Tense peace reigns as Sri Lanka heads to polls

January 24, 2010 (AFP) – War-scarred Sri Lanka holds a peace-time presidential election this week after a bitter and highly personal campaign between the architects of the crushing of an almost four-decade-long insurgency.

President Mahinda Rajapakse will face his former army chief Sarath Fonseka on Tuesday in an intriguing contest between two men who were victorious allies on the battlefield last year but are now sworn enemies at the ballot box.

There are no reliable opinion polls in the country and political observers say the election is too close to call. Both camps believe they can claim a majority in the voting by the 14.08-million-strong electorate.

Rajapakse and Fonseka wiped out the Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year, ending their 37-year violent struggle for a Tamil homeland that left between 80,000 and 100,000 people dead, according to UN estimates.

“We are having the first presidential election without the Tigers calling the shots,” said moderate Tamil politician, Dharmalingam Sithadthan. “There could be residual Tiger influence, but they no longer pose a threat.”

There is tension in Colombo, however, after Fonseka warned Saturday of violence and vote-rigging amid claims from the opposit