Two rivals await poll result in battle for Lanka presidency

COLOMBO: Voting in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections ended on Saturday with a high turnout despite sporadic violence in different parts of the country, election officials said. A record 35 candidates are contesting the poll, but there are two clear front runners: ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa, 52; and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, who is the younger brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the main opposition candidate.
The voter turnout was expected to exceed 80 per cent, officials saidafter polls closed at 5 pm (1130 GMT).
Both of the favourites to win focussed their campaigns on the theme of security in the wake of this year’s Easter Sunday bombings by extremist groups that left 268 dead and the entire nation shaken.
Premadasa and Rajapaksa each argued that they can provide the stability Sri Lanka needs as the economy continues to recover.
Sunday’s voting saw “no serious incidents that affected the elections,” according to Commissioner General of Elections Saman Ratnayake. There was sporadic violence and some reports of electoral violations, he said.
The Colombo-based Peoples Action for Free and Fair elections (PAFREL) on Saturday afternoon reported 141 incidents related to the election by mid-afternoon, including violations of election law such as intimidation and the use of propaganda.
Another organisation, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said that shortly before polls opened at 7 am, gunmen shot at buses transporting voters in Anuradhapura district, some 180 kilometres north-east of the capital Colombo. No injuries were reported.
Key Tamil parties representing the former rebel-held areas in the northern part of the country have resolved to support Premadasa.
More than 60,000 police officers were deployed despite a relatively calm six-week campaign period in the run-up to the poll.
Some 15.9 million voters were eligible to vote. Results are expected to start coming in the early hours of Sunday, with final results expected by noon.
Meanwhile, gunmen fired at buses carrying minority voters on Saturday as Sri Lankans elected a new president, with the powerful Rajapaksa clan eyeing a comeback seven months after militants carried out deadly bombings on the island. — DPA/AFP