As Sri Lankans voted to elect a new president, the BBC News website hosted a live link-up with voters in the capital Colombo.
The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder spent the afternoon on Galle Face Green in Colombo asking a group of voters questions sent in by readers from around the world.
The fate of the fragile peace process, the economic crisis and disputes over where tsunami aid goes were all issues that featured highly in the debate.
Read on to see how the day unfolded.
2000 local time
By Sanjoy Majumder, Colombo
The sun has set over the Indian Ocean on what has been a remarkable day.
Sanjoy Majumder spoke to voters on Colombo's Galle Face Green
Throughout the afternoon a group of Sri Lankans from different ethnic backgrounds, with vastly different points of view and voting for different candidates have sat in one group and debated over the various issues confronting this beautiful island nation that has been devastated by conflict and, more recently, by the tsunami.
The most educating moment for me was to hear Padmashantha, the JVP supporter, articulate his views quite clearly and confidently. It was obvious that this is a nationalist vision that is shared by an influential minority of Sri Lankans.
Yet, he was heard in patience, and not once did it disrupt the discussions. If debate comes so naturally to this group, why is it so difficult for the nation's leaders?
Galle Face Green has sprung to life. The little food stalls are brightly lit, Sri Lankans of all backgrounds - Muslims, Sinhalese, Tamils, Christians - are out enjoying the spectacular sunset and the gentle breeze. Tomorrow they will have a new president.
The Colombo beachfront is peaceful after the close of polls
It will be the start of a new era - one that could prove decisive for the future of this country. For now, they can only gaze out at sea - and wait.
1800 - 1900 local time
QUESTION: The people of Sri Lanka need a leader that will give them peace. A beautiful land with wonderful people that deserves peace and harmony - which candidate has the countries real interest at heart ?
Jean Felton, Jersey
I am very nervous about the outcome. I am a supporter of Mahinda Rajapakse and a lot is riding on this election. I will not be able to sleep tonight. Right now I am going to my club to meet my friends and find out the latest.
There is no question in my mind that a Mahinda presidency would be a disaster for Sri Lanka. The economy will be badly affected. And there is every possibility of war. If cannot resume the peace process, the future looks bleak.
I found Padmashantha's comments on the JVP and LTTE interesting. It is a typical reaction from JVP supporters. But it is naive. No armed group in the world has laid down arms before reaching the negotiating table. It would be foolish on their part. It is their ace - why would they put it down?
QUESTION: Which candidates in your opinion is more effective, not only in words but towards upgrading and developing the country's future?
J Muneswaran, Penang Malaysia
Air force member Priyanth Karunaratne wants to see and end to war
Priyanth Karunaratne, 35, Sri Lankan air force:
I believe Ranil Wickramasinghe has the vision which is best for our country. We need someone who will push for peace and end the fighting. Me and my friends in the air force and army - we are brave people, but we don't like to face the war. We cannot succeed. It should end.
1700 - 1800 local time
QUESTION: Hi Nimalka, In one of your comments you said that you are worried about Tamils
joining the Indians to eliminate the Sinhalese. Did you forget that the Indians joined have joined forces with the Sinhalese in the past? Think positive.
The issue here is that the sense of insecurity that majority Sinhalese feel is that most of the LTTE training camps were in India.
This is not my position but this is a feeling that Sinhala extremists sometimes propagated.
There is a sense in the Sinhalese community that the LTTE training camps were in India. This is not my view but it is one that was propagated by Sinhala extremists. Sri Lanka also has a history of invasions from Tamil kings in India like the Cholas and the Pandians.
Whenever the question of Tamil self-rule comes up, these histories are retold by such groups to instil a sense of insecurity. There is a sense that the Tamils have a community in India that will come to their aid.
That was the point I was trying to make.
QUESTION: Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe has said that if he wins the elections, he will invite the opposition to work with him in getting Sri Lanka (mainly the peace process and economy) back on track. How do you view this idea?
