Sri Lanka provincial polls register high voter turnout (Lead)

August 23rd, 2008 - 8:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Aug 23 (IANS) Voting for two of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils ended Saturday evening with nearly 70 percent of little over two million eligible voters casting their votes in the relatively violence-free poll, official sources here said.”The voter turn out is roughly about 70 percent. By and large, it is an election free of violence,” an official of the Election Secretariat here told IANS Saturday evening.

The balloting began in the Sabaragamuwa province (100 km south-east of Colombo), and North-Central provinces (180 km north-east of Colombo) Saturday 7.00 a.m. and closed at 4 p.m.

The official said that the ballot boxes have now been taken to the respective counting centres and the results are expected to be out early Sunday.

Except for a few isolated incidents of voter intimidation, the reports from these two respective provinces indicated the polling picked up in the afternoon and the people exercised their franchise with enthusiasm.

Tight security arrangements were placed in these two provinces, which witnessed a large-scale violence in the run-up to the poll, with over 20,000 police personnel being deployed to guard the polling booths and counting centres.

“Looking at the pre-poll violence, we thought this election was going to be bloody, but today we were able to cast our votes freely. By and large it is a free and fair election,” Athula Bandarathilaka, a resident from North-Central Anuradhapura district, said on phone.

However, the ruling by the Election Secretariat on the compulsory use of the national identity cards have deprived a few hundred Indian origin Tamil voters in the Sabaragamuwa province of their right to vote.

“Nearly 3,000 plantation workers who are Tamils of Indian origin could not cast their votes due to the national identity card issue. The Election Secretariat should have ensured that all eligible voters have been issued with the national identity cards before making it compulsory,” A. Nandakumar, a resident in the Sabaragamuwa province said.

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

The ruling coalition 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 Rajapaksa’s coalition when a snap poll was declared last month. While it 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 electing just 77 members from a mammoth list of 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 ruling coalition.

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 for narrow political gain.

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