Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Election officials transfer ballot boxes to a main counting center after the parliamentary election voting centers closed in Colombo on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.


Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

Updated 41 min 3 sec ago

Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

  • The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev
  • Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko said that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point

KIEV: More than 1,000 Jewish pilgrims who massed for several days along Ukraine’s border gave up hope of entering the country on Friday after being turned back due to coronavirus restrictions.
The Orthodox-Jewish believers including hundreds of children camped out this week in no-man’s land between the Ukrainian and Belarusian border crossings ahead of Jewish New Year celebrations this weekend.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev.
Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko told AFP Friday that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point.
Belarus, which earlier said the pilgrims should be allowed to visit holy sites in Ukraine, confirmed that fewer than a dozen people were attempting to cross.
Belarus’s Border Committee representative Anton Bychkovskiy said pilgrims were “leaving the border en masse” and traveling onwards to nearby cities by bus and taxi.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday wished Jews a happy New Year and acknowledged the country had been “forced to limit mass events” over safety concerns.
The believers — mainly Israeli, but also American and French — departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month urged them not to travel because of the pandemic.
An Israeli minister on Thursday called on those camping out on the border to return home and uphold quarantine rules on arrival in Israel.
Kiev closed its borders for most of the month of September citing a growing number of coronavirus infections, but the pilgrims attempted to bypass the restrictions by traveling through Belarus.
Ukrainian border guards announced Friday they had arrested several pilgrims, including Israeli and US citizens, trying to enter the country illegally from Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Kiev has reported more than 169,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,468 fatalities. On Thursday, officials registered a record one-day increase in infections.
The standoff on the border aggravated strained ties between Kiev and Minsk, which have traded barbs over disputed presidential elections in Belarus last month.
Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko earlier instructed officials to negotiate a travel corridor with Ukraine and offered to provide buses to transport religious believers to holy sites in Ukraine.
Kiev in turn accused Belarusian authorities of giving false hope to the Hasidic pilgrims that they would be allowed to travel to Uman.
Both Ukraine and Israel are keen to avoid a spike in coronavirus infections.
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown on Friday to tackle one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates, despite public protests over the new blow to the economy.
The three-week shutdown starts just hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Meanwhile, up to 3,000 Hasidic Jews have arrived in Uman for the celebrations entering Ukraine before the ban, police said.
Law enforcement has tightened security near Rabbi Nahman’s tomb where pilgrims have congregated.