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,
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.