Gunmen fire on buses carrying Muslim Sri Lankan voters

Clay Curtis
November 16, 2019

This time, there were long queues outside polling stations even before voting began.

Police informed the Election Commission that the Army was allegedly manning roadblocks to discourage voters from travelling to polling booths.

According to the police, Muslims from the coastal town of Puttalam were travelling to the neighbouring district of Mannar, where they were registered to vote. He expressed his gratitude to the Election Commission for the measures taken to hold the presidential election freely and fairly.

Western capitals "should give a fair chance to us", Basil Rajapaksa, another brother, told reporters.

Tamils and Muslims, a minority in Sri Lanka are seen as crucial voters to deciding a victor in a close contest between the two front runners - housing minister Sajith Premadasa and the opposition's Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Anura Kumara Dissanayake from the National People's Power (NPP) coalition is also a strong candidate.

A record 35 candidates were contesting the poll.

Sri Lanka was forced in 2017 to hand Beijing a 99-year lease on the port of Hambantota after being unable to service a $1.4-billion Chinese loan, highlighting for critics the debt dangers of Beijing's scheme.

A decade of peace following almost 30 years of civil war was shattered earlier this year when homegrown militants pledging loyalty to the Islamic State group detonated suicide bombs at three churches and three hotels on April 21. Around 400,000 election officials have been placed on duty and over 60,000 police personnel and over 8,000 Civil Defence Force (CDF) personnel deployed to maintain law and order.

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"We suspect they were trying to create trouble during voting", a police official said. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera confirmed to Anadolu Agency that there were no casualties from the incident.

"Chinese entities were also credibly accused of fuelling corruption, illegally funnelling money to favoured political candidates, and inserting sovereignty-violating provisions into their infrastructure agreements", said Jeff Smith, a research fellow at USA think tank the Heritage Foundation.

In one major incident of violence, an unidentified group pelted stones and opened gunfire on several busses carrying minority Muslim voters in the morning as they were making their way to cast their ballots. No casualties were reported.

There were also reports of voters at polling centres in Buddhist temple being influenced to vote in particular ways by monks tying (sacred) pirith strings.

"We have a right to vote, but we are not getting anything from it", said Poulasingham Sridarasingh, 67, a Tamil bookstore owner in Colombo. A candidate needs more than 50% of first-preference votes to win.If no candidate gets this, then second and third preferences are included in the count.

Sri Lanka began counting votes in an election that will decide whether to return to power a family of strongmen who took the nation toward a deep reliance on China or extend the rule of the current government that promises more freedom but failed to avert terror attacks that killed over 250 people in April.

Premadasa, whose father was assassinated when he was president in 1993, focused on the country's slowing economy, promising to boost pro-poor welfare programmes, particularly in the housing sector. His younger brother Gotabaya was his top defence ministry official who supervised the military operations against the LTTE.

The Rajapaska senior's legacy of ending the Tamil separatist war has made him the darling of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. While doing so he acquired the reputation of a ruthlessly efficient administrator.

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