Sri Lankans vote for new president

November 17, 2019

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WEERAWILA (Sri Lanka): People queue up at a polling station on Saturday to cast their ballots.—AFP
WEERAWILA (Sri Lanka): People queue up at a polling station on Saturday to cast their ballots.—AFP

COLOMBO: Gunmen fired at buses carrying Muslim voters on Saturday as Sri Lankans voted to elect a new president, with the powerful Rajapaksa clan eyeing a comeback seven months after Islamist extremists staged deadly bombings in the country.

Minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial in the close election, and the attack in the northwest of the island — in which no one was injured — was likely aimed at deterring people from heading to the polls.

Election chief Mahinda Deshapriya said the shooting might not have prevented voting as just over 80 per cent of the 15.99 million voters were estimated to have turned out on Saturday, compared to 81.5 per cent at the previous presidential poll in 2015.

Some 85,000 police were on duty for the election with a record 35 candidates running for president, an office with considerable power similar to the French political system.

Results could come as early as midday on Sunday if there is a clear winner.

One of the two frontrunners is grey-haired retired Lt Col Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, younger brother of the charismatic but controversial Mahinda Rajapaksa, president from 2005 to 2015.

Dubbed the “Terminator” by his own family, “Gota” is promising an infrastructure blitz and better security in the wake of the attack by Islamists in April that killed 269 people.

His main rival is Sajith Premadasa, 52, from the governing liberal United National Party (UNP), son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019