Fri, Apr 09, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka holds post-war poll

CHEST THUMPINGThe president’s nationalistic rhetoric appeals to the Sinhalese majority, which is riding high on its victory in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels

AFP , COLOMBO

Sri Lankans voted yesterday in parliamentary polls expected to deliver a comfortable win for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ruling party and consolidate his grip on power.

With the opposition divided and his main political rival behind bars, Rajapakse had urged voters to give his party a two-thirds majority, allowing him to amend the constitution that currently limits the president to two terms.

For many Sri Lankans, it was the first legislative election in which they could vote without fear of Tamil Tiger violence and suicide attacks after the rebels were defeated last year, ending three decades of conflict.

Independent poll monitors reported 160 incidents of poll-related violence during the first four hours of balloting, but most were minor in nature and there were no reports of any casualties or injuries.

Rajapakse called the polls two months early after his resounding re-election victory in a presidential vote in January, which was closely followed by the arrest of the defeated opposition candidate — former army chief Sarath Fonseka.

“I want a very strong parliament to develop the country,” the president told reporters as he cast his ballot in a southern constituency where his son Namal was the ruling party candidate.

While Rajapakse’s United People’s Freedom Alliance should have no trouble securing more than half the 225 seats in parliament, Sri Lanka’s system of proportional representation makes a two-thirds majority unlikely.

Rajapakse’s nationalistic rhetoric appeals to his majority Sinhalese community, but has been criticized by rights groups who accuse him of cronyism and suppressing dissent.

As well as his son, the president’s two brothers were also on the ballot list yesterday, as was Fonseka despite the fact that he is in military custody and undergoing court martial.

Opposition parties were largely united behind Fonseka in his campaign for the presidency, but they lost cohesion after his arrest and came into the parliamentary election with little hope of victory.

Early turnout was low and some felt that casting a ballot was a waste of time.

“People feel the results are already out, so why vote? I’m not voting,” said pottery seller G. Priyantha, 36, as he arranged his clay pots outside a temple in Colombo.

Sethmini Chathurika, 28, said she had voted for Rajapakse’s party because it had succeeded in ending the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

“The president has plans to build the country. I think he deserves a parliament to implement those plans,” Chathurika said.

Despite the defeat of the Tigers, security was tight yesterday, with 20,000 troops on duty to reinforce police at polling stations around the country.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) reported a shoot-out between a group of opposition and government supporters in the island’s south early yesterday, but nobody was hurt.

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