Rajapaksa takes initial lead in Lanka presidential poll

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Colombo, Jan. 27 (ANI): Incumbent Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has acquired an initial lead in postal vote counting in the country's sixth presidential election against main challenger and former chief of army staff General (retired) Sarath Fonseka.

According to the island-nation's Election Office, over 70 cent of the 14 million-plus voters exercised their franchise in Tuesday's presidential election, which was held from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Counting of postal ballots commenced at 8 p.m. and of the other votes after 10 p.m. in 88 different centers. The final result is expected by Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Election Office, in Ratnapura district, the President has polled nearly 69 per cent of the postal votes. In Monaragawa district too, he is leading in postal votes.

The highlight of the day was that General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, the opposition nominee had not enrolled himself as a voter. Senior ministers and leaders of the ruling combine charged him with taking people for a ride and said they would approach the apex court on his right to contest the election, despite the fact that the Election Commission had ruled his nomination papers to be in order.

Voting was by and large calm, except for a couple of blasts in Jaffna over 300 kilometers from capital Colombo. Rajapaksa cast his vote on Tuesday morning at the Madhumalana Rajapaksa Maha Vidayalaya polling centre in Hambantota.

In contrast to the high turnout in the majority Sinhalese south, polling in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, parts of which were under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the last election, was poor.

In the presidential polls in 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who contested on United Party Freedom Alliance ) ticket, obtained 4,887,162 votes (50.29 per cent) and the United National Party candidate and Opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, secured 4,706,366 votes (47.43 per cent). Mr. Wickremesinghe lost mainly due to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran's diktat to Tamils to boycott the election.

Xinhua quoted Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Director, Campaign For Free and Fair Elections, an NGO monitoring the elections, as saying that there were six minor incidents before polling began.

Postal voting was held on January 12 and 13 with 401,109 state employees being eligible to exercise their franchise.

The Election Department said 14,088,500 Sri Lankans were eligible to cast their votes at 11,098 polling stations. They were asked to choose their next president mainly from Rajapaksa and Fonseka, and 20 other candidates.

Rajapaksa called the election two years ahead of schedule to capitalize on his popularity among the majority Sinhalese after ending the island's bloody ethnic conflict.

Fonseka, who commanded the Army to defeat the rebels from 2006 to 2009, is equally credited for the victory.(ANI)

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