Sri Lanka took to the voting stations on Saturday to elect a new president. Long queues could be seen outside voting stations in the capital Colombo and nationwide. Almost 16 million people are eligible to vote in Sri Lanka and after only 6 hours of voting, 60% had already cast their votes.
There is a total of 35 candidates, but the two frontrunners are Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former defence secretary and Sajith Premadasa, a government minister.
Premadasa’s campaign has focused on the countryside, promising free housing, school uniforms for children and sanitary pads for women. Feminine hygiene is a taboo topic in most of South Asia and rarely discussed in public. His decision to focus on this in his campaign has drawn women to his rallies.
Rajapaksa — who oversaw the military defeat of Tamil separatists 10 years ago, bringing an end to Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war — has, meanwhile, promised to overhaul national security, playing on the fears of further attacks after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings this year killed 250. The attack targeted upscale hotels and churches and hurt Sri Lanka’s tourism-dependent economy. The attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State.
Earlier in the day, a group of unidentified men opened fire on buses carrying Muslims to a polling station in the Anuradhapura district. Nobody was injured. Muslims make up 10% of Sri Lanka’s total population and they say they have faced hostility ever since the attacks in April.
Since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war there have been challenges in addressing wartime violations by both sides. Gotabaya, whose brother was president during the war, was defence secretary. It is widely alleged that he Gotabaya presided over conflict atrocities and repressed peaceful critics. Premadasa’s father was also president and assassinated by a Tamil separatist suicide bomber in 1993.