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Sri Lanka votes for new President

News Agencies | Updated on: 16 November 2019, 9:48 IST
Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans head to the polls on Saturday to elect a new President of the country amid security and economic concerns.

Polling started at 7 am and will continue till 5 pm. Over 12 thousand polling stations have been set up and over 68 thousand security personnel deployed to ensure free and fair polls. This time, neither the sitting President or Prime minister are contesting the elections. The counting of votes will begin after the end of polling and results are expected by Sunday.

Around 16 million citizens are eligible to choose from 35 candidates contesting, from across the political spectrum. The candidate who obtains over 50 per cent of valid votes will win the presidency, else the second preference votes have to be counted. The ballot also allows voters to choose their three top candidates in order of preference, which will determine the winner if no candidate secures over half the first-place votes. Second and third preferences from ballots whose first preference candidate has been eliminated are used to determine the winner.

Two prominent candidates are seen as the likeliest to replace Sirisena: former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Minister of Housing Sajith Premadasa.Both candidates have campaigned mainly on the plank of national security and good governance. But Minorities are concerned a Rajapaksa win could be a step backwards.

Rajapaksa, the former defense secretary crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), after nearly three decades of civil war.

Sajith Premadasa, 52, is the son of assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was killed in a suicide bombing in 1993 carried out by Tamil separatists, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Premadasa, representing the ruling party, has built his campaign on promising a mixture of continuity and new leadership.

The six-week campaign in a neck-and-neck race has seen tensions mount across Sri Lanka, with the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) documenting at least 743 electoral violations, including at least 45 cases of assaults or threats.

The alleged violations are split relatively equally between the two leading parties, Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka People's Front (SLPP) and Premadasa's UNP, Al Jazeera quoted the CMEV data as showing.

Sirisena's term was also marred by a failed attempt to remove Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from the office, that sparked a constitutional crisis that even when resolved by the Supreme Court -- which restored Wickremesinghe to his position -- left a government essentially cleaved in two, CNN reported.

Under the Sri Lankan system, the Prime Minister is appointed by the President from members of Parliament, who nominate the most suitable.

Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said at the invitation of local election monitors, 153 foreign election observers have arrived in the country to monitor the presidential election.

According to the CMEV, 45 observers representing the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), 88 observers from the European Union Election Observation Mission and 20 observers representing the Commonwealth are in the country to observe the election.

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First published: 16 November 2019, 9:48 IST