Sri Lankans, wearing face masks, on Wednesday started voting in the twice-postponed parliamentary election which is expected to be won by the powerful Rajapaksa family-run party.
Polling stations opened at 7 AM and would be open for voters until 5 PM local time.
The election, which was postponed twice due to the coronavirus, is to elect a 225-member Parliament for a 5-year term.
Over 16 million people are eligible to vote to elect 196 out of a total of 225 lawmakers for the next five years. Twenty-nine others will be named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party.
Election Commission Chair Mahinda Deshapriya was one of the early voters as polling got underway.
I voted at an election for the first time since 2011. My aim is to show that everyone will be safe while voting, especially elderly, Deshapriya, 65, who is due to retire in November, told reporters outside his Colombo city polling station.
The election, originally scheduled for April 25, was put off until June 20 as the COVID-19 outbreak hampered the preparations.
The August 5 date was later fixed as the health authorities issued guidelines on holding the poll.
No one can bring corona to the polling station, there is no corona at the polling station so no one could carry corona outside. I can guarantee that voting will be 100 per cent corona free, Deshapriya said.
Under the guidelines, every voter’s hands will be cleaned before and after voting as special arrangements have been made to transfer the indelible ink to the index finger, with no physical contact with any surface at the polling station, election officials said.
Although no long queues were seen near polling stations compared to the previous one, sizeable lines were seen at a few.
Despite the health concern, Deshapriya expects an 80 per cent voter turnout from the 16.2 million eligible voters.
The 12,985 polling stations throughout the country are being manned by over 8,000 health officials, Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe said.
Some 20 political parties and 34 independent groups are in the fray with over 7,200 candidates from 22 electoral districts.
The western province cities of Colombo and Gampaha have the largest number of voters, 1.7 million each, while the lowest number 287,024 is registered from the Tamil-dominated north’s Wanni district.
The election is expected to be a victory for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) led by his brother — Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The president is not a candidate while Mahinda is running from the north western capital district of Kurunegala.
Former president Maithripala Sirisena is running from the north central region of Polonnaruwa under the SLPP banner while former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa are running from the Colombo district.
The counting would take place only on the following morning – a departure from the practice of counting the ballots from 8 PM on the election night.
President Gotabaya hopes for a two-thirds majority for the SLPP in the general election so that he can amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers curbed by a 2015 constitutional change.