An estimated 50-55 per cent of the 14 million voters in Sri Lanka cast their ballot in Thursday's parliamentary elections held amid incidents of sporadic violence.

The turnout is considered to be the lowest in any election. Voter apathy was evident in the run-up to the elections. It was in sharp contrast to the mood among the people in the January 26 presidential elections, in which nearly 75 per cent of the voters turned up at the polling booths.

The counting of votes started within hours after the polling ended at 4 p.m., and the trends are expected to be available after midnight.

The Election Commission will release the actual figures along with the results. According to Keerthi Tenakoon of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), an independent non-governmental organisation, the average turnout was around 55 per cent in most parts.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), another independent NGO, said there were several reports of intimidation of voters and polling agents. Two hours before polling ended, the CMEV received reports of 75 major and 196 minor incidents of irregularities.

Lowest in Jaffna

Reports from Jaffna said the turnout in the peninsula was the lowest. TamilNet said: “Around 11 a.m. Thursday, only 4.29 % persons eligible to vote had cast their votes in Jaffna, while after 2 p.m., there was a slight increase. However, only 10% of the total registered voters cast their votes in Jaffna electorate by afternoon.”

Despite the poor turnout, the parliamentary election is significant as it is the first one to be held after the military defeat of the LTTE and the demise of its leader Velupillai Prabakaran in May last.

After casting his vote, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “I want a very strong Parliament to develop the country.” Implied was his wish for a two-thirds majority for the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which he heads.

If the grand victory he secured in the presidential election against the common Opposition nominee, Sarath Fonseka, is any indication, Mr. Rajapaksa's combine could hope for a comfortable majority.

However, Sri Lanka's system of proportional representation makes a two-thirds majority unlikely. Though candidates from 36 parties are in the fray for the 225 seats, the fight is expected to be mainly between the combine led by Mr. Rajapaksa and the alliance stitched together by the main Opposition, the United National Party (UNP) under the leadership of the former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Though in military custody, General (retd.) Fonseka is leading the third front, of which the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana is a leading constituent. He is a candidate of the alliance from Colombo district.

The election will test the popularity of General (retd.) Fonseka, who was the rallying point for the entire Opposition in the presidential election. Also in the fray are Mr. Rajapaksa's son and two brothers.

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