Voting ends in Sri Lanka polls

Ballots are being counted in Sri Lanka, after a presidential election was held there, the first after the Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated during a 25-year-long civil war.

The incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is expected to be in a close race against former army chief, General Sarath Fonseka; both candidates say they expect to win. There are twenty other candidates on the ballot, but none of them are expected to win.

Polls closed at 16.00 local time, or 10.30 GMT on Tuesday. There were claims of voter intimidation and sporadic acts of violence, and the BBC reports that there were some small bomb blasts.

The independent operating organisation Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said it had confirmed close to a hundred violent incidents during the day, adding that it believes the number could rise to 150.

Tamil politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan, however, described the voting as “very peaceful”.

Polls were reportedly busy, with stations in the capital of Colombo being filled with lines of people half an hour before polls officially opened at 07.00 (01.30 UTC).

“I have been voting at this booth for over 20 years but never saw a crowd like this,” said businessman Mohamed Sallel, who had voted in the Borella district of the capital, as quoted by The Telegraph. Another voter, Doctor Nimalka Perera, gave an account of the crowds: “When I first came here, the queue was too long so I went back and came two hours later on my way to the hospital and found the line even longer.”

President Rajapakse, after voting in his come constituency, addressed reporters. “We will have a great victory. We must be ready to face the challenges of reaching new heights after this vote,” he said.

Fonseka, however, wasn’t able to cast a ballot, apparently because his name didn’t appear on the 2008 electroral register used for the elections.

“My name is not on the 2008 register and therefore I cannot vote at this election. The government is trying to use this to mislead the public at the last minute,” Fonseka stated, saying that he had filled out his voter registration forms.

Foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama, as well as other politicians from the ruling party, suggested that Fonseka might be disqualified from the elections. “We are seeking a court order on the suitability of this candidate because he is not eligible to be declared as a candidate,” Bogollagama said, adding that the government wanted a ruling from the courts.

Independent elections commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake, however, remarked: “Not having one’s name on the electoral list is not a disqualification.”

The country’s electoral rules state that if neither candidate is able to obtain half of the ballots cast in the first count, then voters’ second preferences are to be used to determine the winner. Political observers commented that election was too close to call between the two.

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