Colombo, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka goes to the polls Thursday to elect a new president after a bitterly fought contest between incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse and his main rival Maithripala Sirisena.
Here are some key facts about Sri Lanka:
GEOGRAPHY: Located off the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, the teardrop-shaped tropical island is separated from its giant neighbour by a narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Straits.
AREA: 65,000 square kilometres (25,000 square miles).
POPULATION: 20.32 million (2012), majority ethnic Sinhalese (74.9 percent) and Tamils (15.26 percent).
ELECTORATE: 15 million, men and women over the age of 18 years.
RELIGION: Buddhists (70.2 percent), Hindus (12.6 percent), Catholics (6.1), Muslims (9.7 percent).
HISTORY: Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, became a British colony in 1815. Previously it was Portuguese (1505-1656) and then Dutch (1656-1796). The last Sinhalese king ruled from 1798 to 1815. Britain granted independence in 1948. The country split along ethnic lines and Tamil rebels launched a campaign for a separate state in 1972. The Tamil uprising was crushed by a Sinhalese-majority government in May 2009 after a bloody conflict estimated to have claimed up to 100,000 lives. The country is plagued by allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by government forces in the final stages of the ethnic war.
POLITICAL INSTITUTION: The directly elected president can have any number of terms of six years each after the two-term limit was lifted in 2010 by Rajapakse. A 225-member legislature is elected separately for a maximum of six years in line with the 1978 constitution, which has elements drawn from the US, French and British system of government. Local government through provincial councils was established in 1987.
ECONOMY: Tea is Sri Lanka's main export commodity while clothing and labour are also key foreign exchange earners. Sri Lanka imports all its oil requirements.
GDP: $67.2 billion dollars (2013); GDP per capita $3,280 (2013 finance ministry).
MILITARY: Voluntary service (army, navy, air force and civil defence force estimated at 300,000).