Rajapaksas eye comeback in tense Sri Lanka election

Published November 16, 2019, 1:11 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Agence France-Presse

Sri Lankans voted Saturday for a new president in what could mark a comeback for the Rajapaksa clan, lauded by supporters for crushing the Tamil Tigers but condemned by critics for war crimes, corruption and cosying up to China.

A Buddhist monk shows his inked finger after casting his vote (AFP / Jewel SAMAD / MANILA BULLETIN)
A Buddhist monk shows his inked finger after casting his vote (AFP / Jewel SAMAD / MANILA BULLETIN)

Despite tight security in an island that emerged from civil war only a decade ago and in April suffered Islamist extremist bombings, gunmen attacked a convoy of 100 buses transporting minority Muslim voters, police said.

There were no immediate reports of any casualties in the attack in the northwest of the Indian Ocean island.

The electoral contest sees Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, running for the top job almost five years after his brother, political heavyweight Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost power.

He is promising development and security in the wake of the April attacks that killed 269 people.

His main opponent is Sajith Premadasa, 52, from the governing liberal United National Party (UNP), son of assassinated former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who is also pushing security and development as well as free sanitary pads for poor women.

Some 85,000 police were on duty to ensure the smooth running of the polls, election officials said.

The incident in northwest Sri Lanka saw the attackers pelt buses with stones, burn tyres on the road and set up roadblocks later cleared by police.

In the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna, meanwhile, police and troops were locked in a tense standoff where residents complained of military roadblocks ahead of voting.

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial to deciding a winner in the close contest.

Just under 16 million people are eligible to vote, with a record 35 candidates, including two Buddhist monks but just one woman, on the monster ballot paper. Results could be known as early as midday (0630 GMT) on Sunday.

Before voting began, people were seen queueing up outside schools and public buildings housing the 12,600 polling stations, which are due to close at 1130 GMT.