Kumaratunga wins 2nd term in Sri Lanka

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The Independent Online

President Chandrika Kumaratunga won a second term in office Wednesday, establishing an unassailable lead with the vote count nearly complete, according to results released by the Election Commission.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga won a second term in office Wednesday, establishing an unassailable lead with the vote count nearly complete, according to results released by the Election Commission.

But monitoring groups said the election was flawed by flagrant violations.

Mrs. Kumaratunga won 51.12 percent of the vote, well ahead of her nearest challenger Ranil Wickremesinghe, who garnered 42.7 percent, the commission said. The rest of the votes were won by nine other candidates and some of the ballots were invalidated.

A commission spokesman said all but "a very few" ballots - mainly from refugee camps - had been counted.

The result denied Mrs. Kumaratunga the sweeping mandate she sought when she called the election 11 months earlier than scheduled, and had far less than the landslide 62 percent she won in 1994.

Many voters apparently were disappointed that she had failed to fulfill her promise to end the war with the Tamil Tiger separatists. The conflict has instead grown more fierce.

An assassination attempt against Mrs. Kumaratunga Saturday appeared to have had little effect on voters. A suspected Tamil rebel died during an apparent suicide mission. Explosives were strapped to the woman's body.

Mrs. Kumaratunga was injured by the bomb and refused to leave her home Tuesday to cast her ballot, but other arrangements were made for her to vote.

The Commission said about 73 percent of the 11.7 million voters cast ballots, despite threats from Tamil rebels to disrupt the voting.

The independent Center for Monitoring Election Violence said the poll was marred by election violations, including systematic impersonations and ballot-stuffing.

"The result of this election has been irredeemably compromised," said the organization's director, Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu.

Because of irregularities, the monitors said the election should be nullified in the entire northeast region and polling should be held again. The northeast is the Tamil-dominated area where the rebels want to carve out an independent Tamil state.

Another monitor, Kingsley Rodrigo, said the center had received more than 350 complaints of election violations.

At least seven people died in poll violence.

In scattered election violence, three men believed to have been supporters of Mrs. Kumaratunga died when unidentified attackers threw hand grenades at them near the town of Dumbalasuriya, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Colombo. Another man died in the same area, and one was seriously wounded in a confrontation with police. Three more bodies were recovered across the country and police attributed the deaths to poll related violence.

A total of 11 candidates are in the race, but the real contest was between Mrs. Kumaratunga and opposition leader Wickremesinghe, who has rejected her approach to militarily crush the separatist rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam if they don't surrender their weapons and return to the negotiating table.

Tamil rebels are waging a war for an independent homeland for the country's minority Tamils. An estimated 61,000 people have died in the 16-year-old insurrection and 1.2 million have been made homeless in the island off India's southeast coast.

Tamils have a language, religion and culture distinct from that of the Sinhalese. The two groups have periodically fought over territory for 1,000 years.

Wickremesinghe has said he would abandon the military option and open unconditional peace talks with the Tamil Tigers, although he has not said what peace proposals he would offer the rebels.

Mrs. Kumaratunga has drawn up a constitutional reform package extending autonomy to the provinces, including the Tamil-dominated areas, in hopes of satisfying moderate Tamils.

After two bombings over the weekend by suspected Tamil rebels, Sri Lanka called in army and anti-terrorist commandos to beef up security across the island on polling day.

With the vote apparently split among the Sinhalese majority, minorities could determine the outcome. More than 12 percent of the electorate are Tamils who live in the districts Tamil rebels want for a homeland.