The counting of votes in Sri Lanka’s twice-postponed parliamentary election began amidst tight security on Thursday with the powerful Rajapaksa family-run Sri Lanka People”s Party (SLPP) saying it is confident of recording a “historic victory” by securing a two-thirds majority.
The election, conducted amidst COVID-19 pandemic fears, concluded in a peaceful manner on Wednesday, with a voter turnout of over 70 per cent, according to Chairman of the National Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya.
Deshapriya said nearly 71 per cent of the 16.2 million eligible voters exercised their franchise which was significant in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
The counting of ballots was underway at all the 64 counting centres across the country under heavy security.
Senior police superintendent Ashoka Dharmasena said: “We have deployed 3,328 personnel to all 64 counting centers”.
The ballot boxes were transferred to the counting centres after the polls closed at 5 PM on Wednesday and kept under tight security.
The political party representatives were allowed to keep a vigil at the counting centres overnight to ensure there was no tampering with them.
As the counting of votes began, SLPP founder and its National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa — who is the younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with the eldest being Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa — said that the party is all set to form a new government, News 1st Channel reported.
He said that his party would make history as the only party to come into power within a short span of time since its formation, defeating other old political parties.
“We are confident of the SLPP recording a historic victory. We hope for a two-thirds majority at the election but it is up to the people to decide,” he said.
He said he is confident that the economy can be revived under the leadership of President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda.
Deshapriya on Wednesday said that the counting will begin at 7 AM but there will be slight delays as all counting officials would be subject to health checks.
The counting procedure too would be subject to COVID-19 guidelines, he said.
Deshapriya said that the counting will happen in three stages — the first was to count the total number of votes in each box. The number of votes polled by each party/group would be counted in the next stage and the final count would be the counting of preference votes — or individual votes marked against the candidate numbers.
Every voter was allowed to mark votes against three candidates of the same party they had voted for.
“We hope that the first result could be issued by 3.30 PM. We aim for 2.30 PM but to avoid being blamed later, I would say 3.30 PM,” Deshapriya said.
The election held under the proportional representation system would elect 225 members – 196 of them from 22 electoral districts and 29 based on the cumulative votes polled by each party/group.
On Wednesday, President Gotabaya voted in his Colombo suburb polling station while his elder brother and the prime ministerial aspirant Mahinda voted in his home constituency in the southern district of Hambantota.
“We are hopeful of winning two-thirds support,” Mahinda, 74, told reporters after voting.
He said his younger brother Gotabaya”s election as president was endorsed by 6.9 million voters last December and that he was hopeful of securing the same support.
Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that only his party, the United National Party, was capable of turning around the economy which is currently in poor state due to COVID-19 and mishandling by the current government.
Mahinda’s SLPP is expected to win control of the 225-member assembly by a comfortable margin, according to analysts.
President Gotabaya hopes for a two-thirds majority for the SLPP so that he can amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers curbed by a 2015 constitutional change.
The president is not a candidate while Mahinda is running from the north western capital district of Kurunegala.
Poll stations were manned by over 8,000 health officials who supervised the maintenance of health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The election, which was postponed twice due to the coronavirus, is to elect a 225-member Parliament for a 5-year term.
Over 16 million people were eligible to vote to elect 196 out of a total of 225 lawmakers for the next five years. Twenty-nine others will be named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party.
The election, originally scheduled for April 25, was put off until June 20 as the COVID-19 outbreak hampered the preparations.
The August 5 date was later fixed as the health authorities issued guidelines for holding the poll.
Some 20 political parties and 34 independent groups are in the fray with over 7,200 candidates from 22 electoral districts.
Former president Maithripala Sirisena is running from the north central region of Polonnaruwa under the SLPP banner while former prime minister Wickremesinghe and former leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa are running from the Colombo district.