POST TIME: 16 November, 2019 10:35:00 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 16 November, 2019 10:41:15 PM
Rajapaksas eye return in tense Sri Lanka polls
AFP, Colombo

Rajapaksas eye return in tense Sri Lanka polls

Sri Lankans voted yesterday for a new president in what could mark a comeback for the Rajapaksa clan, loved for crushing the Tamil Tigers but loathed for alleged war crimes, corruption and cosying up to China. Despite 85,000 police on duty in an island that emerged from civil war only a decade ago and in April suffered Islamist extremist bombings, gunmen attacked a convoy of 100 buses transporting minority Muslim voters in the northwest, police said. No casualties were reported. Minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial in the close election, and the attack in the northwest of the island -- in which no one was injured -- was likely aimed at deterring people from voting.

The assailants set fire to tyres on the road and set up makeshift roadblocks before shooting at and pelting with stones two vehicles in the convoy of more than 100 buses, police said. After casting ballots there were given an armed escort back home.

In the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna, police reported to the Election Commission that the army was illegally manning roadblocks that could inhibit voters reaching polling booths.

Police also arrested 10 men there suspected of "trying to create trouble", a police official said.

At the 2015 election there was a series of explosions in the region that activists said were aimed at reducing turnout. Nationwide preliminary figures for voter turnout appeared to be similar to 2015 when it was 81.5 percent. Voting ended at 5:00 pm (1130 GMT).

This time there were long queues outside polling stations

even before voting began. Minority Tamils and Muslims are seen as crucial to deciding the winner in the close contest, in which almost 16 million eligible will choose from a record 35 candidates. Results could come as early as midday (0630 GMT) on Sunday.

The electoral contest sees Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, running for the top job almost five years after his charismatic but controversial elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa lost power.

The grey-haired retired army lieutenant colonel — dubbed the “Terminator” by his own family — is promising an infrastructure blitz and better security in the wake of the April attacks that killed 269 people.