Sri Lanka elections: Results of 'peaceful vote' awaited

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Election poster of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (17 August 2015)Image source, AFP
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Mr Rajapaksa has urged his supporters to celebrate victory peacefully

Sri Lankans have voted in a general election in which former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is hoping to return to office as prime minister.

Turnout has been high in a vote widely seen as a referendum on the controversial former leader.

Fifteen million people were eligible to vote on Monday, with results expected from early on Tuesday morning.

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said the vote was incident-free, barring some minor complaints.

"We are very happy to say that we have conducted a peaceful, free and fair election,'' he said.

Four people died in violent incidents during the campaign.

Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidency in a snap election in January to his former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena.

But on Monday he remained confident of a comeback: "I ask the people to celebrate our victory peacefully," he pleaded after casting his vote in his southern heartland.

Ruled out

Polls opened at 07:00 local time (01:30 GMT) and closed at 16:00.

The former president stood as a parliamentary candidate for the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

If Mr Rajapaksa wins his seat by a large margin, and the UPFA secure an outright majority, President Sirisena (who leads the UPFA) will be under pressure to name him prime minister. However, Mr Sirisena has ruled this out.

Sri Lanka decides

Image source, EPA
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A final result from the elections is expected on Tuesday

Mr Rajapaksa, 69, is considered a hero by many of Sri Lanka's Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority for crushing the Tamil uprising in 2009.

But opponents accuse him of running a corrupt, brutal and dynastic regime - charges he denies.

Ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority were the driving force behind a long and bitter civil war.

The conflict ended in May 2009 after more than 25 years of violence but recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.

'We should unite'

Mr Sirisena, 63, formed a cross-party coalition to defeat Mr Rajapaksa in January, working with the UPFA's main rival - the United National Party (UNP).

He led the coalition to a shock victory over the incumbent president, and UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe took the role of prime minister.

Image source, AFP
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The election campaign has been more peaceful than in previous years, monitors say
Image source, Reuters
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Mr Rajapaksa (third from right) cast his his vote in his southern heartland
Image source, Getty Images
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Turnout in the vote has been high, officials say

In a letter leaked during the campaign, Mr Sirisena accused Mr Rajapaksa of holding the party "hostage" and ruled out naming him prime minister.

The current president has also used his power as party leader to purge Rajapaksa loyalists from key posts in recent days.

President Sirisena is also from a rural Sinhalese background and has openly accused Mr Rajapaksa of running a racist campaign against the Tamil and Muslim minorities.

BBC South Asia Editor Charles Haviland says that the president's seven months in power have seen a very gradual easing of the human rights situation.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at his last campaign stop on Friday that Mr Rajapaksa should now be sent into retirement, calling on his supporters to "unite to make sure he understands it now".

Analysts say the UNP has a better relationship with two smaller parties - the Tamil National Alliance and the leftist JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) - which could potentially help it form the largest bloc in the 225-member parliament.