Colombo, Nov 16 : Vote counting began in Sri Lanka after polls to choose a new president closed on Saturday.
An average voter turnout of over 80 per cent was recorded at the conclusion of the election at 5 pm local time. The island nation's new leader would be known on Sunday at the earliest. Long queues were seen outside over 12,000 polling stations which opened across the country at 7 am local time. Voting for Sri Lanka's president is carried out through a modified "contingent vote" system, where voters mark both their first and second preference candidates when casting their ballots.
In case of a runoff - if a single candidate fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote outright - the second preference votes will be added to the top two candidates' tally to decide a winner. A record 35 candidates are contesting the landmark election as the island nation faces security challenges, a sluggish economy, and increasing social polarisation.
The Colombo-based Centre for Monitoring Election Violence reported over 69 incidents of violence. This included a report of gunmen shooting at buses transporting Muslim voters in the Anuradhapura district.
According to political observers, the fight is between two main candidates: The ruling United National Party's (UNP) Sajith Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the opposition Sri Lanka People's Front (SLPP) party. Rajapaksa has a strong support of the majority Sinhala Buddhist population.
Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP) is the son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated in Colombo in 1993. Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has offered its support to Premadasa. After national security, economy is the second biggest issue in this poll.
The April Easter attacks in which eight suicide bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels across the island impacted the tourism sector badly, which is the third largest foreign exchange earner that brings around $4.4 billion annually. An estimated half a million Sri Lankans depend on tourism directly, while two million rely on it indirectly.
Foreign policy was seen to be another divisive issue as the nation looks to balance ties between India and China. (UNI)