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sri lanka elections 2015


Voters in Sri Lanka are going to the polls in a general election, with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoping to return to office as prime minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidency in a snap election in January to his former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena.

Four people have died in violent incidents during the campaign although monitors say there has been less violence than in previous years.

Fifteen million people are eligible to vote, with results expected on August 18.

Polls opened at 07:00 local time and will close at 16:00.Sri Lanka general elections 2015

Mahinda Rajapaksa is standing as a member of parliament for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

If he wins his seat by a large margin, and the UPFA secure an outright majority, President Maithripala Sirisena (who leads the UPFA) will be under pressure to name him prime minister. However, Maithripala Sirisena has ruled this out.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, 69, is thought of as a hero by many of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority for crushing a 26-year Tamil uprising in 2009.

However, opponents accuse him of running a corrupt, brutal and dynastic regime – charges he denies.

Ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority were the driving force behind a long and bitter civil war.

The conflict ended in May 2009 after more than 25 years of violence but recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.

Maithripala Sirisena, 63, formed a cross-party coalition to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, working with the UPFA’s main rival – the United National Party (UNP).

He led the coalition to a shock victory over the incumbent president, and UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe took the role of prime minister.

In a letter leaked during the campaign, Maithripala Sirisena accused Mahinda Rajapaksa of holding the party “hostage” and ruled out naming him prime minister.

The current president has also used his power as party leader to purge Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists from key posts in recent days.

PM Ranil Wickremesinghe said at his last campaign stop on August 14: “We all united and voted against Rajapaksa to send him into retirement.

“If he hasn’t got the message, we should unite to make sure he understands it now.”

Analysts say the UNP has a better relationship with two smaller parties – the Tamil National Alliance and the leftist JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) – which could potentially help it form the largest bloc in the 225-member parliament.

Sri Lanka’s ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to deploy the army when he realized that he had lost elections, a spokesman for new President Maithripala Sirisena has alleged.

The spokesman said that the head of the armed forces came under pressure to intervene shortly before Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat on 47.6% of the vote.

There has been no comment from the military about the allegations.

The deposed president’s spokesman denied the claims as baseless.

“There was no such attempt at all,” said Mohan Samaranayake.

“In fact, at 3:30 am on January 9 when the counting was still under way, the president made an assessment and decided what the results would be,” he added.

“Then he gave instructions to all secretaries about a smooth transfer of power… The politician who has made these remarks is in the habit of making baseless allegations.”

Sri Lanka has largely been free of military interference in politics except for a coup in 1962 that failed to oust the government. Since then, there has been no direct military role in the government.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

President Maithripala Sirisena’s top aide said on January 10 that pressure had been applied by the outgoing leadership onto armed forces head Gen. Daya Ratnayake to intervene in the result in the hours before Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted defeat.

“The army chief was under pressure to deploy but he did not. He declined to do anything illegal,” Rajitha Senaratne, the chief spokesman for the new president, told reporters in Colombo.

“Even in the last hour, he [Mahinda Rajapaksa] tried to remain in office. Only when he realized that he had no other option, he decided to go.”

Rajitha Senaratne did not detail whether the outgoing president himself tried to contact the military chief or whether the approach was made by his younger brother, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

He also said that the new president has ordered an end to the censorship of dissident websites, the abolition of phone tapping and a stop to the surveillance of journalists and politicians.

The outgoing president was praised by Secretary of State John Kerry for his early concession.

Mahinda Rajapaksa – seeking a third term in office after he changed the constitution to scrap the two-term limit – said on Twitter soon after the vote that he was working to a peaceful transition of power.

His supporters credit him with ending the civil war and boosting the economy, but critics say he had become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt.

Maithripala Sirisena is expected to make an address to the nation from the historic hill resort of Kandy on January 11.

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s long-time president, has been defeated by Maithripala Sirisena in the presidential election.

Official results showed Maithripala Sirisena, a former ally of the incumbent, had won 51.3% of the vote.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, in office since 2005, said on Twitter he looked forward to a peaceful transition of power.

His supporters credit him with ending the civil war and boosting the economy, but critics say he had become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt.

Maithripala Sirisena had already received promises of support from Tamil and Muslim leaders before the election.

However, the result shows Maithripala Sirisena also picked up a significant portion of the majority Sinhalese vote, most of whom solidly supported Mahinda Rajapaksa in previous elections.

Maithripala Sirisena, who is due to be sworn in at 18:00 local time, was surrounded by supporters and photographers as he left his offices earlier.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

“We must allow all Sri Lankans to enjoy this victory, therefore avoid hurting or insulting people,” he said.

“I ask for everyone’s support to take this process forward with compassion and love.”

Mahinda Rajapaksa was seeking a third term in office after he changed the constitution to scrap the two-term limit.

But before the results were announced, Mahinda Rajakpaksa’s press officer said the president “concedes defeat and will ensure a smooth transition of power bowing to the wishes of the people”.

Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are Sinhalese, the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka.

They were allies until November when Maithripala Sirisena, the health minister in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, announced his surprise candidacy.

Turnout in many areas was above 70%, roughly in line with previous elections, with no reports of major incidents disrupting the voting process.

In Jaffna and Trincomalee, two of the main Tamil strongholds, turnout was higher than previous national elections.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was last elected in 2010 when he defeated his former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.

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Sri Lanka has voted in an unexpectedly close election that pits President Mahinda Rajapaksa against one of his former allies.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, in office since 2005, called the election two years early with analysts predicting an easy win.

However, many voters have since rallied behind the challenger, former health minister Maithripala Sirisena.

There were armed policemen at every polling station because of concerns the vote would not be peaceful and free.

Mahinda Rajapaksa rode a wave of popularity after the civil war ended in 2009 but he now faces claims of cronyism.

His relatives fill many of the most powerful and influential positions in the country, and critics accuse him of running the state like a family business.

Analysts say Maithripala Sirisena appears to have capitalized on this perception, making gains among Sinhalese who usually vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Maithripala Sirisena is also expected to win most of the vote from the ethnic minorities that make up about 30% of Sri Lanka’s population.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, remains hugely popular with many in the Sinhalese majority.Sri Lanka presidential election 2015

Casting his ballot in his constituency on January 8, the president said he was confident he would be given the leadership of the country for the third time.

“We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear. From tomorrow, we will start implementing our manifesto,” he told reporters according to the AFP news agency.

He has presided over a period of impressive economic growth and still has political capital from being the leader who brought an end to the war.

Sri Lanka is split along ethnic lines and Tamil rebels launched a campaign for a separate state in 1972.

The Rajapaksa government crushed the rebellion, but only after a bloody conflict had killed thousands of people.

Both sides in the 26-year civil war have been accused of atrocities.

The government has always denied allegations that many thousands of civilians were killed during the army’s final assault on Tamil Tiger rebels.

The run-up to the current election – the second presidential poll since the war ended – was marred by violence and allegations of intimidation.

On January 7, an opposition activist died a day after being shot while organizing a rally.

Voters in the Tamil-dominated northern city of Jaffna said there was a loud bang as polling stations opened, with some reports claiming a grenade had been thrown.

But observers said that voting had been broadly peaceful across the island.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was last elected in 2010 when he defeated his former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.

Polling stations opened at 07:00AM on January 8, and results are expected on January 9.

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