Fears of violence as polling stations open in Sri Lanka election

Fears of violence as polling stations open in Sri Lanka election

Unexpectedly tight election sees President Mahinda Rajapaksa up against former health minister Maithripala Sirisena. Polling stations have opened amid tension and scattered violence as millions of voters prepare to decide Sri Lanka’s closely fought presidential election.

The contest pits the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, against the former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, and is one of the most significant in the island nation for decades. Rajapaksa, who is seeking an unprecedented third term, called the elections early in the expectation of a comfortable victory. However Sirisena’s surprise candidature has united a fractured opposition.

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said that both sides were claiming victory after the short but bitter campaign.

“The concern now is clearly about malpractice or violence that would mar the whole thing,” Saravanamuttu said. Sri Lanka’s election commission said yesterday day it was investigating claims of troops being deployed in the Tamil-dominated north in contravention of election laws, as police reported the first campaign-related death.

Mahinda Deshapriya, the Chief election commissioner, said the complaints focussed on the northern Wanni region, part of the war zone where Tamil separatists fought the army in a decades-long conflict that came to a bloody end only five years ago.

“I have already taken this up with the army commander … I hope there will be no attempt to use troops to block people voting,” Deshapriya told reporters. Turn out is expected to be around 75 percent or more.

“A high turn out doesn’t favour the incumbent,” Savaranamuttu the analyst said.

Election monitors have reported hundreds of “irregularities” during the campaign. Police said a 57-year-old opposition activist who was hit in a drive-by shooting two days ago had died of his injuries.

Police are looking for a deputy minister and two supporters of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s party in connection with the shooting outside Colombo on Monday, the final day of campaigning, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.

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