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Record low turnout marks Lanka polls

world Updated: Apr 09, 2010 00:33 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

A low voter turnout amid allegations of unfair electoral practices and sporadic incidents of violence marked Sri Lanka’s general elections on Thursday, the first Parliamentary poll to be held in a post-LTTE era.

The Election Department said it would only release the final voting percentage after counting of ballots was completed by Friday afternoon.

But non-governmental election monitors pegged the percentage of votes polled between 50 per cent and 52 per cent; more than 20 percentages lower than what was polled in the last Parliamentary election in 2004 and one of the lowest ever.

More than 70 percent votes were also polled during the Presidential election on January 26.

Reports said voting percentages were even lower in the Tamil-dominated north where thousands of displaced Tamils are either in camps or in temporary shelters after their release from the camps.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mahinda Balasuriya told reporters that the ``election was free and fair’’ and that he had only received ``11 conplaints of election law violations.’’

According to a state-run radio channel, the Election Department would begin releasing the initial results by midnight Thursday. The final result representing the composition of the new parliament will be released by about 2 pm on Friday.

On Thursday, polling was conducted between 7 am and 4 pm.

The elections which came on the heels of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's win in the Presidential polls saw as many as 7,620 candidates from 36 political parties and 306 independent groups.

The main parties contesting the poll were the ruling Rajapaksa-led United Pepople’s Freedom Alliance, and the main opposition United National Party, headed by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Retired army chief Sarath Fonseka, also a candidate at the head of an alliance backed by a Marxist party, is currently in military custody accused of politicking and procurement fraud while in service.

But there seemed to be apathy among voters this time. ``We did not get the same level of queues to vote as in the presidential election," an official manning a polling station in an eastern Colombo suburb was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

At around 1 p.m., there were no queues in at least half-dozen polling stations HT visited in Colombo. The average polling at that time was between 35 per cent and 40 per cent.

The main opposition party, United National Party, said that the election was not free and fair and would consider calling for a re-poll in certain places.

UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka told Daily Mirror online that there were several reports of voter intimidation, chasing away of polling agents from the opposition parties and some agents being abused.

“This has not been a fair poll. We will hold discussions soon to decide on what steps should be taken,” Attanayaka told Daily Mirror online.

Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), a private election monitoring body, said thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) – Tamils displaced by war -- were ``denied their right to vote due to the non existence of clearly defined guidelines in relation to voter identification papers. CaFFE elections observers were temporarily stopped by security officers from taking photographic evidence of these incidents as they unfolded in the close vicinity of Menik Farm (IDP camps in Vauniya in north Sri Lanka).’’

Daily Mirror online quoted another election monitor, People’a Action for Free and Fair Election, reporting several incidents of election violence including a shooting incident in the southern city of Galle where several houses and a vehicle were damaged.