Low turnout in Sri Lankan parliamentary elections


Colombo : The turnout for Thursday’s parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka appeared to be much lower than for the presidential polls in January, officials said.

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The voter turnout was around 25 percent by noon after polling started at 7 a.m. in over 10,000 polling station throughout the country.

Election officials said that in the presidential elections the turnout had exceeded 50 percent by the same time, amid more visible enthusiasm.

“From all parts of the island we are hearing that only small groups are turning up for voting,” an election official in Colombo said.

At January’s presidential elections some 74.4 percent had voted by the time the polling stations closed. Thursday’s poll is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

Fourteen million people are registered to vote across the country, including in areas previously held by Tamil rebels in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

This is the first parliamentary election in 33 years since the rebellion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated in May.

Special arrangements have been made for people who were displaced by the war and are still living in refugee camps to cast their vote.

The main parties contesting the poll are the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the main opposition United National Party, headed by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s former army chief, is also a candidate at the head of an alliance backed by a Marxist party. He is currently in military custody accused of conspiracy and fraud during his time at the head of the armed forces.

Fonseka also contested the January presidential elections after a fallout with Rajapaksa.

In the northern part of the country a Tamil minority party is taking part in the polls.

Rajapaksa, who was re-elected as president for a six-year term with 58 percent of the vote, has the edge in ensuring his party returns to power.

Over 7,600 candidates are vying to enter the 225-seat parliament for a six-year term.

The government has put 83,000 police and army personnel on election duty amidst a series of violent incidents.

In the run-up to the poll over 350 incidents were reported to the police, including one election-related death.

More than 19,000 independent election monitors have been deployed. However, they do not have the legal power to prevent malpractices.

The main opposition has accused the government of misusing state vehicles, the state media and officials for the ruling party’s campaign.

Opposition parties have claimed that some of their polling agents were prevented from reaching the stations in Central Province and North-Western Province.

Police spokesman Priyashanth Jayakody said there were no serious incidents which could affect the outcome of the elections.

Counting the votes is due to start Thursday night with the initial results released after midnight, election officials said.

The final counts are to be made public by Friday and the names of the elected representatives by Saturday.