MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 16th November, 2019) Sri Lankans will go to the polls on Saturday to elect a president of this ethnically and religiously divided island nation that is also struggling to balance ties with two regional heavyweights, India and China.
Almost 16 million people are eligible to vote in the election. Polling places open at 7 a.m. local time (1:30 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. A candidate who gets over 50 percent of the vote wins, otherwise a runoff will be held.
Voters will be asked to pick from a field of 35 candidates, but two men are believed to have been running neck-and-neck in the past weeks, despite the absence of opinion polls.
Former Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been campaigning on promises to boost security after the devastating Easter Sunday bombings by Islamist extremists, and has the support of Buddhist voters.
A string of suicide bombings at hotels and churches last April killed more than 250 people across the country, destroying the nation's feeling of security and causing a surge in anti-Muslim sentiment.
Adding to Rajapaksa's image as defender of the Buddhist majority is his past of being in charge of crashing Tamil Tigers, rebels from a mostly Hindu ethnicity who fought a decades-long independence war against the central government.
The second frontrunner, Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa, has been vying to rally minorities and women behind him, while also appealing to the Buddhist base with promises of better life quality and more affordable housing.