Sri Lanka gears up for delayed polls amid pandemic

A total of 7,452 candidates are contesting 225 seats in the ninth parliament of Sri Lanka

  
Leader of Sri Lanka People's Front party and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing a protective mask, waves at his supporters during a campaign rally ahead of country's parliamentary elections which are scheduled for August 5th 2020, in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2020.

Leader of Sri Lanka People's Front party and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing a protective mask, waves at his supporters during a campaign rally ahead of country's parliamentary elections which are scheduled for August 5th 2020, in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka, August 1, 2020.

Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

COLOMBO: More than 16 million Sri Lankans will go to the polls on Aug. 5 as the island nation holds its twice-delayed general elections with a particular focus on the prevention of COVID-19.

“Indelible ink will be applied (on the voter’s finger) when the voter is given the ballot paper to ensure that he or she does not come into the booth to vote again,” S. Achchuttan, deputy commissioner of the Election Commission (EC) told Arab News on Saturday, adding that sanitizing stations had been installed at all polling booths.

Other anti-virus measures include asking the voters to bring their stationery items to mark their votes on the ballot papers and to ensure social distancing while queueing up outside polling booths.

Additionally, voters will also be allowed to cast their votes from their hometowns after submitting a valid ID. As of Saturday, there were 2,815 infections recorded across the country, and 11 deaths.

Wednesday’s polls are being held after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa used his executive powers to dissolve the parliament on March 2, six months ahead of its full term, before calling for snap elections on April 25.

However, due to a rise in coronavirus infections across the island, the EC postponed the polls to June 20 before deciding to hold them on Aug. 5.

A total of 7,452 candidates are contesting 225 seats in the ninth parliament of Sri Lanka, according to EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

There will be 12,794 polling booths manned by 135,000 election officials, with nearly 9,000 police officers stationed in key areas to ensure maximum security.

“So far, the EC has received more than 6,000 poll-related complaints, and suitable action is being taken to address the issues. All propaganda activities of the candidates and political parties will have to end at midnight on Aug. 2, two days before the polls,” Deshapriya said.

HIGHLIGHT

Officials say special measures in place to limit the spread of the outbreak.

Polling booths will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the count will be done the next day. The first results are expected around 5 p.m. that day, he said.

The leading contenders in the elections are the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party — led by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and supported by his brother, President Rajapaksa — and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Sajith Premadasa, son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa Sajith Premadasa. Premadasa contested the presidency last November and lost by nearly 1.5 million votes.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is also contesting the elections with his United National Party (UNP).

This year, the SLPP has also launched a Muslim wing to woo the Muslim voters in the country.

“Sadly, Muslims were supporting ethnic parties before; they were misled by the leaders of such groups,” said Ali Sabry, senior lawyer and president’s counsel, who is the head of this organization. He said that Muslims should “wake up and vote for the SLPP since they could be shareholders of the imminent victory of the party.”

Meanwhile, a group of women rights’ activists staged a demonstration in the war-torn areas of the north last week to push for the election of more women to the legislature.

The event was organized by the Mannar Women’s Development Federation, whose district coordinator is Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, and it attracted a large number of local residents. “We had only 12 women in the eighth parliament, which was too low,” Kurushanthan said.

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