Colombo: Sri Lankans voted on Saturday to choose a new president amid multiple poll-related incidents, including an attack on the minority Muslim voters, in an election that will decide the future of the country that struggles with security challenges after the Easter Sunday bombings and increasing political polarisation.
A record 35 candidates are vying for the top post at the election with the main contenders being former wartime defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, and the ruling party candidate Sajith Premadasa, 52. Anura Kumara Dissanayake from the National People’s Power (NPP) coalition is also a strong candidate. Polls opened at 7 am local time and would close at 5 pm with some 12,845 polling stations being set up throughout the country for 15.9 million voters, who will choose a successor to President Maithripala Sirisina. This election will make record as the election with the largest number of polling stations and the longest 26-inch ballot paper. The counting will start soon after the end of voting. The first results are expected after mid night, officials said. The final results will come on Monday.
The election is taking place nearly seven months after homegrown radicals pledging loyalty to the Islamic State terror group detonated suicide bombs at three churches and three posh hotels, killing 269 people, seriously hitting the tourism industry, one of the main forex earning sectors of the country. Around 400,000 election officials have been placed on duty and over 60,000 police personnel and over 8,000 Civil Defence Force (CDF) personnel deployed to maintain law and order. Despite tight security, multiple election related incidents were reported around the country just before voting began and during voting, election monitors and the Police said.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) said that unidentified gunmen attacked a convoy of buses carrying Muslim voters from north western Puttalam district to the northeastern region of Mannar where they were registered to vote. No casualties were reported.