Dinal Edirisinghe, Cairo
I think inviting them to work together is brilliant - we need that very badly. Whether they will do it is another question. In my opinion, the JVP is very unlikely to support the idea. But there is every possibility the SLFP may join and I am also optimistic of the JHU. It's a very good idea.
QUESTION: How do you suggest we set about achieving peace at "no" cost (as you have mentioned)? Haven't we all paid enough for it? Do you think the JVP will bring what's in the best interest of both Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka? Do you think the LTTE will be willing to negotiate (if at all anyone ) with the JVP? Do you think going back to war will bring us all peace?
If there is a separatist movement in the country, the first thing they should do is disarm. The question is, will the LTTE disarm? Why should a government in power be subservient or so frightened of an armed group which is only a minority? There are similar separatist groups popping up all over the country. Should we appease them?
Padmashantha discusses his support for the JVP party
If the LTTE wants to achieve its goal, it should come into the democratic framework and take part in elections to prove that it commands a majority.
Do you think the LTTE will do that if Mahinda wins the presidency?
If Wickramasinghe comes to power, due to the influence and recognition of the LTTE he will have to give them power. The elected president should have the power to force the LTTE to lay down arms. We shouldn't be negative. There is every possibility that the LTTE will lay down arms.
Anyone who thinks that does not know the nature of the LTTE. If the Sri Lankan government or army had the capacity to do that, we would not have had this problem today. The ground reality is that the LTTE are in a position of power.
I think it is possible. The NGOs who came to Sri Lanka after 1983 have contributed to the growth of the LTTE since then. During one of the military operations in the 80s, the armed forces came very close to capturing the LTTE leadership. But due to the international pressure the military was unable to do this. Many NGOs support the LTTE's position. They promote the idea of a separate identity for the LTTE and they are responsible for giving the LTTE recognition and influence.
QUESTION: Mr Gunawardene, What makes you think that Mahinda Rajapakse's approach is likely to deliver results especially for the economy or to solve the ethnic conflict? What approach is his?
Sujith Joseph, London, UK
I believe that Mahinda Rajapakse is as sincere and as likely to solve the conflict as Ranil Wickramasinghe. We all know that what is said at the time of election and what comes after is different. Before the election there is a lot of rhetoric which is meant for the consumption of the voter.
But this time the situation is different. Mahinda, if elected, will have to depend on the JVP in parliament. Because all presidents need parliamentary support to push their decisions through. The JVP is very clear that it is opposed to a federal state, that there can be no negotiation with the LTTE unless it puts down arms. That is a non-starter. The LTTE will never agree to negotiations on these terms.
QUESTION: Is this election a standard routine for you or is it one that you are taking part in with a REAL hope of the country's ultimate problem, the civil war?
Mayooran Shanmuganathan, London, UK
This is a presidential election which is completely different from the parliamentary ones which we've had in the recent few years. The last presidential election was held six years ago. During presidential elections, we can influence policy and articulate it quite directly.
For me this is the single most important election in Sri Lanka. It will determine the future direction of this country - youth policies, ethnic, economic, social issues and so on.
But specifically since it's taking place in a post-conflict zone, it is very crucial
1600 - 1700 local time
Throughout the day, we kept getting updates on the situation in the north. After initial reports of a boycott, one of the participants, Dimuth, got a call from a friend suggesting that voting had begun.
The role of Buddhist monks in Sri-Lankan politics is controversial
But a few hours later, it was quite apparent that there had been an effective boycott.
Suddenly, the feeling of enthusiasm, of interest dissipated and the group became despondent. The general view was that it was simply incorrect not to allow voting in the north.
QUESTION: Having been looking at the political situation in Sri Lanka, what is the general feeling about the Tamil Tigers and their hold on the North? Is it true that despite setting up road blocks, they are allowing anyone to pass through to vote without persecution?
