Sri Lanka rivals await presidential election results

Sri Lanka rivals await presidential election results

Composite image of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (left) and Maithripala Sirisena. The two rivals were close allies before the current election Sri Lanka’s presidential hopefuls are awaiting results from the most closely fought election in recent history.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has dominated politics for a decade, but faced an unexpected challenge from his health minister Maithripala Sirisena. Election officials said voter turnout was high and no complaints had been made, and observers said there were relatively few violent incidents.

Mr Rajapaksa is credited by many with ending the civil war in 2009. Troops routed the Tamil Tigers after more than two decades of fighting. But rights groups accused both sides in the war of atrocities, allegations the government denies.

Both Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Sirisena are Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. They were allies until November, when Mr Sirisena announced his surprise candidacy. The former health minister is tipped to gather most of the votes from the minority groups, with whom Mr Rajapaksa is deeply unpopular.

But he will also need a substantial number of votes from the Sinhalese, who have generally backed the long-time president in huge numbers. Election officials will count ballots through the night, with a definitive result expected at about midday (06:30 GMT).