Sri Lankans shook off concerns of the novel coronavirus and raced to polling stations on Wednesday to elect a new parliament that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hopes would pave the way for him to consolidate his forces. The tourism-dependent island nation of 21 million people has been struggling since deadly Islamist militant attacks on hotels and churches last year followed by lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Rajapaksa is seeking a two-thirds majority for his party in the 225-seat parliament to allow constitutional reforms to make the presidency more effective so he can enforce his economic and national security agenda. Voters, who wore masks and kept one metre apart, seemed keen to have their say with a third of the electorate casting ballots in the first four hours, the Election Commission said.
Sri Lanka had reported 2,828 cases of the coronavirus and 11 deaths as of Tuesday, which is small compared with other South Asian countries. Election officials wore transparent face shields while medical personnel were deployed to ensure voters abided by rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “The polling station is safer than the beach, the restaurant and the marketplace,” said the chairman of the Election Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya.