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Sri Lanka awaits results as pandemic precautions delay vote count

Sri Lanka awaits results as pandemic precautions delay vote count

DPA
Colombo
Health precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic slowed down voting in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary election on Wednesday, which is expected to deliver a stronger mandate for the ruling party.
Turnout was at 71 percent according to the chairman of the Election Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya, after polling closed at 5 pm (1130 GMT), following a one-hour extension to voting hours.
At the last parliamentary elections in 2015, 77 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, while in the presidential elections in November the turnout was 84 percent.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said however that the turnout was a show of confidence in the government.
“As the first South Asian country to hold general elections amidst COVID-19, it reflects the confidence that Sri Lankans have in our efforts to control this pandemic,” Rajapaksa said in a Twitter message.
The elections are expected to expand the power of the governing party, which is chasing a majority of two-thirds in the Sri Lankan parliament.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is seeking another term, headed the campaign for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka People’s Front).
“This election has been relatively calm compared to previous elections”, said Rohana Hettiaarachchi, the executive director for the election monitoring group Peoples’ Action for Free and Fair Elections.
The voting process was hampered by strict health guidelines that included sanitization measures, social distancing and compulsory face masks.
Authorities deployed more than 15,000 health officials and public health inspectors to enforce the safety measures. Such additional expenses helped push the cost of the poll up to 10 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($54 million), from the usual cost of around 6 billion rupees.
The elections were delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Vote counting has been postponed until Thursday as an additional health precaution for officials and representatives of political parties.
Results which usually would have been delivered on the day of the elections will now be released only from Thursday evening.
The ballot boxes have been placed under high security at the counting centres overnight where representatives of parties contesting are also able to help guard the boxes.
More than 16.2 million people were registered to vote to elect members to the 225-seat parliament for a five-year term.

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