Sri Lanka holds first elections in South Asia amid Covid-19 pandemic

Colombo, Aug 5 (efe-epa).- Sri Lanka on Wednesday held its parliamentary elections amid strict hygiene and distancing measures, marking the first poll during the new coronavirus pandemic in South Asia, a region which is still battling the impact of the disease.

According to the Election Commission, the polls saw 71 percent voting – slightly higher than the previous elections – as measures such as obligatory wearing of masks, washing hands before entering the polling booths and maintaining one meter of distance from others did not deter voters from coming out in large numbers.

“We had hand sanitizers, encouraged people to maintain social distance, election officials were kept behind a plastic screen and people were told to bring their own pens (to fill the ballots),” Ratnajeevan Hoole, a member of the Election Commission, told EFE.

Hoole estimated that the measures may have cost the state around 10 billion Sri Lankan rupees (around $54 million), significantly higher than the estimated cost of 7 billion rupees assigned for the original election schedule in April, which was first postponed to June and subsequently to August as the pandemic intensified.

Sri Lanka deployed around 180,000 election workers and 44,000 counting officers in the election process, in which the results are expected to be announced on Thursday.

In order to boost participation, the Election Commission extended the voting times by an hour until 5 pm, so that the 2,779 voters currently under home-quarantine would be able to vote during the period.

However, around 2,000 citizens were unable to vote as they were housed in “quarantine centers across the country,” Hoole said.

“I was very confident to come and vote today. The government took necessary steps to keep the virus controlled till now,” 61-year-old K Kusumawathi – a voter in a Colombo suburb – told EFE.

In the elections, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka Popular Front) led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is up against former prime minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe’s United National Party as well as the Samagi Jana Balawegaya party of Sajith Premadasa, Gotabaya’s main rival in the November 2019 presidential elections.

The relatively low number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country have boosted President Rajapaksa’s image as an effective manager of the disease, with Sri Lanka reporting just 11 deaths and a total of 2,834 cases of the virus so far.

Kumara Perera, an SLPP sympathizer, told EFE that the government had showed that it could manage the pandemic “successfully,” and it also had “policies to uplift the economy,” justifying his decision to vote for the ruling party. EFE-EPA


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