Sri Lankans voted on Saturday in two provincial elections that were expected to deliver strong returns for the governing party because of recent successes in its military campaign against Tamil Tiger rebels.
The victories against the ethnic Tamil rebels have boosted the popularity of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party, the United People's Freedom Alliance, among ethnic majority Sinhalese. Rajapaksa's main rival, the United National Party, has favored negotiations with the Tigers but has been largely sidelined amid the government's military successes.
More than 3.4 million people were eligible to vote for two key provincial assemblies in the Central and North West regions in Saturday's balloting, according to the elections department. In recent months the military has captured nearly all of the separatists' strongholds and cornered them in a small sliver of land near the northeastern coast.
The victories have provided the government with its best chance of militarily crushing the rebels and ending their 25-year campaign for an independent homeland for Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.