As the curtains fell on the official campaign for the January 26 Sri Lankan presidential election, the two chief contenders - President Mahinda Rajapaksa and common opposition candidate retired General Sarath Fonseka - wound up their nearly two-month-long campaign with mammoth rallies in and around Colombo.
A general sense of unease prevails in the island nation ahead of what has been billed one of the most exciting and crucial elections in the post-independent history of Sri Lanka. Mr. Rajapaksa ended his campaign with a huge rally at Piliyandala, near here. Though considered to be a stronghold of the main opposition United National Party, the campaign managers of the President had managed to put up an impressive show of strength and enthusiasm among the people was evident. Mr. Rajapaksa sounded confident amid repeated applause from supporters.
The retired General ended the campaign with a gathering dominated by Muslims. Charging the government with attempting to rig the mandate, the General told his attentive supporters that he would certainly be occupying the most powerful office.
As it could be expected in any electoral do or die battle, charges flew thick and fast. Notwithstanding the apprehensions of violence and malpractices, it would not be easy for any party to indulge in brazen violations for two reasons. First, the poll has generated unprecedented interest among the people and the voter turn-out is expected to be high.
Second, the presence of 40 foreign election observers. At a news conference here on Friday, they said they would monitor the elections in all districts including the northern and eastern provinces where the LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009 after 34 months of war. They would release a report on January 28.
As per a local NGO monitoring the campaign, so far over 800 election-related incidents of violence including five deaths had been reported since the election was declared late November. Earlier in the day at a news conference General Fonseka accused the President of getting ready to rig the polls. “I began this campaign with no political background and today I am confident that [a] overwhelming majority of the people are with me. We know for a fact that 90 per cent of the votes in the postal vote are in our favour.”
Main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP), ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and chief of Democratic People’s Front (DPF) Mano Ganesan declared that they would take to streets if the Rajapaksa government attempted to rig the election.
In contrast to the aggressive tone, Mr. Rajapaksa invited every one to join him in his vision to build the nation irrespective of party politics. He promised to launch a development phase after January 27 with the people who love the country.
A report by Mr. Rajapaksa’s campaign office quoted him as saying, “He said that everyone should unite to build the country irrespective of party politics. The President invited everyone to join for this purpose from January 27. The President made this observation while addressing a massive public rally at the Sanath Jayasuriya Stadium in Matara. Actress Malini Fonseka, cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya and people’s representatives also addressed the rally.”