More than 70 per cent of the 14 million plus voters exercised their franchise in the sixth Sri Lankan presidential election on Tuesday. Polling was held from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The counting of postal ballots commenced at 8 p.m., while that of the other votes was taken up after 10 p.m. in 88 different centres. The final result could be expected by Wednesday afternoon.
The highlight of the day was the ‘discovery’ that the retired General had not enrolled himself as a voter. At a hurriedly convened news conference senior Ministers and leaders of the ruling combine accused Fonseka of taking the people of the country for a ride. They said they would move the apex court questioning his eligibility to contest despite the fact that the Election Commission had ruled his nomination papers to be in order.
Given the high stakes involved for the incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa who is seeking a second term two years ahead of his first tenure and the Opposition consensus nominee and his main opponent, the retired General Fonseka, the peaceful conduct of the poll came as a big relief to the citizens of the island nation.
Acknowledgement that the voting was peaceful came from the former Army Chief at a news conference convened at his office. He said there was ‘unusual enthusiasm’ among the voters. Mr. Rajapaksa cast his vote early in the morning at the Madhumalana Rajapaksa Maha Vidayalaya polling centre in Hambantota.
In contrast to the high voter turn out in the majority Sinhalese south, the polling in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, parts of which were under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the last election, was poor.
At the presidential polls in 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who contested on the United Party Freedom Allliance (UPFA) ticket, obtained 4,887,162 votes (50.29 per cent) and the United National Party (UNP) candidate and Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe secured 4,706,366 votes (47.43 per cent). Mr. Wickremesinghe lost mainly due to the diktat of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran directing Tamils to boycott the poll.
Political and diplomatic observers are particularly pleased to note the tension-free election particularly given the apprehensions expressed by the Opposition in the last few days on possible large scale violence and rigging.
Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Director, Campaign For Free and Fair Elections, an NGO keeping a tab on the election process, said hours before the polling booths opened there were six minor incidents.