Over 15 million Sri Lankans began voting on Monday for the parliamentary elections in which former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse is hoping to become prime minister, eight months after losing the presidency.
Polling booths opened across the island at 7:00am (0130 GMT), with voting set to continue for nine hours under tight security provided by 74,000 police and paramilitary forces, officials said.
Hundreds of voters had lined up outside some of the 12,300 polling booths across the country before they opened, officials said adding strict security was being enforced to ensure a free and fair election.
"Anyone who tries to impersonate genuine voters or create trouble at polling booths will be arrested," elections chief Mahinda Deshapriya told Sri Lankan television. "Those who try to create trouble can have lunch at the police station and dinner in prison."
Police said they were also deploying nearly 3,000 patrols to protect polling booths as well as counting centres.
Around 15 million men and women over the age of 18 years are eligible to vote in the election for a 225-member parliament.
Former president Rajapakse is standing in the northwestern district of Kurunegala, but he was expected to vote in his home base of Hambantota in the island's south.
Rajapaksa, heading the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is pitted against incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from the United National Party (UNP). 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.
The run-up to the election had been dramatic if relatively peaceful; sporadic violence claimed five lives but the incidence of violence had been less than other elections.