More than 1.7 million voters are expected to cast ballots on Saturday in a key provincial election in Sri Lanka, seen as a test of the ruling coalition’s popularity after defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Government troops crushed the rebel group in May, ending nearly three decades of civil war.

That military victory boosted the popularity of President Mahinda Rajapkasa’s coalition United People’s Freedom Alliance.

Voting started early Saturday for the provincial Assembly in Mr. Rajapaksa’s native southern province.

Fifty-two political parties and independent groups have fielded 1,091 candidates for 53 seats on the provincial council. Results are expected on Sunday.

The ruling alliance already controls seven of the country’s nine provinces with large majorities.

After Saturday’s vote, only the northern province — the former battle zone where parts were controlled by the rebels — will have yet to vote.

Mr. Rajapkasa’s main rival, the United National Party, had favoured negotiations with the Tamil Tigers but has been largely sidelined after the government’s successful military campaign.

The opposition parties have accused the government of using military victories for political gain and claimed the ruling coalition misused state properties during the election.

“This isn’t a fair election,” said Tissa Attanayake, UNP’s general secretary, blaming the government of using government resources for the political campaign.

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena dismissed the opposition accusations, saying “they are trying to find excuses for their defeat even before the results are announced.”

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