Sri Lanka Votes in Tight Presidential Poll
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Millions of Sri Lankans are voting in a tightly fought presidential election, as incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa faces a former ally who has promised to root out corruption and political decay.
Around 15 million people are eligible to vote in Thursday's election, as Rajapaksa faces Maithripala Sirisena, a former Health Minister who defected from the ruling party to run against him.
There were long queues at polling stations, with many voters calling for a change in leadership, Al Jazeera reported.
"My victory is in sight. There is support for us everywhere. From tomorrow, we will usher in a new political culture," Sirisena said, as he cast his vote in the eastern town of Polonnaruwa.
Sirisena quit as one of Rajapaksa's ministers in November, triggering a flood of defections from the government.
The defection turned Rajapaksa bid for a third term into a referendum on the president, and the enormous power he wields over the island nation.
There are no reliable opinion polls, but many analysts believe Sirisena will benefit from a popular yearning for change after a decade under Rajapaksa.
Sirisena's election campaign focused on reining in the president's expanding powers, and accused Rajapaksa of corruption, a charge the president denies.
Rajapaksa appeared assured of victory on Thursday, despite his second term being dogged by accusations of corruption, including undermining the independence of the judiciary and lining the pockets of political cronies through lucrative contracts.
"We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear," he told reporters.
After his landslide election victory in 2010, Rajapaksa jailed his opponent and used his overwhelming parliamentary majority to scrap a constitutional two-term limit for the president and give himself the power to appoint judges, top bureaucrats, police officials and military chiefs.
He also orchestrated the impeachment of the country's chief justice and replaced her with a trusted adviser.
Rajapaksa's political power grew immensely after he crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending the country's 25-year civil war.
More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed, including 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians in the closing months of the conflict.