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Central & South Asia
Voting ends in Sri Lanka polls
President expected to tighten his grip on power when the final results are released.
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2010 11:45 GMT
Election monitors have reported a low
turnout of voters [Reuters]

Sri Lankans have voted in the country's first parliamentary election since the end of the long civil war against Tamil separatists in the north last year.

Polls closed at 4pm (10:30 GMT) on Thursday amid claims of low voter turnout.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, who won re-election in January, is expected to tighten his grip on power when the final results to elect the 225-member legislature are announced.

The final results are expected to be released at 18:30 GMT on Friday.

Thursday's vote pit the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of Rajapaksa against a weakened and fragmented opposition whose defeated presidential candidate was arrested in February.

Opposition accusations

The opposition has accused the UPFA of violating campaign rules and warned that the vote would never be free and fair.

in depth
  Profile: Sarath Fonseka
  Profile: Mahinda Rajapaksa
  Rajapaksa's minority report
  Inside Story: Sri Lanka's future
  101 East: After the war

It accuses Rajapaksa of stifling dissent, encouraging cronyism and corruption and trying to establish up a family dynasty, with two of his brothers and a son running for parliament and other relatives occupying top government posts.

On the eve of voting Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister and leader of the main opposition United National Party (UNP), accused Rajapaksa of using state-owned vehicles and buildings for campaigning and turning the government-run media into a party mouthpiece.

"There was suppression of private media. Journalists were attacked and abducted by those connected to the government," he said.

Election laws

Rajapaksa's government has denied the charges, saying the opposition is trying curry favour with Western governments it says are trying to undermine Sri Lanka.

Opposition parties have accused Rajapaksa, centre, of trying to stifle dissent [Reuters]

But the accusations are unlikely to have made any major impact on Sri Lanka's 14 million eligible voters, with the ruling alliance forecast to win more than half the seats in the 225 member parliament.

The key question, therefore, will be whether the UPFA can secure the two-thirds majority Rajapaksa has called for in order to amend the constitution - although he has not made clear what amendments he wants to make.

Opponents have said Rajapaksa might seek a change that would allow him to stand for office beyond the current two terms allowed.

Fragmented opposition

Among those who campaigned for a seat in parliament is Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief and the defeated opposition candidate in February's presidential poll.

He was arrested shortly afterwards and is being held in military custodyawaiting court martial, but has continued to campaign from his jail cell for a seat in the capital, Colombo.

Fonseka is accused of planning his political career before he gave up his army post and of breaching regulations in purchasing military hardware.

He has denied the charges, but while he remains a rallying cry for the opposition his arrest has fragmented the opposition, with parties that had backed him in a single coalition now contesting Thursday's vote separately.

But despite the end of the war and the Tigers' defeat, security remained tight for the vote. At least 20,000 troops were placed on duty to support police personnel at polling stations around the country.

Source:
Agencies
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