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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 14:47 GMT
Q&A: Sri Lanka's election
Sri Lanka's voters go to the polls on Wednesday after one of the most violent campaigns in history and against a background of continuing civil conflict and political deadlock over constitutional reform. BBC News Online looks at some of the key facts and issues at stake.

How many parties are competing?

There are 49 officially recognised political parties and 120 independent political groups, fielding a total of 4,610 candidates.

Voter turn-out in Sri Lankan general elections is traditionally high - between 80% to 90% of the 12.04m people entitled to vote in the polls.

Who are the main parties?

The People's Alliance (PA) is a coalition of around 7 parties.

By far the most powerful party within it is the Sri Lankan Freedom Party of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. She is the domineering presence, not just in the SLFP but in the coalition as a whole.

Policeman with ballot box
Voter turnout is usually high

The president is finance minister and defence minister and has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers.

Under Sri Lanka's state of emergency, she also has the power to introduce legislation by-passing parliament.

Even if her party loses the election, she will remain in office until 2005.

The United National Party (UNP) is regarded as more right wing than the PA.

It is led by Ranil Wickremasinghe who has criticised President Kumaratunga's handling of the economy and the war against the Tamil Tigers.

The UNP say they are prepared to hold peace negotiations with the rebels, whereas the government has placed more emphasis on defeating them militarily.

Other parties contesting seats in the Sinhalese areas of the country are the left wing Peoples' Liberation Front (or JVP), the right wing Sihala Urumaya and the Muslim - National Unity Alliance.

In Tamil majority areas, the recently formed four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) could win seats.

How are the MPs elected?

There are 225 MPs in Sri Lanka, who are elected according to the country's distinctive form of proportional representation. The nine provinces of Sri Lanka are divided into districts.

Under what's called the "Bonus Vote System", the party that wins the most votes in each district gets a proportional number of seats in parliament, plus one bonus seat which is awarded automatically.

There are 29 MPs who win a seat in parliament on the national list: they are elected in proportion to the number of seats won by their party.

So, for example, if the People's Alliance wins the most number of seats in parliament, it will be entitled to select the largest number of national list MPs.

Sri Lanka's PR system also has a cut-off point which prevents smaller parties from being elected.

What are the main issues?

The separatist war.

For the last 18 years, Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the country. Around 60,000 people have died.

Soldier by bunker`
The war is a key issue
President Kumaratunga's efforts to reform the constitution.

The president wants to introduce a new constitution that would allow the regions of Sri Lanka - including Tamil majority areas - to have more autonomy. By giving more devolution she hope that support for a separate Tamil state may begin to wane.

The economy.

The opposition says that the economy - widely acknowledged to be the most liberalised in South Asia - is under performing.

The government says that unemployment has been reduced and that growth will increase.

Do people vote along religious lines?


Although most people in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese Buddhists, their vote is likely to be divided primarily between the PA and the UNP.

Most Tamils in Sri Lanka are either Hindu or Roman Catholic.

There are various parties that represent them including the TNA - made up the Tamil United Liberation Front, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation, a faction of the Eelam Peoples' Revolutionary Liberation Front, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress - the EPDP, and the Democratic Peoples Liberation Front (which is the political wing of the Peoples' Liberation Organisation for Tamil Eelam).

The main battle for the Tamil vote is between the TNA and the EPDP.

Pundits expect the Muslim vote in Sri Lanka will be split between the two factions of the National Unity Alliance which have allied themselves with the two main political parties.

The Ceylon Workers Congress which represents Tamils of Indian descent, has shifted allegiance to the opposition UNP.

How soon does the outcome of the election become known?

Within 24 hours of polling.

Are there any election monitors to check that polling is free and fair?

There are numerous foreign election observers including delegations from the European Union and the Commonwealth.

There are also various Sri Lankan groups that will also be monitoring the polls which will be covered extensively by BBC radio and television and online.

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