Sri Lankans vote in large numbers despite the Covid-19 pandemic as the ruling Rajapaksa brothers sought to expand their mandate through the virus-delayed parliamentary polls.

A health official takes the temperature of election officials who arrive with ballot boxes from polling station to a counting center, after the voting ended during the country's parliamentary election in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 5, 2020.
A health official takes the temperature of election officials who arrive with ballot boxes from polling station to a counting center, after the voting ended during the country's parliamentary election in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 5, 2020. (Reuters)

Sri Lankans have voted to elect a new Parliament that is expected to give strong support to the powerful and popular Rajapaksa brothers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected last November after projecting himself as the only leader who could secure the country after the Daesh-inspired bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed 269 people.

His older brother, charismatic former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is seeking a majority of the 225 seats in Parliament to return as prime minister.

At least four members of the family were running in Wednesday's parliamentary election, and strong support for the Rajapaksas' party could add to their political dynasty.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka orders fresh probe into Easter suicide bombings

Largely peaceful

Police spokesman Priyantha Weerasuriya said the voting, which ended at 5 p.m., was largely peaceful and that police officers were escorting the ballot boxes to the counting centers.

Counting starts on Thursday and the final results are expected on Friday.

More than 16 million people were eligible to vote to elect 196 lawmakers, with the rest being named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party or independe nt group.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka President Gotabaya swears in brother Mahinda as new PM

Covid-19 delay

The election was originally scheduled for April but was twice postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Sri Lanka has largely contained the spread of the virus, with 2,834 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths.

Health measures were put in place at polling booths with social distancing.
Voters were asked to bring their own pens to mark their ballots, or use disinfected pens provided at voting stations.

Economic woes

Even with a super-majority, the incoming administration faces challenges.

The economy had scarcely recovered from the blow of the 2019 bombings before the coronavirus epidemic struck, prompting lockdowns that have still not been fully lifted.

Still, Sri Lanka appears to have escaped the worst of the contagion.

Test result figures are considered dubious by opposition parties, but authorities have reported just 11 deaths from fewer than 3,000 cases.

"They will win by a huge margin but the economic and social problems post-Covid-19 will be huge," said political analyst Kusal Perera.

The Asian Development Bank expects the island's economy to shrink by an unprecedented 6.1 percent this year.

Mahinda is expected to lean heavily on China for economic assistance, as he did during a decade as president until 2015, but also increasingly on neighbouring India.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka makes strong gains in the Human Development Index

Source: TRTWorld and agencies