Andy Butt, Leeds
I believe the presidential system of governance gives the minority a greater stake. Their votes are extremely decisive in the final outcome. And I think they should use it to their advantage. The minority have a big role to play.
I agree. Presidential elections cannot be won without minority support. So every candidate is forced to take up minority issues, to appeal to the minority. But if they (the minority) don't vote now, then they may be ignored by candidates in the future.
QUESTION: I was in Sri Lanka this summer. I miss it. Anyway, I was doing some work with the people in the tsunami camps while I was there. Why you feel so many people are still in camps, 11 months on? Who do you think is to blame for hold-ups? Have men and women been equally affected? How can recovery lead to development? How could the government do better?
Emma Figures, Cambridge, UK
The fact is that despite the tsunami having struck several months ago, no one has really worked for the displaced. Many of them are stuck in temporary shelter, wondering when they will get out. There has been some assistance from NGOs in providing shelter. But more than 500,000 have been displaced.
I feel the problem was that people didn't realise that Sri Lanka is a post-conflict zone and therefore distributing aid here has certain problems which have to be addressed. There was enough aid promised by the donor agencies but because of a lack of administrative machinery it was not used.
It's a question which is uppermost on the agenda for the incoming president. But the sad reality is that it's an issue that hardly figured during the campaign. No one has looked into the question of rehabilitation. And international support is dwindling.
We need to keep international pressure on to ensure that the aid is properly disbursed. Five months ago the government implemented a rule which meant that you could not build 100 metres from the sea. Now, they have relaxed the rule.
Muslims were the worst sufferers, particularly in the east. No one even talks about this. And the condition of women after the tsunami is really bad - they are not consulted. one of the problems in rebuilding Sri Lanka after the tsunami is that the communities were not involved. Plans were made in Colombo - people's voices were not incorporated in these plans.
QUESTION: Tell me what will change after the voting. What can the normal person on the streets of Sri Lanka feel or see from the winning party within say, a year?
Kamal Hussain, London, UK
Hafila, 20, student:
Hafila says she is concerned about job prospects after college
I would like to see someone elected who can create jobs in this country. I am a student and I am very nervous about life after college. I can't see any prospects.
What is the point of asking us to become educated? I am a Muslim girl and my parents pushed for my education. What good is it if I can't earn a living? How can I help them?
QUESTION: Are women not involved in the political life in Sri Lanka? What is the condition like for women in general in Sri Lanka, in terms of professional life, equal rights, independency etc.? Is this a question of discussion for the elections?
Anna Gudmundson, London
I think women in Sri Lanka have been involved in political activities. In fact they were even involved in the freedom struggle. Sri Lanka can boast about having highly skilled and highly capable women.
They have a very active social life and involvement in social and political activities. There is no law that discriminates against them
But if you look at women's participation in decision-making, women's groups have been campaigning on this issue. In parliament out of 225 seats, you only have 12 women. This, despite having adult franchise since 1931. This is why we are far behind any of the South Asian countries.
1500 - 1600 local time
QUESTION: Does the common Sinhalese person on the street like to see the Tamils run their day-to-day affairs by themselves or would he/she like to see the government control it? Why?
Mayuran, Farnborough, UK
I think the test of the Sinhala mind will be revealed in these elections. It's as simple as that.
A significant portion of people voting for Mahinda do support devolution but not the extent of it. So I don't think it's right to say that you are for or against devolution or that you will support just one or the other.
QUESTION: Why are the Buddhist monks involved in politics?
Buddhist monks have always been involved in politics.
But not in party politics which is new
Not true. They always had party affiliations. It is like the RSS-BJP relations in India. Monks rose along with the emergence of fundamentalism here. Also a reaction to globalisation and cultural deterioration in Sri Lanka. So there was a cause for their emergence but then they became mere parliamentarians and became enmeshed in political manoeuvring. It is also clear now that lot of business people supported them.
