17 November 2019 02:34
Sri Lanka's former wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa took an early lead Sunday in a fiercely fought presidential election conducted under high security seven months after deadly Islamist attacks. Rajapaksa, the main opposition candidate, was leading with 52.87 percent while housing minister Sajith Premadasa had 39.67 percent out of half a million votes counted, according to the Election Commission. Commission chairman Mahinda Deshapriya said at least 80 percent of the 15.99 million eligible voters participated in Saturday's poll, which was marred by isolated violence that left several people injured. Rajapaksa, 70, was leading in the island's majority Sinhalese areas while Premadasa showed strong support from among the island's minority Tamil community in the northern and eastern regions. Premadasa, 52, from the liberal United National Party (UNP), is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa.
The election is the first popularity test of the UNP-led government since the April 21 suicide bomb attacks that killed at least 269 people and were blamed on local Islamist extremists. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped aside, allowing his deputy Premadasa to enter the fray and face Rajapaksa, the younger brother of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya is credited with directing security forces to crush Tamil rebels and end a 37-year separatist war in May 2009 during the tenure of Mahinda, who was president from 2005 to 2015. The Election Commission has said it hopes to provide final results by late Sunday. Sri Lanka's former wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa took an early lead on Sunday in a fiercely fought presidential election conducted under high security seven months after deadly Islamist attacks.
How to ensure people don't vote twice in #Srilanka's elections? We ran into Saranya, the amazing young woman who survived the Easter terror attacks and featured in this week's @SBSNews story - walking out of a polling station. She didn't like the candidates, but voted because, quote, "my son will grow up in Sri Lanka" #PresPollSL pic.twitter.com/ilAHunTw9f — Aaron Fernandes (@az_journalist) November 16, 2019 "For me, national security matters above everything else, after those bomb attacks," Dammika, a voter in Colombo, said on Saturday. READ MORE The Sri Lankan election is creating fear among Australia's Tamil community Police said a group of unidentified men opened fire on buses carrying Muslims to a polling station in Anuradhapura district, central Sri Lanka. READ MORE Terrorism and tolerance on minds of Sri Lankan voters in presidential election Muslims, who make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's 22 million population, say they have faced hostility ever since the April attacks. Long queues of voters formed early in Colombo and elsewhere, and six hours into the voting nearly 60 per cent had cast their votes, the Center for Monitoring Election Violence said. About 16 million people are eligible to vote, with the ballot allowing voters to choose up to three candidates in order of preference. Votes will be counted soon after polling stations close but the results are not expected before Sunday. Both the frontrunners for president, Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Premadasa have said they will strive for balance in Sri Lanka's ties with both countries. Voters queue up at a polling station to cast their ballots during the country's presidential election in Colombo on Saturday (AFP photo) COLOMBO — Sri Lankans voted on Saturday for a new president in what could mark a comeback for the Rajapaksa clan. Despite 85,000 police on duty in an island that emerged from civil war only a decade ago and in April suffered extremist bombings, gunmen attacked a convoy of 100 buses transporting voters in the northwest, police said. In the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna, police reported to the Election Commission that the army was illegally manning roadblocks that could inhibit voters reaching polling booths. At the 2015 election, there was a series of explosions in the region that activists said were aimed at reducing turnout. This time there were long queues outside polling stations even before voting began. Minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial to deciding the winner in the close contest, in which almost 16 million eligible will choose from a record 35 candidates. The electoral contest sees Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, running for the top job almost five years after his charismatic but controversial elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa lost power. The grey-haired retired army lieutenant colonel is promising an infrastructure blitz and better security in the wake of the April attacks that killed 269 people. "Gotabaya will protect our country," construction worker Wasantha Samarajjeew, 51, said as he cast his ballot in Colombo. His main opponent is Sajith Premadasa, 52, from the governing liberal United National Party (UNP), son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa. The Rajapaksas are adored by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority for defeating the Tigers and ending a 37-year civil war in 2009 in which around 100,000 people lost their lives. For the same reason, the brothers are detested and feared by many in the Tamil minority, who make up 15 per cent of the population. The conflict ended with some 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly killed by the army. During Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency from 2005-15, Gotabaya was defence secretary and effectively ran the security forces, even allegedly overseeing "death squads" that bumped off political rivals, journalists and others.