Sri Lankans began casting their votes today to elect the country's new parliament in the first post-LTTE election, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa looking to consolidate his position against a tattered opposition.
Polling got off to a moderate start this morning with 20 per cent of the electorate turning out to vote in the first four hours of polling, which commenced at 7:00 a m.
While Rajapaksa cast his vote from the Southern Hambantota district, the former Prime Minister and opposition United National Front chief Ranil Wickremasinghe voted from Colombo in the 14th Parliamentary elections.
Detained former Army chief Sarath Fonseka, heading the JVP-dominated Democratic National Alliance (DNA) will, however, not be able to cast his vote as his name does not figure in the voters list.
"Gen Sarath Fonseka will not come to vote", a DNA leader said. Despite his detention, Fonseka is running for a parliamentary seat in the capital Colombo.
In strife-torn Jaffna and other Northern areas, the centre of the three-decade war that ended with the death of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in May last year, polling began at a weak note.
When contacted, a senior pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance leader said that the polling in the North was on after beginning on a slow pace.
Polling ends at 4.00 pm and the counting is scheduled to commence at midnight at 1,387 counting centres. Of this 20 counting centres have been established to count votes of the internally displaced persons.
The first election result is likely to be released by midnight or in the wee hours of Friday, Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said.
The Uni-cameral Sri Lankan Parliament has a total of 225 seats and follows a proportional representation system.
Over 58,000 police men and 19,500 army personnel have been deployed Island wide for providing security. A total of 14,088,500 persons are eligible to cast their vote at today's election which will be conducted at 11,155 centres.
The elections come close on the heels of Rajapaksa's runaway win in the January 26 Presidential polls, which he won by over 1.8 million votes, with as many as 7,620 candidates from 36 political parties and 306 independent groups in fray.
Rajapaksa's party is involved in a three-cornered contest with the main opposition UNF alliance and the JVP and detained ex-Army chief Fonseka's Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and is favoured in pre-election opinion polls.
Today elections is also seen as an litmus test for detained ex-army chief Fonseka. Observers say it would be interesting to see whether Fonseka would attract voters as he did during the polls when he was the common opposition candidate.