Asia

Rajapaksa family set to consolidate power in Sri Lanka after coronavirus-hit polls

COLOMBO: Sri Lankans voted in large numbers Wednesday (Aug 5) despite the coronavirus pandemic as the ruling Rajapaksa brothers sought to expand their mandate through the virus-delayed parliamentary polls.

The election – postponed twice due to the epidemic – closed at 5:00pm local time (1130 GMT) after 10 hours of voting, with strict hygiene measures in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother Mahinda, the prime minister, are seeking a two-thirds parliamentary majority to roll back constitutional changes introduced by the previous administration that limit the president's powers.

Analysts expect them to easily secure a majority in the 225-seat parliament. Counting begins early Thursday and the first results are expected by Thursday evening.

The final results are due late Friday.

More than 70 per cent of the 16.23 million electorate was estimated to have turned out to vote, Election Commission chief Mahinda Deshapriya told reporters.

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Turnout in the November presidential election was more than 83 per cent.

Deshapriya said there were "no major issues anywhere" to warrant the annulation of results from any booths, adding there were only minor complaints of voter intimidation.

People had begun lining up outside polling stations even before they opened across the island.

Deshapriya was among the first to vote, saying he wanted to send a message that it was safe and that authorities had made detailed preparations to guard against the virus.

Face masks were mandatory, voters were required to keep a social distance, and had to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot papers.

The health measures made the poll Sri Lanka's most expensive at 10 billion rupees (US$54 million), the Election Commission said.

Officials collect ballot papers and boxes from a distribution centre in Colombo AFP/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI

GROWING ECONOMIC PAIN

After winning the presidency in November, Gotabaya appointed his brother Mahinda, a former president, as prime minister in a minority government.

Since then Sri Lankans have largely embraced their populist platform, which emerged from a wave of nationalism in the wake of the deadly 2019 Easter bombings by Muslim radicals that killed 279 people.

The brothers are also viewed as heroes by the Sinhalese majority for orchestrating the military's ruthless campaign that ended the decades-long Tamil separatist war inRead More – Source