Sri Lanka heads to polls as Rajapaksa seeks return

Sri Lankans queue up for their long-awaited parliamentary elections as controversial former President Rajapaksa hopes to make comeback as prime minister

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Sri Lankan voters waiting for their turn to vote at a polling center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015

Sri Lanka started voting on Monday to elect a new parliament, which appears to be more like a referendum for the future of ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who plans a return as prime minister after being defeated by Maithripala Sirisena in the January presidential elections.

The country deployed thousands of police on Sunday due to the violence during the past election campaigns that had caused the death of four people.

Being the center figure of the elections, Rajapaksa, who has in the past served as president and prime minister, is praised by the country’s Buddhist majority for ending the Tamil uprising. But others accuse him of corruption, brutality and committing war crimes.

Recently, Rajapaksa was also shocked by the allegations that he was behind the death of former national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen. The player’s remains were exhumed on August 10 after suspicions about his death were linked to an argument between him and one of Rajapaksa’s sons.

On the other hand, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the current prime minister appointed by president Sirisena, is willing to form the next government with his United National Party (UNP) with the support of Tamil and Muslim parties that despise the former president.

Wickremesinghe, had described Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback effort "an attempt to resurrect the politically dead" at his final press conference before the vote, while Sirisena called the campaign “blatant racism” in a letter leaked last week.

The general election results are to be announced on Tuesday, the election had been postponed several times by president Sirisena.

For many Sri Lankans, the election is also a vote on the country’s war-torn history and hopes for a better future after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.

The conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils had ended in 2009, after more than 25 years of violence with an estimated 80,000–100,000 people killed during the period.

TRTWorld and agencies