I am a lay trustee of a Buddhist temple in Kandy so I have an interest in this issue. As far as the role of priests in ruling the country goes, since ancient times, priests who had credibility and certain stature were always involved in ruling the country.
But priests involved today have no credibility. Their knowledge of current affairs and world affairs is very poor. When you become a monk, you renounce the world and agree to live by a code of conduct. There is no way, a monk who has received ordination can function as an MP or a minister.
It is a violation of the code. So I feel that Buddhist monks who have credibility should be consulted in political affairs but should not take up political office.
I also think it emerged because a certain section of people felt that the parties did not represent them. So for the Sinhala Buddhist community the monks were an obvious choice
It is a very sad and unfortunate and dangerous phenomenon in our country. Ethnic and religious-based politics should be condemned and should be stopped. Personally I am against Buddhist monks in politics. They have no business in politics
I agree that ethnic politics has gone too far.
The fundamental problem is that we are not honest with each other as Sinhalas and Tamils. That is where disharmony starts.
I agree completely. And even the problems between the Christians and Buddhists is a dangerous trend
QUESTION: Why shouldn't Tamils have their own way (autonomy) if their aspirations and future in their own land is not met?
One of the things we all have to face as Sinhalese is that we face insecurity. We are a small island and there is a large Tamil state in India next to us.
So there is this fear that the Sri Lankan Tamils could get together with the Indian Tamils against us. This is a reality. India, being much larger, interplays with this.
Unlike Tamils and the Arabs, the Sinhalese do not feel they are part of a larger forum, which is why they resist giving Tamils what is their right.
That is why we say the Sinhalas are a majority with a minority complex. [Laughter from the gathering]. But I also think Tamils have a responsibility to tell the Sinhalese that we are only asking for genuine political powers - not to overthrow Sinhalas. We need to assure them that these fears are misplaced
I think the solution lies in more interaction. We need to get together more. We always have the Sinhalese on one side, the Tamils on the other. We are not going to change any perceptions if we don't start talking.
1400 - 1500 local time
QUESTION: This is a question for Rajitha. You say Ranil is good for the economy. But successive UNP governments wrote off billions of rupees of taxes for business. What makes you think it will be different this time round?
Ajith Dharmakeerthi, Enfield, UK
When the UNP last came to power, Sri Lanka was in recession. Within their brief time in office they brought the country back in a positive direction and showed 5% growth. This was done through proper fiscal management and discipline.
But the present government in their one year in office has taken us back to the old days.
They have taken irresponsible decisions on farm subsidies. The UNP will introduce a proper and professional way of running the country.
Despite the intense heat as we sit facing the Indian Ocean, there is an extremely vibrant discussion on here between Azam, Nimalka, Dimuth, Keethaponcalan and Balakrishnan.
Nimalka says she is curious to find out who Chandrika has voted for
There's a general sense that the election is too close too call. Dimuth has spoken to friends who say that Jaffna residents have now come out to vote.
Nimalka is very curious about who Chandrika [the current and outgoing president] voted for - everybody, in chorus, said "Ranil". Ranil Wickramasinghe is the opposition candidate. Keethaponcalan says there is no way she could have voted Mahinda, even though they belong to the same party.
He says a clear signal has gone out to her supporters to pitch behind Ranil. Dimuth adds that many traditional SLFP voters in some areas near Kandy are just not turning out
QUESTION: Some Tamil people say that Tamils have been discriminated against in Sri Lanka. I would like to ask them then how come thousands are living in Colombo and the other parts of the south of Sri Lanka with the Sinhalese and peacefully?
I lived in Jaffna until 1995 after which I moved to Colombo. Tamils have been discriminated against for a long time on issues like university admission, employment and language. Its true that some 500,000 Tamils were displaced and forced to move to Colombo. I am one of them.
They are very appreciative of the way they have been treated by the Sinhalese people But prior to this conflict many Tamils and Sinhalese lived in different places peacefully. So this migration and displacement only began after the conflict.
