On Monday, Sri Lankans voted in the general elections that promise to be a close battle between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP (United National Party) and President Maithripala Sirisena’s UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance).
Nearly fifteen million voters will decide the fate of 6,100 candidates. A total of 225 seats in the National Parliament were up for grabs.
“Island wide 12,314 polling stations and 1,600 counting centres have been set up for today’s election. Around 195,000 officers are involved in election duty. Out of them 125,000 officials are deployed at polling stations, while another 70,000 officials are deployed at the counting centers,” said Deputy Elections Commissioner MM Mohammed.
The real challenge to incumbent PM Wickremesinghe is Sinhala strongman Mahinda Rajapakpsa who is eyeing a political comeback after being toppled as president.
Sirisena has openly claimed that he will not let Rajapaksa become PM even if his alliance UPFA wins. In fact, Sirisena has said that Rajapaksa was given a ticket to contest, only because there was a threat of a split in the party.
“There are eminently suitable seniors in the party from whom I can pick a prime minister. Not only you held two terms, you deprived the party-seniors opportunities by trying to stay on forever,” said Sirisena in a letter to Rajapaksa, just two days ahead of polls.
Sirisena also accused Rajapaksa of alienating the Tamil and Muslim minorities from the party SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party).
69-year-old Rajapaksa was Sri Lankan president twice since 2005. No other Sri Lankan president has stood for the parliament polls after demitting presidency.
Sirisena was Rajapaksa’s Health Minister until he came forward as the opposition unity candidate to challenge the then president last year.
Sirisena faced immediate sacking from the party only to be handed the party leadership when he defeated Rajapaksa in the January presidential election.
It will be interesting to see if Lankans decide to give former president Rajapaksa another shot at power, especially at a time when the United Nations is preparing to release a report into the alleged human rights abuses under his rule.
Either of the alliances will have to manage 113 seats in the National Assembly to have a working majority government. Sri Lanka has a tradition of coalition governments. This time too, no single party is expected to win.
Poll monitoring groups have already dubbed this election as the fairest poll campaign in the island in recent times with a minimum number of violations. Nearly 75,000 police officers and security forces were deployed in 14 districts of the island. The results of the polls will be out on Tuesday.
(With inputs from PTI)