in the north western province.
“In a polling station for 1,200 voters, 800 of them finished voting in the first hour,” Tennakoon said.
The Tamils angered by Rajapaksa’s successful military campaign that crushed the LTTE were expected to favour his rival, the opposition unity candidate, Sirisena.