ECONOMYNEXT – Brisk polling was under way in Sri Lanka Saturday in the local government elections seen as a crucial test for the uneasy coalition of President Maithripala Sirisena.
Long queues formed as polling began at 7.00 am along the north wester, western and southern provinces while enthusiastic voting was also noted in the northern province according to officials and poll monitors.
Saturday’s vote is the first conducted by the newly-established independent Election Commission as well as the police under the Independent Police Commission.
The even handed approach of the police and the strict enforcement of election laws made the 2018 local council election the most peaceful in decades, the independent Campaign for Free and Fair Elections said.
CaFFE said voters in the former war zone of Jaffna and the rest of the northern and eastern provinces were going to the polling booths without the usual military and police surveillance on them.
"The gravity and the scale of incidents reported so far is nothing compared to what we have seen in recent decades," the CaFFE executive director Keerthi Tennakoon said.
Police have deployed 65,000 personnel to guard polling booths as well as counting centre.
Nearly 900 minor incidents were reported during a two-month campaign period and 65 candidates were arrested for violating election laws, according to the police.
The election heightened tensions between President Sirisena and his senior coalition partner, Prime Minister Ranil 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.
Prime Minister’s UNP is expected to lead the three-cornered battle for the 340 local government bodies while parties led by Sirisena and Rajapakse are expected to battle it out for the number two position.
Over 8,300 members are due to be elected under a complex hybrid voting system that combines first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems with a requirement that 25 percent of those elected should be women.
(COLOMBO, February 10, 2018)