Sri Lanka holds provincial polls amid tight security

August 23rd, 2008 - 3:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Aug 23 (IANS) Voting for two of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils was held Saturday amid tight security with both the ruling coalition and the main opposition parties predicting their victory.Balloting began in the Sabaragamuwa province (100 km south-east of Colombo), and North-Central provinces (180 km north-east of Colombo) 7 a.m. Saturday after a month-long campaign marred by pre-poll violence.

Independent poll monitors Friday accused the major political parties of engaging in pre-poll violence including shooting, arson and voter intimidation.

Except for a few isolated incidents of voter intimidation and shooting, the reports from these two provinces indicate that polling was relatively smooth till noon with voter turnout of 35 percent. Voting will close at 4 p.m. and the results are expected early Sunday.

Over 20,000 police personnel are on duty to guard the polling booths and counting centres.

The ruling coalition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is facing a close contest with the United National Party (UNP) of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) also poses a formidable challenge to the two parties, mainly in the North-Central province.

These two councils were ruled by UPFA when a snap poll was declared last month. While the UPFA has re-nominated its former chief ministers, the UNP has fielded a retired military general and a Sinhala cinema hero as chief ministerial candidates.

A little over two million voters eligible in the two provinces are set to elect just 77 members from the mammoth 1,698 candidates from 45 political parties and 34 independent groups for the two councils.

Riding on the public support for the ongoing war efforts against the Tamil Tiger rebels, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on voters to endorse the ongoing military operations against the Tamil rebels by voting for the UPFA.

Exactly a day before the polling, the government announced Friday that the advancing troops have captured two fresh villages - Thunukkai and Uyilankulam - from the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north and were operating just 12 km south of the rebel-heartland of Kilinochchi.

The president has vowed that the current military campaign would be continued “until the last rebel is killed or every inch of land is captured”.

However, the main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has accused the government of misusing the recent military victories to gain political mileage.

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