Sri Lankaâ€™s â€˜most peacefulâ€™ vote in decades attracts high turnout
ECONOMYNEXT – An unusually high voter turnout was reported in Saturday’s local council elections seen as a crucial test for President Maithripala Sirisena and his uneasy coalition with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Private election monitors said the two-month campaign for the local government elections was the most peaceful in decades and an outstanding feature was the impartiality and even handedness of the police and the strict enforcement of election laws.
Polling in most of the southern districts were in the high 70s while in some polling divisions over 80 percent of those eligible to vote had cast their ballots during a peaceful nine-hour period Saturday.
Local observers said the enthusiasm was similar to January 2015 when just over 81 percent of the electorate turned out to vote President Sirisena and topple Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been in power for nearly a decade.
Saturday’s high turnout was expected to favour the United National Party (UNP) in urban areas and the Rajapaksa-proxy Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the provinces.
"We are seeing very enthusiastic voting which we did not notice at previous local polls," the head of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections Keerthi Tennakoon said.
Some 15.76 million people were eligible to vote and elect some 8,350 members to 340 councils across the country.
Saturday’s vote is the first conducted by the newly-established independent Election Commission as well as the police under the Independent Police Commission.
CaFFE said voters in the former war zone of Jaffna and the rest of the northern and eastern provinces went to the polling booths without the usual military and police surveillance on them.
"The gravity and the scale of incidents reported this time is nothing compared to what we have seen in recent decades," Tennakoon said.
Police deployed 65,000 personnel to guard polling booths as well as counting centre.
Nearly 900 minor incidents were reported during the two-month campaign period and 65 candidates being arrested for violating election laws, according to the police.
The election heightened tensions between President Sirisena and his senior coalition partner, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, as they campaigned separately for their respective parties standing against each other.
Sirisena was backed by Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) in January 2015 to topple the then strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse, but since then there has been mounting friction within the unity government.
Sirisena accused Wickremesinghe’s party of being more corrupt than the Rajapakse regime they toppled together. The premier’s party too has criticised Sirisena, accusing him of backstabbing. (COLOMBO, February 10, 2018)