Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will not be seeking a second term, paving the way for a record 35 candidates competing for the top job.
This year’s Sri Lankan presidential election on November 16 has a record 35 candidates vying for the top political spot in the country — nearly twice as many as the last poll in 2015.
There is only one round this election but, when polls open on Saturday morning, Sri Lankan's will vote for their candidate and rank their top three.
This will help determine the winner if no candidate secures over half the first-place votes.
With a record 26-inch-long ballot paper to accommodate a large number of candidates and possible second counting of preferential votes, the counting is expected to take more time than previous elections.
There is one female candidate in the race. There are also two Buddhist monks, four people from the predominantly Buddhist country's Muslim minority and two Tamils in the mix.
Nearly 16 million out of Sri Lanka’s total population of 21 million will be eligible to vote in the election.
The South Asian island has experienced political turmoil in recent months. The ethno-religious cracks deepened after the Daesh-inspired Easter Sunday attacks in April that killed at least 259 people.
Incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena’s legacy has also been tarnished by a constitutional crisis late in 2018, which left the country in a political stalemate for 51 days.
In the last week of his presidency, Sirisena pardoned the scion of a wealthy Sri Lankan family. Jude Shramantha Jayamaha was convicted in 2015 and put on death row for murdering Yvonne Jonsson. His release took place amid public uproar.
These are the top three contenders for the presidency and the only female candidate:
Sajith Premadasa, frontman for the UNP
Sajith Premadasa is contesting for the New Democratic Front (NDF), a broad alliance led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — a centre-right, pro-Western, pro-business political party.
Premadasa, who is the housing and cultural minister, pledges to eradicate poverty and improve housing under the slogan “shelter for all at 2025.”
His manifesto also promises to refocus Sri Lanka’s security policy and introduce tough laws to tackle religious extremism and terrorism. The current government has been criticised for a massive intelligence lapse in failing to thwart Easter Sunday attacks.
Premadasa has identified religious extremism, illegal drugs and corruption as three issues that require urgent attention.
His platform says new laws under him will allow better monitoring, investigation and prosecution of religious extremists, and will provide severe penalties for hate speech and misinformation.
Premadasa is also calling for a clean up of his own party and vowed to purge key ministers of Wickremesinghe's government.
Born in Colombo in 1967, Premadasa also enjoys popularity among the rural poor and ethnic minorities.
His father, former president Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed by a Tamil Tiger rebel suicide bomber in 1993.
Gota Rajapaksa, the defence secretary with a chequered past
Former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), is the other leading contender. The SLPP was established in 2015, spearheaded by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya's brother.
Gotabaya was the top defence official during the last few years of the 27-year-long civil war, which ended in 2009.
Under their watch, the military defeated the LTTE terrorist organisation, which was fighting for an independent state for minority ethnic Tamils.
But Sri Lankan forces at the time were accused by human rights groups of targeting hospitals and killing civilians and militants who surrendered to the military at the end of the war.
Gota — as he is informally known — promises to rehabilitate and release all imprisoned military personnel accused of abuses in the country's civil war as well as former LTTE rebels jailed for their war-time actions.
Gotabaya says if he wins, he will order a new probe into the Easter Sunday blasts. He also vows to undo the government’s agreement with the UN Human Rights Council to investigate crimes committed during the civil war.
But with his emphasis on discipline and advocating for a security state, critics fear another Rajapaksa presidency will create an atmosphere of fear.
Gotabaya has accused the Sirisena government of pandering to the nation’s Buddhist majority voters by focusing on ethnic reconciliation and human rights to the detriment of national security in the nation.
Gota is suspected to be behind the men in mysterious white vans who whisked away rebel suspects, journalists and other government critics while his brother Mahinda was in power.
He is facing a legal case on misappropriating state funds and allegations of human rights abuses when he was defence chief.
Anura Dissanayake, looking to save his party’s face
Anura Dissanayake, one leader of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), is being promoted by a group of university teachers and professionals. This is JVP’s first presidential candidate in 20 years.
But Dissanayake hails from a party with a problematic past. For one, the JVP was responsible for two insurrections in Sri Lanka, in 1971 and 1987-1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
Dissanayake has changed JVP’s tack in recent years. He has, for one, officially apologised for his party’s hand in the insurrection and has also committed to providing support for the LGBTQIA+ community — a first in Sri Lankan politics.
Dissanayake has pledged to purge the country of corruption, provide the working class with a better economy and follow non-aligned foreign policy.
Under a Dissanayake government, the country will “refrain from handing over or leasing long term any natural resource or the land of the country to any foreign country or an institution.”
This is notable because the former and previous governments have signed or negotiated deals permitting foreign governments and institutions to build on their soil.
He has also pledged to abolish the controversial executive presidential system, improve women’s rights and has advocated for a clean environment.
Ajantha Perera, the only woman candidate
Perera, 56, is an academic, a scientist and an environmentalist, who is backed by the Socialist Party.
On her agenda are women’s issues, debt relief from China and bringing an end to corruption, saying that she will not allow politicians to continue to rob the country.
The daughter of a diplomat, Perera was educated abroad for most of her youth.
She recently founded the National Programme on Recycling of Solid Waste, earning her the nickname the "Garbage Queen."