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70 pc voting in Lanka, Fonseka's name missing from list

Source: PTI
January 26, 2010 19:23 IST
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Nearly 70 percent voters cast their franchise in Sri Lanka's first post-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam presidential election on Tuesday, expected to be a close finish between incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main challenger General Sarath Fonseka.

The turnout was reported to be brisk around the capital Colombo and the Sinhala dominated areas, but light to moderate in Tamil areas of northern part of the island where polling was marred by pre-dawn bomb blasts and allegations of vote rigging.

The counting would start tonight with early trends expected to be available around midnight.

Rajapaksa, 64, had called the election two years ahead of schedule apparently to cash in on the military victory over the LTTE, but an acrimonious campaign was witnessed between him and his former military chief Fonseka.

The joint opposition candidate Fonseka said he was unable to vote, as his name was not on the electoral list, prompting statements from the ruling party lawmakers that he could face disqualification.

However, Elections Commissioner Dayananada Dissanayaka released a statement a short while ago stating that a candidate need not be a registered voter nor cast his vote in order to be eligible to run for office.

Dissanayaka said Fonseka, 59, would not face disqualification if he was duly elected.

This is the first presidential election in Sri Lanka since 1972 that was held without the shadow of the Tamil Tigers and a high voter turnout of 65 to 70 percent was reported, sources said.

According to Sri Lanka's Election Monitor voting turnout in the eastern province was between 50 and 60 percent but in the former LTTE bastions Killinochchi and Mullaithivu a meager 10 percent voter turned out to cast their ballot.

In the northern provincial city of Jaffna too a little over 20 percent votes were cast.

Inadequate transportation facilities to ferry the resettled voters was also said to be a reason for the low turnout in northern areas.

According to opposition leader Ranil Wickeramasinghe the poll was by and large peaceful.

"Two petrol bombs were hurled in Velvetthurai in Jaffna early in the morning," military spokesperson Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Earlier after Fonseka failed to cast his vote questions were raised whether he could not exercise his franchise as he was a green card holder in the US.

"I want the people to know that I am fully qualified under article 31 of the constitution to contest for the presidential election," he said.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa cast his vote in his hometown of Tangelle in Southern coast of Sri Lanka.

There are 14,088,500 registered voters at 10,875 polling stations around the country.

Out of that as many as 1247 polling stations are located in the Jaffna, Wanni, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Puttalam electoral districts with a total of 2,058,686 registered voters, media reports said.

About 68,000 policemen were deployed throughout the country to ensure security during the poll, officials said.

While large turnouts were reported elsewhere, in the northern district of Vavuniya many internally displaced Tamils were left with no transport facilities to take them to their respective polling divisions.

Themiya Hurulle of the New Democratic Front said this happened despite earlier assurances by the government that their transport will be taken care of.

The Marxist People's Liberation Front-JVP member Vijitha Herath was detained in Vavuniya on Tuesday morning while he was on his way to Kilinochchi, along with former presidential candidate Channa Gamage, who is supporting Fonseka, the JVP media unit said.

Independent poll monitors said minor incidents of disruption and violence were reported early on Tuesday.

The Centre for Free and Fair Elections said there were more than six minor incidents were reported on early Tuesday morning, while the Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections said there were no major incidents.

Two petrol bombs were hurled in Velvetthurai in Jaffna early in the morning, but no one was injured.

The counting is expected to be taken up after 7.30 pm, according to officials who said the results are expected on Wednesday morning.
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