Skip to main content

Long queues as Sri Lankans cast votes

By Sara Sidner, CNN
Click to play
Sri Lanka's historic election
  • Long queues lead to polling booths in Sri Lanka as country votes for new president
  • It's the first presidential election since the end of the civil war which lasted almost 26 years
  • Frontrunners are incumbent President Mahnida Rajapaksa and retired Army General Sarath Fonseka
  • Analysts say minority Tamil community may cast the deciding vote

Yakkala, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Elderly ladies with canes hobble up to the line in the scorching sun. They stand alongside voters half their age at a polling station just outside the Sri Lankan capital.

All are showing the same determination to do their civic duty and vote in the first presidential election since the end of the country's near 26-year civil war. Voters here will wait about 35 minutes to cast ballots because the lines are so long.

"This is a very important election," says a grandmother who is holding her grandchild's hand as she waits.

Here it seems voting is a family affair. Families bring their children along and wait patiently. There is one line for women and another for men and everything is orderly at this polling location.

People are calm and serious. There are a few police officers carrying their rifles strapped across their bodies slowly pacing around the polling station.

What will Sri Lankan election mean?

It is the first time voters have gone to the polls to decide a new president since the government defeated the last of theTamil Tiger rebels last May, ending a civil war that spanned one quarter of a century.

In most of the country things have been calm but early in the morning several explosions in Jaffna, Sri Lanka's northern peninsula, jarred resident awake.

Some find the explosions very suspicious, wondering if they were meant to scare Tamils away from the polls.

The Tamil vote, analysts say, could decide the election because the Majority Sinhala population may split their vote between the two front runners: incumbent President Mahnida Rajapaksa and retired Army General Sarath Fonseka. Both men claim war hero status after winning the civil war.

The minority Tamil community has long felt oppressed or disregarded by the majority Sinhala government. That is why some find it terribly ironic that the very citizens who suffered the most casualties during the war and have felt left out of the political process -- caught in between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces -- now have important political power, at least for a day.

But some Tamils say they don't see the point in voting in this election because they view both men with suspicion.

"No matter who comes to power things will be the same for us," Sallaiya Jeganathan, a Tamil shop owner told CNN.