Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

Sri Lankan police and electoral officials collect ballot papers and boxes from a distribution center on Friday for their respective polling stations. AFP
Updated 16 November 2019

Tight security as 16 million Sri Lankans prepare to vote

  • Police, civil defense deployed with warning to crack down on protests 

COLOMBO: More than 16 million Sri Lankans will go to the polls to elect the country’s president on Saturday amid heightened security.

About 60,000 policemen and 8,000 civil defense personnel have been deployed across the island while voting takes place, police media spokesperson SSP Ruwan Gunasekara told Arab News.

More than 200,000 government officials have been deployed on election duty as the counting of votes takes place at 43 centers, while more than 125 foreign observers representing the EU and Commonwealth will also monitor the poll.

The government has spent $42 million to implement a secret ballot system for the 35 candidates at 12,845 polling centers, according to Sri Lanka’s Election Commission.

The winning candidate needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to assume office. Counting will start soon after the poll ends.

The ballot paper also lets voters pick their three top choices to help determine the winner if no candidate secures the first place by mark.  

“The first results of the presidential election 2019 can be expected by midnight on Saturday,” Mahinda Deshapriya, the Election Commission chairman, said on Friday.

Authorities have also told police to thwart protests during the election silence period that began on Wednesday.

“The commission has no intention to obstruct freedom of expression by blocking any social media, but it might be compelled to do so if the situation becomes worse or uncontrollable,” Deshapriya said.

He said that the commission had written to Facebook asking the platform to remove any paid or sponsored advertisements for candidates.

The Sri Lanka Transport Board will deploy 5,800 buses for election duties, including transporting ballot boxes and officials.

Special bus services will operate from Friday to cater to people traveling to their villages to cast votes.

Al-Sheikh A.C. Agar Mohamed, deputy chairman of All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told Arab News that it was mandatory for voters to prove their identity when entering a polling booth.

Muslim women who wear the veil have been asked to cooperate with officers by revealing their face to confirm their identity,
he said.

Print and electronic media have been barred from taking pictures of political leaders entering polling stations, Information Director-General Nalaka Kaluwewa said.

However, pictures of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya will be taken while casting their vote by official photographers, he said.

The two top candidates are former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.


Ukraine to press for plane crash black boxes as Iran minister visits

Updated 20 January 2020

Ukraine to press for plane crash black boxes as Iran minister visits

  • Ukraine’s foreign minister said returning the black boxes would show that Iran wanted an unbiased investigation of the crash
  • The plane disaster has heightened international pressure on Iran

KIEV: Ukraine will press Iran to hand over the black boxes from the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane at a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation on Monday, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told reporters.
Ukraine would convey the message to visiting Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, that returning the black boxes would show that Iran wanted an unbiased investigation of the crash, Prystaiko said.
“His main task is to apologize and acknowledge what happened. We hope that we can go a little further than just political discussions and discuss practical problems. Among them in particular is the return of the black boxes,” Prystaiko said.
Iran had said on Sunday it was trying to analyze the black boxes from the airliner its military shot down this month, denying an earlier report it would hand them to Ukraine. All 176 aboard the flight died.
“At first they stated that they were handing them over, then the same person stated that they were not handing them over. This created some misunderstanding in Ukraine and we were starting to be asked: are they being handed over or not?“
Many of those killed had were Iranians with dual citizenship, but Iran does not recognize dual nationality and on Monday said it would treat the victims as Iranian nationals.
Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, said there were still no firm plans for downloading the recorders. Ottawa and other capitals have called for the black boxes to be sent abroad.
The Jan. 8 plane disaster has heightened international pressure on Iran as it grapples with a long-running dispute with the United States over its nuclear program and its influence in the region that briefly erupted into open conflict this month.
The Iranian military has said it downed Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in error in the aftermath of tit-for-tat strikes by the United States and Iran. But authorities delayed admitting this, prompting days of protests on Iran’s streets.
Ukraine held a ceremony at Kiev’s Boryspil airport on Sunday as the bodies of 11 citizens, including nine crew, were returned to Ukraine.