Sri Lankans, wearing face masks and carrying their own pens, turned out in large numbers to vote on Wednesday in the twice-postponed parliamentary election which is expected to be won by the powerful Rajapaksa family-run Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP).
According to Chairman of the National Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya, the election, conducted amidst COVID-19 pandemic fears, concluded in a peaceful manner, with the voter turnout being 70 per cent.
Ampara (72.8 per cent), Killinochchi (71.52 per cent), Mannar (79.49 per cent ), Vavuniya (74 per cent), Mullaithivu (76.25 per cent), Trincomalee (73.5 per cent), Batticaloa (76.15 per cent) and Nuwara Eliya (75 per cent) recorded high voter turnout.
The polls closed at 5 pm local time and the ballot boxes were transported to counting centers. The counting would take place only on Thursday – a departure from the practice of counting the ballots from 8 PM on the election night.
The results would be announced by Thursday evening, Deshapriya said.
“We have to be grateful to the voting public for recording such a high turnout despite corona fears,” he said.
He said considering that the election was delayed by more than three months and various conflicts among some political groups, the voters should be praised for turning up in large numbers and recording a 70 per cent turn out. Long queues of voters were seen at polling centres in some districts from the time polling began at 7 am.
The election monitoring groups said despite a few complaints of illegal activities by certain groups the election was held peacefully.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa voted in his Colombo suburb polling station while his brother and the prime ministerial aspirant Mahinda Rajapaksa voted in his home constituency in the southern district of Hambantota.
“We are hopeful of winning two-thirds support,” Mahinda Rajapaksa, 74, told reporters after voting.
He said his younger brother Gotabaya’s election as president was endorsed by 6.9 million voters last December and that he was hopeful of securing the same support.
Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who voted in Colombo, said that only his party, UNP, was capable of turning around the economy which is currently in poor state due to COVID-19 and mishandling by the current government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLPP is expected to win control of the 225-member assembly by a comfortable margin, according to analysts.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes for a two-thirds majority for the SLPP in the general election so that he can amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers curbed by a 2015 constitutional change.
The president is not a candidate while Mahinda is running from the north western capital district of Kurunegala.
The country’s election monitoring body — the People’s Action for a Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) — has deployed 5,000 observers across the nation to monitor the election process.
“We have to congratulate the election commission for holding an exemplary election while strictly applying health guidelines”, Manjula Gajanayake from one of the polls observer groups said.
Poll stations were manned by over 8,000 health officials who supervised the maintenance of health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The election, which was postponed twice due to the coronavirus, is to elect a 225-member Parliament for a 5-year term.
Over 16 million people were eligible to vote to elect 196 out of a total of 225 lawmakers for the next five years. Twenty-nine others will be named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party.
The election, originally scheduled for April 25, was put off until June 20 as the COVID-19 outbreak hampered the preparations.
The August 5 date was later fixed as the health authorities issued guidelines on holding the poll.
“No one can bring corona to the polling station, there is no corona at the polling station so no one could carry corona outside. I can guarantee that voting will be 100 per cent corona free,? Deshapriya said.
Under the guidelines, every voter’s hands were cleaned before and after voting as special arrangements were made to transfer the indelible ink to the index finger, with no physical contact with any surface at the polling station, election officials said.
The election commission had allowed the voters to take a black or blue color ballpoint pen to mark the vote. A sanitised pen will be provided by the polling center in case voters cannot bring their own pen, officials earlier said.
Some 20 political parties and 34 independent groups are in the fray with over 7,200 candidates from 22 electoral districts.
The western province cities of Colombo and Gampaha have the largest number of voters, 1.7 million each, while the lowest number 287,024 is registered from the Tamil-dominated north’s Wanni district.
Former president Maithripala Sirisena is running from the north central region of Polonnaruwa under the SLPP banner while former prime minister Wickremesinghe and former leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa are running from the Colombo district.
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