Accessibility links

Sri Lanka Holds  Parliamentary Elections - 2004-04-02

Voting is under way in Sri Lanka's parliamentary election. Many hope the vote will help end a bitter feud between the president and the prime minister, and revive the country's stalled peace process with the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. But the election comes as tensions increase in the east of the country, after an unprecedented rift in the rebel organization.

More than 60,000 security personnel and 25,000 election monitors are on hand, as Sri Lankans go to the polls.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga called the election three years earlier than expected. The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to end a bitter political feud between Ms. Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The two leaders have argued for months over how to proceed with peace talks with the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The rebels have waged a two-decade campaign for greater rights for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, but they signed a cease-fire with the government two years ago.

In the capital, Colombo, many voters say achieving peace is their primary concern.

"Everybody from child to old guy, they are asking [for] peace, nothing else," one voter says

"Many also hope for a better economy, if the civil war ends," adds another.

"Firstly the peace process, but we can't give up [on] the economy, also. Therefore, we have to elect for these two things a suitable government," says another voter.

It is the third election Sri Lanka has had in the past four years. Analysts say the results could be very close, perhaps resulting in a hung parliament and a continuation of the political crisis.

Twenty-four political parties are in the race, but the election is largely a contest between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his United National Party, or UNP, against the Freedom Alliance, led by the president. The president herself is not up for re-election.

Mr. Wickremesinghe and Ms. Kumaratunga both come from powerful families, and have shared a business and political rivalry for decades.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, from the Center for Policy Alternatives, says that may keep voters away from the polls, simply because they are fed up with the leaders' squabbling.

"At one level, the country is suffering, going through this process because two individuals can't really set aside what appear to be personal animosities and differences and come to a common ground, a common position with regard to a national interest," he says.

The election comes against a rising tide of tension in the east of the country. The Tamil Tigers have split into two factions, which are now threatening to go to war against each other.

Vote counting is expected to be done on Saturday.