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Low turnout reported in Sri Lankan elections

Sri Lanka's main left-wing leader Somawansa Amarasinghe addresses media after casting his vote in Colombo on Thursday.
Sri Lanka's main left-wing leader Somawansa Amarasinghe addresses media after casting his vote in Colombo on Thursday.
  • Just over half of 14 million voters turn out for Sri Lanka's elections
  • Main contenders: incumbent UPFA and main opposition United National Front (UNF)
  • Third group's candidate Fonseka is running despite being in custody
  • Election is first in Sri Lanka since decades-long insurgency ended

Colombo, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Just over half of Sri Lanka's 14 million registered voters cast their votes in Thursday's parliamentary elections, the lowest in the island nation's history.

Elections Department officials, contrary to earlier practice, declared that they would announce the percentage who voted only with the results.

A police headquarters source in Colombo, which collated the figures, said 53.4 percent had voted countrywide. The People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) said voter turnout was between 50 and 52 percent.

Neither the competing political parties nor poll monitors have given the exact reasons for the low polling. However, voting came just a week ahead of the most widely observed holidays in Sri Lanka: the Sinhala and Hindu New Year on April 13 and 14. The festivities that spill over for days bring life to a virtual standstill.

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Both the polls and the festive season come for the first time since the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of President Mahinda Rajapaksa militarily defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May of last year. After that, Rajapaksa won a resounding victory at the January 26 presidential elections.

Under the 1978 Republican Constitution, this is the sixth parliamentary election. Analysts say Rajapaksa's UPFA, the main contender against the United National Front (UNF), was poised to win a majority of seats.

However, UNF leader Ranil Wickremasinghe declared Monday that his party was sure to win the largest number of seats. The third contender is the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), an alliance dominated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, or the Marxist People's Liberation Front).

The DNA is headed by retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who led troops to victory in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

He is being held at an annex in navy headquarters in Colombo and is facing charges of conspiracy and alleged fraudulent activity in military procurements. Fonseka is a candidate for the Colombo district, which he is billed to win.

Army and police escorted ballot boxes from polling stations to counting centers districtwide. Polling began at 7 a.m. Thursday and ended at 4 p.m. (6:30 a.m. ET). Election officials say the first results would be known by Friday morning.