Hours before the polling begins for the election to the most powerful office in the island nation, President and contender for second term Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday said he had given instructions to the authorities for maintenance of law and order and urged the people to vote without any fear.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s message came a day after the opposition parties backing the candidature of his main opponent, retired General Sarath Fonseka, accused him of planning an operation to thwart the “will of the people and prevent smooth transfer of power”.

At a news conference specially convened to brief the foreign media contingents that have arrived here to cover the election, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said all preparations were in place to ensure a free and fair poll.

“I understand through sources from the Election Department that for the forthcoming poll, the Commissioner has deployed 68,000 police personnel plus 25 Army battalions. Each polling station is therefore well secured by both the military as well as the police.”

Mr. Bogollagama also said the government was concerned about armed Army deserters who were allegedly working with General Fonseka’s campaign. “There are 600-800 that have got into some kind of lead role in the opposition campaign.” He also claimed that some foreign interests had a hand in the opposition campaign, but declined to identify them until after the vote.

Mr. Bogollagama further said he had gathered that there had been 859 reported incidents of election related violence. (So far four persons are reported killed in such violence). “600 of these have their genesis in clashes between supporters of contending candidates that erupted at the time of putting up or removing banners and posters.”

To a question, the Minister said 54 foreign observers would monitor the polling process in 11,000 polling booths. The observers are from the Commonwealth and the Asian Election Authority.

Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake said more than 90 per cent of the voters had their identity cards and the applications of those who had applied for temporary cards had been sent to the relevant polling booths to prevent impersonation.

He said more than 1,000 buses had been deployed to transport internally-displaced persons (IDPs) to polling booths. He, however, said their interest in casting votes would depend on their mental state as they had been living in camps away from their homes and native villages.

An estimated 45,732 displaced people in the North and East will cast their votes, he said. The votes would be counted in 888 centres.

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