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70 per cent voters cast their franchise in Lanka's Prez election

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

New Delhi, Jan 26, IRNA -- Nearly 70 per cent of voters cast their franchise in Sri Lanka's first post-LTTE presidential election on Tuesday, expected to be a close finish between incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main challenger Gen 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, Doordarshan news website reported.

Rajapaksa, 64, had called the election two years ahead of schedule apparently to cash in on the military victory over the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (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.

Voting began at 7 a.m. local time at some 11,000 polling stations. In all, 14 million people were eligible to exercise their franchise till polling ended 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.

The counting of ballots will commence on Tuesday evening and results will be announced on Wednesday.

Tuesday's election is the first peacetime presidential vote since Tamil Tigers took up arms in 1972.

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End News / IRNA / News Code 920925



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