Sri Lankans defying poll forecasts and expectations seemed to have overwhelmingly voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa to continue as the President for a second term.
Till early on Wednesday, voting leads from across the country showed Rajapaksa comfortably ahead of his closest rival retired general Sarath Fonseka.
Trends showed while Fonseka did pull votes from the Tamil-dominated North and East, where there is a sizeable Muslim vote, and the Colombo and Kandy areas, Rajapaksa pulled between 60 percent and 65 percent from the rest of the country.
According to leads at 10 a.m., Rajapaksa had pulled 2340049 votes (60.19 per cent) and Fonseka managed 1476589 votes (37.98 per cent). The counting of the votes for the presidential election began on Tuesday evening a few hours after voting stopped at 4 p.m.
The counting of postal votes was the first to be started. By midnight, the first postal voting trends had given the incumbent President a healthy lead over his bitter rival.
Reports said that Rajapaksa, who won by only 1,70,000 votes in the 2005 Presidential election, was doing very well in the majority Sinhala-dominated south and central Sri Lanka.
While the Lankan President is elected for a six-year-term, Rajapaksa had called for election in November to cash in on the military victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, 2009. As a result, he had foregone two years of his earlier term. The gamble quite clearly is paying off.
There was apprehension of poll-related violence and malpractices during and after the election. Early on Wednesday, there were reports that Fonseka and other opposition leaders were surrounded by army personnel inside a five-star hotel in Colombo. The military on its part claimed that army deserters were holed up inside the hotel.
Former prime minister and opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had said on Tuesday night that the overall Presidential election was peaceful.
The final result is expected by Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, the United States has commended Sri Lanka on the high turnout in its first post-war presidential election amid a brewing dispute over the opposition candidate’s legitimacy.
“We commend the people of Sri Lanka for a 72-percent turnout. That is something that is truly remarkable,” AFP quoted State Department spokesman Philip Crowley as saying in Washington.