Mahinda Rajapaksa Faces Tough Test as Voting Ends with High Turnout

Mahinda Rajapaksa Faces Tough Test as Voting Ends with High Turnout

File photo of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Press Trust of India)

Colombo:  Sri Lankans today voted in large numbers in the tightest-ever presidential race in which incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, seeking a record third term, is involved in a grim battle for survival.

Mr Rajapaksa, faces a formidable opponent in his friend-turned-foe Maithripala Sirisena, who could bring in the biggest political shake-up in over a decade, if he wins.

An unusually high voter turnout was witnessed in Tamil and Muslim-dominated areas, as officials estimated more than 65-70 per cent voting in most places.

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," said Mahinda Deshapriya, the Commissioner of Elections.

Over 15.4 million of the country's 21 million population are eligible to vote. About 1,076 polling stations were set up 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 Mr Rajapaksa, adding that 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.

Main opposition candidate Mr Sirisena, who has vowed to root out corruption and political decay, said: "My victory is in sight. There is support for us everywhere."

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.

According to analysts, Tamil and Muslim votes are crucial in deciding the result with the majority Sinhala voters split vertically among the two main candidates.

"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). 

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