Colombo, Jan.26 (ANI): Voting in Sri Lanka's sixth presidential elections began here on Tuesday morning.
Voting began at 7 a.m. local time at some 11,000 polling stations. In all, 14 million people are eligible to exercise their franchise till polling ends at 4 p.m. local time.
Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, 64, representing the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is contesting the elections against his former Army commander, General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, 59, who has the backing of four leading opposition political parties.
Twenty other candidates also are contesting, but are unlikely to make an impact. A quarter of a million electoral officials have been stationed across the country for the poll.
In the run-up to the presidential poll, both Rajapaksa and Fonseka have claimed credit for winning the war against the Tamil rebels and ending a 26-year-long conflict. The opposition has also vowed to end corruption and Rajapaksa dynastic rule.
Allegations of misuse of state power, including the use of government vehicles, the state media and officials for the campaign have been levelled against Rajapaksa.
Five loud explosions were reported in Jaffna this morning, but there were no details of casualties. Jaffna lies 396 kilometers north of Colombo. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMV) said two bombs went off outside the home of a ruling party activist.
Election observers have warned of the possibility of violence interrupting the elections. About 70,000 police personnel backed by the armed forces have been deployed for the poll as a precautionary measure.
The counting of ballots will commence on Tuesday evening and results will be announced on Wednesday.
The Australian Network News (ANN) quoted the Executive Director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, Jehan Perera, as saying that he expected the bitter contest to attract a large voter turn out.
He also said that thousands of Tamils will be voting for the first time in many years, and warned that if majority Sinhalese voters are split, the minorities could have the final say.
Rajapakse released a statement on Monday night calling for the election to be free and democratic.
Former Jamaican Foreign Minister K D Knight is the leader of the Commonwealth observer mission, and he described it as an important election for Sri Lanka.
ANN quoted Rukshana Nanayakkara, deputy head of the Colombo chapter of Transparency International, as saying that for the moment, the atmosphere was peaceful and order appeared to be maintained with a very heavy presence of security. (ANI)