Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankans cast ballots for president

SECURITY RISKSTensions were high amid fears that voting would be as bloody as the campaign in which five people were killed and more than 800 wounded

AP AND REUTERS , COLOMBO

Sri Lankans head to a polling station to cast their vote in Tangalla, about 195km from the capital Colombo, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Sri Lankans crowded polling stations yesterday throughout Colombo in a hard-fought election to decide whether the incumbent president or his former army chief should lead the nation’s recovery from a brutal civil war both men helped win.

More than 14 million people registered to vote, and polling began amid heavy security and fears that election day would be as bloody as a campaign in which five people were killed and more than 800 violent incidents were recorded.

However, enthusiasm for the poll in minority Tamil areas most affected by the fighting remained light, and early morning explosions in the northern city of Jaffna were expected to further suppress voting.

Though it has been just eight months since President Mahinda Rajapaksa and retired General Sarath Fonseka led the country to victory in the quarter-century war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, many voters were focused on the stagnant economy.

“Life is difficult, the cost of living is high. We need a change of government to stop corruption,” said Pathirannnehelage Priyalal, a 40-year-old businessman in the Colombo suburb of Gampaha who said he voted for Fonseka. “There has been no relief even after the war and if this government remains, even finding food will be difficult.”

Rajapaksa, however, still retains strong support for his war victory and rights groups accuse him of misusing state resource — including the state media — to bolster his campaign.

“Mahinda must win,” Prijanthi Ovitigala, 42, said minutes before voting in Gampaha. “This freedom is very important more than anything else, no previous political leader could win the war.”

Rajapaksa and Fonseka, both considered heroes by the country’s Sinhalese majority, have promised to bring development to the country and lead its rebuilding effort from the war. But neither has presented a detailed plan to resolve the underlying ethnic tensions — and the Tamil complaints of marginalization — that sparked the rebels’ separatist insurgency in the first place.

Several explosions were heard in Jaffna, a predominantly ethnic Tamil city, before polls opened at 7am.

Election monitor Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu said one blast was a grenade attack on the office of a ruling party organizer.

However, an opposition Tamil lawmaker accused the military of firing artillery shells into the sea to dissuade voting among Tamils, who were expected to lean toward Fonseka.

“I think the government wants to minimize the voting,” lawmaker Suresh Premachandran said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied the military fired artillery.

Meanwhile, unidentified activists distributed leaflets in Jaffna calling for an election boycott, Saravanamuttu said.

The leaflets, signed by a previously unknown group calling itself Tamil Patriots, said the group does not agree with the decision of Tamil political leaders to back Fonseka.

“Our stand has always been that the Tamil people need not vote in an election to choose a president for the Sinhalese state. Our people should not permit the sacrifices of our warriors to go to waste,” the group said in the letter.

During the last presidential election in 2005, won by Rajapaksa, the Tamil Tigers enforced a boycott among ethnic Tamils at gunpoint.

This year, however, Tamils were expected to vote.

In the multiethnic eastern town of Batticaloa, Tamil voters enthusiastically lined up at polling stations, unlike in earlier elections when they feared violence, a resident said.

This story has been viewed 1841 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top