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Sri Lankans vote in presidential election.

January 8, 2015

Voters in Sri Lanka are going to the polls in what is expected to be a close presidential election. What had initially appeared to be a sure thing for the incumbent changed when a former ally threw his hat into the ring.

Sri Lanka Präsidentschaftswahlen 08.01.2015
Image: Reuters/D. Liyanawatte

Early indications were that turnout would be high in Thursday's presidential election in Sri Lanka, in which the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is seeking a third term in office.

Opinion polls showed that when Rajapakse called the election back in November, he appeared headed for certain victory, but that changed when a former health minister and member of his political party, Maithripala Sirisena, defected to run against him.

Voters are reported to have been waiting in long queues to cast their ballots shortly after the polls opened in the capital, Colombo, and elsewhere in the country. Despite recent opinion polls, which indicate that it will be a tight contest, Rajapaksa expressed confidence that he would prevail.

"We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear," Rajapaksa told reporters after casting his ballot in his southern constituency of Hambantota.

Rajapaksa, who shortly after his last election victory used his party's parliamentary majority to get a constitutional two-term presidential limit lifted, campaigned on his record of having ended a 25-year-long conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels back in 2009. However, his critics say despite bringing peace to the island nation, he failed to bring about reconciliation with the country's biggest minority.

Confident challenger

Sirisena, who was relatively unknown before resigning as health minister to become one of 19 candidates to become Sri Lanka's next head of state, campaigned on a platform of reining in the presidential powers that Rajapaksa has expanded while in office. He is also among those to accuse Rajapaksa of corruption, a charge the incumbent denies. One thing he appeared to share with his former ally though, is confidence of victory at the polls.

"My victory is in sight. There is support for us everywhere. From tomorrow, we will usher in a new political culture," he said, as he cast his ballot in the eastern town of Polunnaruwa.

Security was stepped up for the election, after a campaign in which there were many reported incidents of violence.

Official results weren't expected until Friday.

pfd/ (AP, AFP, Reuters)