NAWALAPITIYA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Sri Lankans voted Tuesday in two districts where violence forced the annulling of their ballots in an April 8 poll that gave President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s alliance a commanding parliamentary majority.
More than 1,000 police officers and soldiers were on hand in the Central Province district of Nawalapitiya, about 60 km (38 miles) east of the capital Colombo, to prevent the mayhem which engulfed the area on April 8.
Election monitors reported no violence Tuesday. But one opposition polling agent had been temporarily prevented from entering a voting centre in an environment rife with intimidation.
About 50,000 voters were registered in Nawalapitiya. A further 1,000 were registered to vote again in the eastern Trincomalee district where the election commissioner also cancelled results due to violence on April 8.
No matter what happens Tuesday, Rajapaksa’s ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) will still hold a dominant majority in the 225-member parliament.
“This is a useless exercise, since the result is obvious — the government will win,” businessman Erick Herman Rajapaksha told Reuters in Nawalapitiya. “This will be a very low (turnout) poll. Even April 8 was low, so this will be lower than that.”
EDGING Towards TWO-THIRS MAJORITY
Rajapaksa’s UPFA already has 117 seats and analysts expect it to get more than 140 once results are counted Tuesday. That would put the president in striking distance of the two-thirds majority he needs to change the constitution.
That outcome has already driven the surging Colombo Stock Exchange deeper into record territory, with gains of more than 170 percent since it hit a trough at the end of 2008. It reached 4037.30 in early trading Tuesday.
Dealers in government securities say they expect increased demand after parliament passes the 2010 budget in either May or June, seen as crucial to retaining a $2.6 billion (1.7 billion pound) International Monetary Fund loan which has boosted foreign investor confidence.
The president, who won a landslide re-election in January, has pledged to turn his efforts towards economic reform and reconciliation after he led the nation to victory over the Tamil Tigers in a three-decade separatist war 11 months ago.
This week will see swift political action: the president is expected to name a drastically trimmed cabinet Wednesday and parliament will open Thursday. He is also expected to work on opposition crossovers to gain the two-thirds majority.
The opposition, reeling from its worst election showing in history, blamed an estimated voter turnout of around 53 percent on April 8 on voter apathy and disenchantment with the system.
If confirmed by the election commission after the re-polled districts are counted, that would be among the lowest voter showings since Sri Lanka elected its first parliament in 1947, in anticipation of independence from Britain the next year.
The violence on April 8 was largely intra-party as candidates struggled to beat each other out for preferential votes, and local media reported the connivance of area police officers who have since been transferred.
Keerthi Tennakoon of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections said the difficulties focussed more on psychological disruption rather then a new bout of violence.
“There is no physical violence but a psychological operation is going on,” he told Reuters.
Rajapaksa has criticised party members who have waged intra-party violence, but has not punished them. Election monitors and diplomats say that has tainted Sri Lanka’s long history of multiparty democracy practiced even in wartime.
Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez, writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Ron Popeski