Galle Face Green is where Colombo residents come to unwind
Many of them use Colombo as a staging point before heading abroad to Canada and Europe.
Many other Tamil youths have also come here seeking jobs. This is no permanent solution. Many of them would like to go back and live in Jaffna.
I am surprised that people can say Tamils and Sinhalese live in harmony in Colombo. It's a myth. They are civil to each other but that does not mean there is no problem.
You mean they co-exist but do not live in harmony.
Exactly. The sense of insecurity for Tamils is very high in Colombo. Anybody can be suspected of being linked to violent Tamil groups.
QUESTION: I would like to ask all voters the condition of life and security before 1977? The comparison till 2005 too please.
Life was much better. We didn't have armed conflict, people were not displaced, life was a lot secure there is no question
Life has improved after the ceasefire agreement
Economically though life today is different. We have become more capitalist and consumerist. But I really wonder if that's a solution to our problems. I don't know if it has bought us any security.
QUESTION: There are over one million Sri Lankans living and working overseas, people working sending money back home. The majority of these are people from poor quarters. Why is it that both main political parties have failed to arrange voting overseas ?
Dilshan Perera, Doha, Qatar
Sri Lanka has many burning issues this is not one of them. It may be important for expatriates but it is not necessary for us.
Azam Bakeer Markar, 22, corporate executive
But I agree with the questioner. It is their right which should be exercised. Somebody should have the political will to do so. It has been done in the Philippines. We should follow.
Nimalka Fernando, 50, lawyer
It is their fundamental right. In fact, the Philippines has a migrant as an electoral candidate.
I think the election laws should change.
1300 - 1400 local time
QUESTION: How's the voting going? I hope it will be a peaceful and legitimate election?
I spent some of the day driving around Colombo and the excitement is visible. There is such enthusiasm for this poll - people are animated, lining up to vote since morning. It's so good to see.
QUESTION: Is the "non-Contiguous unit for Muslims" possible inside the north and east of Sri Lanka, the so-called Tamil Homeland? If it is not, why has Ranil Wickramasinghe agreed to this?
Mathusena Lijanake, Washington, DC, United States
The Muslims in the east who have been victimised by the LTTE for a long time have been asking for a separate administrative unit to ensure that they are not ruled by the LTTE. We are not sure if the LTTE will agree to it but it is a very fair proposition given the condition they are in (they make up a third of the population in the east).
Incidents like the Skattankudi mosque massacre is still fresh in the Muslim mind. (It was allegedly carried out by the LTTE against Muslims in the 1990s).
Muslims felt it was an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
QUESTION: The JVP caused tremendous destruction in the nation and disabled our economy by killing thousands of innocents and halting the daily life of the public. How can we ever trust them? A wolf, even in sheep's clothes, is still a wolf.
Milroy de Silva, Colombo
In the past governments of this country have not been interested in educating Sri Lankans or providing jobs for everybody. Instead they banned the JVP, which is why they were forced to take arms. From my experience, the JVP has our interests at heart.
They have helped farmers and people living in the countryside. JVP MPs do not accept a salary. That has impressed me. Many of them have really helped people like me in my district in Uwa province 260km from Colombo - very poor people live there but it has a lot of potential in agriculture.
QUESTION: My only link to Sri Lanka was as a visitor, five years ago. I would love to return but what can I expect? Have living conditions improved for ordinary people? Can I go out and enjoy without worrying about safety or feeling guilty about the poverty I might encounter?
Joseph Dolan, Glasgow, UK
The areas which you as a foreigner will visit are clean and good and safe. The government has taken care of that. But if you step outside the main business district of Colombo into the suburbs or even into the rural areas, you will see a lot of poverty and underdevelopment, particularly in the tsunami-affected areas. People in Colombo have money, but not those living outside.
