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Posted at: Aug 16, 2015, 5:29 PM; last updated: Aug 16, 2015, 5:29 PM (IST)

Sri Lanka to decide tomorrow; polling amid tight security

Colombo, Aug 16

Sri Lanka will vote on Monday in what promises to be  a closely contested elections between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and President Maithripala Sirisena United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), as Mahinda Rajapaksa eyes a political comeback as prime minister months after being toppled as president.

The rivalry between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena has been evident in the past months since the latter became president despite the constitutional positions they held, even though it was with the former’s support that Sirisena became president in January.It is, however, Sinhala strongman Rajapakse who poses real threat to the UNP.

Sixty-nine-year-old Rajapaksa forced himself into UPFA’s reckoning to contest the parliamentary poll, an action unprecedented for a former president of the country.

While Sirisena was not in favour of granting Rajapaksa a party ticket, his party allies have defied his wishes, unleashing a war between the former and the current presidents.

A letter he sent to the former president last week made his displeasure evident: Sirisena’s curt letter said he only allowed Rajapakse to contest the polls when he saw his party could split down the middle if he did not relent. 

"Not only you held two terms, you deprived the party seniors opportunities by trying to stay on forever," Sirisena accused Rajapaksa in a letter he sent to the latter last week.

The letter also accused Rajapaksa of alienating Tamil and Muslim minorities from the SLFP and warned him against dividing the party.

Sirisena was Rajapaksa's Health Minister until he became the opposition unity candidate to challenge then president last year.

He initially faced immediate expulsion from the party for his rebellion, but was instead given the party’s reins when he defeated Rajapaksa in the January presidential election.

"I will start from where I left off in January," said Rajapaksa, who will contest the elections from the Sinhala Buddhist-majority rural Kurunegala district in the northwest having moved there from his home base deep south.

The former president charged the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of stalling many infrastructure projects that he undertook with Chinese assistance.

A hero to many Sinhalese for ending the LTTE's more than three-decade separatist civil war on behalf of the Tamil minority, Rajapaksa has expressed fears that the new government's soft policy on the Tamil diaspora in the West may lead to revival of the ethnic conflict.

Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, wants another term in office to continue democratic reforms initiated by the government had introduced since Rajapaksa's defeat, restoring civil and democratic freedoms, good governance and growth through enhanced investment.

To have a working majority government, 113 seats are needed in the 225-member assembly.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have both pledged a government of national unity that would mean Sirisena would add his partymen to complete the 113 figure should the UNP fall short of achieving the numbers.

"We will win 117 seats on our own. We will not have a national government," Rajapaksa said at a poll rally.

Over 15 million voters are expected to vote in the election to be held under electoral districts-based proportional representation system.

Districts will elect 196 members while 29 will be appointed based on the national proportion of votes polled by each party.

Poll monitoring groups have already dubbed it as the fairest election campaign in the island in recent times with a minimum number of election law violations.

Police chief N K Ilangakoon said that 63,000 policemen would be deployed at polling stations throughout the country while several thousands more will be on on mobile patrols.

Campaigning since July 13 has witnessed at least 4 deaths.

The police, however, have yet to verify if the shooting incidents were politically motivated.

"We can be very happy with the comparative peaceful campaign. The parties have been by and large cooperating with the Commissioner of Elections in adhering to the laws," Rohana Hettiarachchi of the People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) said.

Campaigning ended on Friday and since then there have been few complaints of acts of violations by candidates and parties, Keerthi Tennakoon of the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CAFFE) said. — PTI

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