11/16/2019, 13.26
SRI LANKA
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Sri Lanka goes to the polls amid tight security. A convoy of Muslim voters is attacked

by Melani Manel Perera

The convoy of 100 buses was bound for Mannar. There were no casualties. The presidential election is today. As of 2 pm (local time), the average turnout topped 60 per cent. Official results are expected on Monday.

 

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankans went to poll today to pick their seventh president amid tight security. Some 35 candidates, the greatest number in the island nation's recent history, are vying for the highest office in the land.

With the 21 April Islamist attacks still fresh in everyone’s minds, the government has deployed 85,000 security forces to secure the process and protect 12,845 polling stations.

During the day there were reports that gunmen attacked a convoy of 100 buses carrying Muslim voters to vote in Anuradhapura district on the road that connects Puttalam, on the west coast about 140 km north of Colombo, to Mannar, in the north-west. No casualties have been reported, but some vehicles were damaged.

In total, some 15,992,096 people are eligible to vote polling stations opened at 7am and will close at 5pm. As of 2pm (local time), turnout stood just over 60 per cent.

The highest percentage was in Matale (70 per cent), Kandy (70 per cent), Galle (67 per cent), Hambantota (70 per cent), Nuwara Eliya (65 per cent), Matara (65 per cent), Puttalam (65 per cent), Killinochchi (61 per cent), Badulla (70 per cent). In the capital Colombo, 60 per cent of the voters cast their ballots.

Counting will start half an hour after voting ends. The first results are expected at 10.00 pm tonight. However, “you can never be sure, since the ballot paper is much longer this time,” said Election Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya. “It could be past midnight,” he explained, but he is “confident that by 8.00am on Monday, 80-90 per cent of the results” will be in.

Despite the long list of candidates, two stand out as the most likely winner: Sajith Premadasa, 52, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70.

The first is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, a president assassinated by Tamil Tigers rebels. He is the current Minister of Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs, and has run an election campaign centred on social issues like fighting poverty and improving housing conditions.

The second is the brother of the former President and strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. Heir to the powerful Rajapaksa family, he defeated Tamil rebels as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, but is opposed by survivors who accuse him of war crimes. Security dominated his campaign, during which he promised to restore peace in the country after the Easter Sunday attacks.

For his part, outgoing president Maithripala Sirisena chose not to stand again and yesterday said that his "unbiasedness is a feature of a democratic country”.

Although he never said why he was not running, experts attribute his decision to his poor handling of the post-attacks situation and to the political crisis he triggered at the end of 2018.

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