QUESTION: The country is in ruins with the existing political party in power. Mahinda Rajapakse as the prime minister has not done much. What confidence do you have, that he will prove worthy if re-elected?
Hisham, Liverpool, U.K
I agree that the country is in ruins but that is not only because of the party in power. All the political parties since independence are responsible for the debacle we are in today. And we the people of Sri Lanka are also to blame. We are very passive, we don't participate in the political position.
Mahinda's situation was unique as a prime minister. The Sri Lankan PM is a figurehead with almost no executive power. So he couldn't do much in that position. Both candidates, whoever becomes president, will be able to achieve much more as executive president.
I believe there is no question that Mahinda is winning. I have spoke to people in my district, Monaragala , and the support for him there is massive. After his win, I believe the JVP will act responsibly to support his government.
QUESTION: Does the average person in a place like Galle face care about the ethnic problem?
K L Reddy, Richmond, Virginia USA
Bandula de Silva says that tsunami aid concerns southerners more than ethnic issues
Bandula de Silva, 55, from Hikkaduwa, near Galle:
People in the south are more concerned about tsunami aid and how to rebuild their lives. The ethnic question is not such a big issue down there.
QUESTION: Tell me what will change after the voting. What can the normal person on the streets of Sri Lanka feel or see from the winning party within say, a year?
Kamal Hussain, London
Muthukumar Anton, 36:
If Ranil comes to power things can change. He says he is for peace. If that happens, then money used for weapons can be used for development. Investors will also send money. It will be good for the economy.
QUESTION: In other South Asian states, corruption is sometimes an electoral issue. To what extent does it feature as an issue in this campaign?
Alan Strathern, London
It is an issue which features during elections and then fades away. Even if Sri Lanka is not as corrupt as some of the neighbouring countries, it exists. But nobody really wants to deal with it.
1200 local time
By Sanjoy Majumder, Colombo
It has been a beautiful, clear morning in Colombo. After several days of overcast skies and rain, the sun is out.
All is peaceful on a clear morning as Sri Lanka goes to the polls
Driving out in the morning along the seafront, along Galle Face Green, I saw early morning joggers and others out for a stroll in front of a shimmering, blue sea.
Galle Face Green is where Sri Lankans come out after a hard day's work. Stretched out in front of the Indian Ocean, it was once a parade ground for British soldiers.
People come here for romantic trysts, to eat at one of the many brightly-lit food stalls or simply to enjoy the sea view.
As they go to the polls today many say they are tired of frequent elections. But they are also worried of a return to civil war, after a recent spurt in violence.
There are quite a few policemen around but there is a serenity in the air that suggests all are at peace.
Sister Lydwina wants a leader who will look after the masses
This was the sentiment as we drove into a polling station at the edge of Cinnamon Gardens, an affluent, leafy neighbourhood.
Many of the people here are wealthy and influential, likely to be the opinion-makers in this country.
As they queued up patiently to cast their votes, they were all clear about one thing. They want peace.
"We desperately need peace," said 21-year-old Dasitha Edagale. "No more fighting, enough is enough. Now we need to move ahead."
Sister Lydwina was also clear about the kind of leader she wants.
"My hope is that we'll get a leader who will look after all Sri Lankans without favouritism. One who will work for the masses, especially the tsunami victims."
North Colombo, beyond the port, is considerably poorer.
Rasa Manickam is pinning his hopes on Ranil Wickramasinghe
It is a holiday today and the boys of the nearby shantytown are using the opportunity to play a game of cricket.
Voting is heavy in the only polling station in the area. Many of the voters are women, jostling playfully as they line up in their bright dresses.
With wide smiles they approach the ballot box.
Rasa Manickam, a Tamil, has come to vote with his one-year-old grandson.
"I am hoping Ranil [Wickramasinghe - the opposition leader] will win. We are pinning our faith in him," he says.
Now on Galle Face Green people are gathering to debate the day's pressing issues - unemployment, rising prices and politics.