Thursday, April 08, 2010

Voting underway in Sri Lanka elections

Voting began on a slow note Thursday for the first parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka.

Officials at the Department of Elections said in the first five hours of voting Thursday -- with more than 11,000 polling booths countrywide -- only 15 to 20 per cent of 4 million registered voters had turned up. Polling was scheduled to close at 4:30 p.m. (7 a.m. ET Thursday), paving the way for counting to begin.

The parliamentary election is the first in Sri Lanka since the ruling since the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa militarily defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May of last year, ending a three-decades-long separatist insurgency.

A total of 7,620 candidates from 36 political parties and 301 independents are vying for places in the 225-seat parliament.

With four hours left to go in polling, turnout had picked up somewhat but was not exceeding 30 percent countrywide.

Voters will elect 196 members, while the remaining 29 will come from "national lists" provided by contesting parties on the basis of percentages they will win.

The main contenders are Rajapaksa's UPFA and the main opposition United National Front (UNF) of Ranil Wickremasinghe. The third opposition group is led by former Army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka together with the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, or People's Liberation Front). Though now in custody at an annex in Navy Headquarters in Colombo, Fonseka, who is the head of the new Democratic National Alliance (DNA), is running as a candidate.

Given his victory at the presidential elections in January, political observers say Rajapaksa's UPFA will win a comfortable victory at the parliamentary polls. The final results are expected to be known by Friday afternoon. Thereafter, he is expected to swear in a new cabinet of ministers.

Besides 55,000 policemen, the Government has deployed 20,000 troops to provide security to polling booths and counting centers. They also are patrolling strategic locations around those areas.


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