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Reports of Voting Irregularities Could Delay Sri Lanka Election Results - 2004-04-03


Early results in Sri Lanka's parliamentary election show the party of President Kumaratunga leading over that of her main political rival, the prime minister. But final results may be delayed because of reports of voting irregularities in some parts of the country.

Early projections show the party of President Chandrika Kumartunga enjoying a comfortable lead over that of her rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

With roughly 85 percent of the ballots counted, Ms. Kumaratunga's Freedom Alliance has over 46 percent of the votes, compared to 36 percent won by the prime minister's United National Party.

But there may be a delay before the winner is declared. Sri Lanka's Election Commissioner says he will meet with party leaders Sunday to discuss whether to hold fresh elections in two districts where voting irregularities were reported.

"The reports I received from the staff and the observers - domestic observers, the police, does not give me sufficient information," said Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake. "That is why I said I have to discuss these matters tomorrow with the party secetaries."

The Commisssioner would not give details on the nature of the voting irregularities. But Friday's parliamentary election was one of the most peaceful Sri Lanka has seen in decades.

Ms. Kumaratunga called the ballot in February, to break a political deadlock with Mr. Wickremesinghe over how to proceed with peace negotiations with the Tamil Tiger rebels - who have waged a 20 year campaign for greater rights for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

President Kumaratunga has been extremely critical of the Prime Minister's approach to peace talks, which she says has been too soft on the rebels. Analysts say that political has brought peace negotiations to a virtual standstill.

Jehan Perera, from the peace advocacy group, the National Peace Council says he hopes the two parties can learn to put their past differences behind them.

"The hope is that the elections may discredit hard-liners within the two parties," he said. "The hard-liners want unilateral victory. If that scenario doesn't emerge then the moderates can get stronger. "

So far, it looks like neither side has won that unilateral victory. With no absolute majority, the president will have to convince some of the 20 other parties that ran in the election to help her form a coalition government.

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