Sri Lanka gears up for crucial general elections today

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Colombo
  • Updated: Aug 17, 2015 02:19 IST
Sri Lankan election workers carry ballot boxes and a police officer carries ballot papers from a polling material distribution center in Colombo a day before the island nation will hold parliamentary elections on August 17, 2015. (AP/PTI photo)

On Monday, Sri Lanka’s 15 million registered voters will decide whether to give former president Mahinda Rajapaksa another shot at power.

Rajapaksa, heading the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is pitted against incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from the United National Party (UNP).

The run-up to the election has been dramatic if relatively peaceful; sporadic violence claimed five lives but the incidence of violence has been less than other elections.

An assertive Department of Election (DoE), powered by a new amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution ensured that the election campaign was a disciplined affair.

On the last day of the campaign, for example, Sirisena issued a five-page letter vowing to stop Rajapaksa from becoming the PM.

Both incidentally are from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Sirisena is the official leader of the UPFA.

Sirisena as President has the power to nominate the PM from the 225-member Parliament.

While the minority communities are expected to vote for Wickremesinghe, Rajapaksa will likely pull a large chunk of the majority Sinhala vote.

Pre-poll surveys have broadly indicated that the UNP has the edge and will get between 100 and 110 seats. Wickremesinghe told HT on Friday that he was confident of getting around 115 seats.

But analysts say that the UPFA might spring a surprise, largely based on Rajapaksa’s popularity.

“If Rajapaksa is defeated substantially, a blame game will begin within the (SLFP). Those not with Rajapaksa might then defect to President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction,” political commentator Tisaranee Gunasekara told HT.

“We have taken additional measures to ensure that the election is conducted peacefully and there are no incidents in the post-election period too,” Inspector General N.K Illangakoon said.

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