Sri Lankan parliamentary polls end on peaceful note

ArrayColombo (IANS): Heavy turnout was witnessed on Monday as Sri Lanka voted in incident-free countrywide polls amid tight security to elect a new 225-member parliament and a government, media reports said.

Voter turnout ranged between 60 and 75 percent — with Gampaha district north of Colombo recording as much as 70-78 percent, poll monitors said.

With around 15 million Sri Lankans eligible to exercise their franchise, the voter turnout increased this time compared to previous elections, the country’s election commission said.

High turnouts were also recorded in the eastern Trincomalee district – 75 percent; southern Galle district – 70 percent; and the northern districts of Anuradhapura – 65-70 percent and Jaffna – 60 percent.

The voting began across 12,000 polling booths at 7.00 a.m. and ended at 4.00 p.m., the Daily Mirror reported.

According to election monitors, the polls were peaceful with no incidents of violence being reported from any part of the country.

The polls are viewed as a political-comeback attempt by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who is contesting as the prime ministerial nominee of the opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

If Rajapaksa wins his seat by a large margin, and the UPFA secures an outright majority — 113 seats in the 225-member parliament — President Maithripala Sirisena, leader of the UPFA, will be under pressure to make him the prime minister — a move that Sirisena strongly opposes.

Rajapaksa lost the presidency in January’s snap election to Sirisena, his former health minister who formed a cross-party coalition to defeat the former president working with the UPFA’s main rival – the United National Party (UNP). He led the coalition to victory and UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe was named the prime minister.

The two main candidates in Monday’s parliamentary polls are Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and UPFA candidate, and former president, Rajapaksa.

As he arrived in the capital Colombo to cast his vote, Wickremesinghe expressed confidence that his coalition would win the elections and form the next government, Xinhua news agency reported.

“This is a free and fair election both in terms of legal norms as well as democratic norms,” Wickremesinghe said after casting his vote.

Rajapaksa along with his family cast his vote in his southern hometown of Hambantota.

“I am confident in victory,” he said.

In the month-long election campaigning which ended on August 14, Rajapaksa vowed to provide relief to the poor and increase the salaries of public sector employees. He also pledged to focus more on education and also the provision of broadband facilities all over the island nation.

He also promised to introduce a new constitution of the country within six months.

Over 60 political parties and more than 100 independent groups contested the polls.

The polls were announced by Sirisena in June following the dissolving of the parliament six months after he was elected as president.

The police on Monday requested the people to refrain from engaging in processions for at least seven days after election results have been declared.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said elections laws would be strictly implemented during the post-election period. He said those who violated election laws would be arrested.