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Ballot Counting Underway in Sri Lanka Presidential Election

Policeman giving instruction to voters at polling station in Colombo, 26 Jan 2010

Policeman giving instruction to voters at polling station in Colombo, 26 Jan 2010

Voters, including Tamils displaced by the civil war, decided whether to extend the tenure of the incumbent president or replace him with his former top military chief.

After a violence-marred campaign, vote counting is underway in Sri Lanka for its first peace-time presidential election in decades. Voters, including Tamils displaced by the civil war. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is facing his former ally, ex-Army chief Sarath Fonseka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa cast his vote in his hometown, Tangelle, in the southern part of the island nation.

The president says his victory will be remarkable and evident, thanks to the participation of voters across the country.

Mr. Fonseka says he was not able to cast his ballot because his name was not on the voter registration list. While balloting was still going on, former general Sarath Fonseka told reporters that despite the glitch he is still fully qualified to serve as president despite reports to the contrary.

"The government is on a campaign to again misinform the Sri Lankans and mislead all citizens about my vote," he said.

It is estimated that more than 65 percent of eligible voters went to the polls nationwide. But fears of violence and intimidation and lack of transportation are partly blamed for keeping turnout low in the Tamil-dominated North and East.

With the Sinhalese vote believed to have been split between the president and his top challenger, Tamil voters found their ballots taking on a significance beyond their 15 percent share of the population.

"As Tamils, we need a good situation. So, in that basis, I chose my leader," said a voter.

Many other Tamil voters, interviewed by VOA in the capital, spoke of protecting and expanding their rights as a minority, suppressed for decades by the majority Sinhalese.

This man says he expects Mr. Fonseka to bring change.

During the campaign, the president's supporters portrayed the general, who led the military campaign against the rebels, as betraying Sinhalese nationalism by cutting a deal with the Tamil National Alliance, the political wing of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

That struck a chord with some voters.

A Sinhalese woman says President Rajapaksa saved the country so she voted for him, expecting he will take Sri Lanka to a more prosperous level.

Before voting began, the two main political camps traded accusations of election laws violations and of preparing to use force, should the results not turn out to their opponent's satisfaction.

Sri Lanka has 14 million eligible voters. Government officials say they expect final vote tallies to be released by mid-day, Wednesday, which has been declared a national holiday.