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Sri Lanka election remains peaceful
By PP MATHEW January 09, 2015
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COLOMBO: Sri Lankans voted peacefully in an election to choose their president on Thursday. Despite the high enthusiasm reflected in the massive turnout, violent incidents were markedly low. Officials point out that the calm is remarkable, because the campaign was too nasty.

The turnout is estimated to be not less than 65 per cent; it could even be as high as 80 per cent in the final tally. If such a high percentage of the 1.6 million voters have voted, it is indeed huge by any standards. Official figures were still awaited after polling closed in the evening.

Counting starts early Friday morning and results are expected by evening.

Incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 69-year-old charismatic leader hailed for ending a three-decade long Tamil insurgency, seeks a third term in office mainly on his record of restoring peace in the island nation reputed for its tourist potential.

His main challenger is Mahithrapala Sirisena, 63, who was health minister in Rajapaksa’s government but jumped the fence as soon as the president declared the snap election in December. While the incumbent called the vote with two more years still left to stay, Sirisena picked up on the “family rule” that is going on and aired dozens of corruption allegations.

On Thursday, Sirisena’s aides claimed that the big turnout indicates a longing for change, similar to what happened in India in last year’s parliament election that swept off a family rule run by the Congress party.

Rajapaksa’s card is the 2009 military drive that finished the dreaded Tamil Tiger outfit that ripped the country apart, and robbed it of peace for three long decades. It benefited him hugely in the last election, helping him to win hands down, but this time the challenge is tough.

The Sinhala population in particular supports him for restoring peace, but despite that being 74 per cent of the total, they are deeply divided, with some 27 legislators following Sirisena into the opposition camp and the main Muslim party as well as the Tamil National Alliance that rules the northern province joining the combined opposition to remove the incumbent.

The Sinhala split means Rajapaksa needs Tamil and Muslim votes to win. Both parties are against him as also are the Marxist JVP and many other opposition groups.

The common man is deeply concerned about the steep hike in prices, said journalist friends in Colombo, and pointed out that Sirisena has promised a huge cut in petrol prices. One of them suggested that such a cut is possible because oil prices are dipping.

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