Polls close in first post-war parliamentary elections
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Voting ended Thursday in Sri Lanka's first parliamentary elections since the fall of the Tamil Tigers, with the ruling party of President Mahinda Rajapaksa widely expected to win. Observers reported low turnout and several cases of violence.
Two months after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected, Sri Lankans voted on Thursday in the first parliamentary elections since the end of a brutal quarter-century-long war in a poll that is widely expected to see Rajapaksa consolidate his hold on power.
Security was tight, with nearly 80,000 security forces deployed across the Indian Ocean island nation amid fears of election day violence. The lead-up to Thursday’s vote was marred by numerous low-level incidents of violence and a vindictively personalised campaign by candidates.
There were 160 incidents of poll-related violence during the first four hours of voting on Thursday, according to the country’s independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). Election monitors reported a low voter turnout of 45-50 percent, the lowest since the first post-independence parliamentary poll in 1947.
In the January presidential poll, the Sri Lankan president won a resounding victory in the Sinhalese-dominated country after his government took credit for bringing the bloody 26-year conflict with the separatist Tamil Tigers to a close last year.
Rajapaksa’s main rival in the presidential poll, former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who has since been arrested and is currently facing a court martial, also stood for a seat in parliament despite being in custody.
‘The opposition is weak and divided’
Reporting from the region, FRANCE 24’s Natasha Butler said Rajapaksa’s party is widely expected to win the election. “Rajapaksa called this election early to capitalise on his huge victory in January. He won that due to massive support from the majority Sinhalese community because his government crushed the Tamil Tigers last year, ending decades of conflict,” she said.
But, Butler added, “There is another reason why Rajapaksa’s party is likely to win and that’s because there’s little real competition. The opposition is weak and divided.”
Fonseka’s New Democratic Front is contesting the election, but it has lost the support of the country’s main opposition party. A Tamil alliance is contesting the Tamil-majority areas in the north alone.
Rajapaksa cast his ballot early on Thursday in his hometown, where his eldest son, brother and niece were all contesting seats.
Seeking a two-thirds majority
The Sri Lankan president and his allies are aiming to win 150 of the 225 parliamentary seats, which would give them the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. Opposition supporters fear Rajapaksa could scrap the two-term presidential limit in the constitution.
That, according to Butler, “is a huge worry for the opposition and human rights watchers who accuse Rajapaksa of war crimes, human rights abuses and of intimidating opponents,” she said.
The Sri Lankan government has been criticised by human rights groups and Western governments for its handling of last year’s crackdown against the Tamil Tigers. Rights groups say the government has turned a blind eye to human rights violations against critics and journalists.