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  • A man walks past a poster of Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The former president is hoping to make a political comeback.

    A man walks past a poster of Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The former president is hoping to make a political comeback. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 August 2015

Sri Lankans are voting in parliamentary elections dominated by a fierce rivalry between two former political allies.

Polls opened Monday in Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections – a vote widely viewed as a referendum on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ambitions to return to power.

Rajapaksa lost the presidency to his former political ally Maithripala Sirisena in an election in January. However, just days into his term Sirisena called for early parliamentary elections, pointing to gridlock among legislators.

Monday's vote is expected to be split between Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party SLFP), and Sirisena's allies, the United National Party (UNP). Going into the vote, the UNP was the pundit favorite, and is largely predicted to secure a tight lead over the SLFP. However, that lead could be threatened by low voter turnout, with observers suggesting high abstention might tip the scales in favor of the SLFP.

“If there is an enthusiastic turnout, like there was in January, that could spell the end of (Rajapaksa's) political career but if in fact, there is an element of fatigue and many people stay away from the ballot box, that could give him a boost,” Al Jazeera quoted its correspondent Nidhi Dutt as stating.

Final results are due to be released Tuesday.

Ahead of the vote, Rajapaksa has expressed confidence his SLFP is set to make a comeback, despite his personal popularity being sapped in recent years by accusations that during his time in power he presided over widespread human rights abuses.

Opposition parties were infuriated by Rajapaksa's abolition of presidential term limits in 2010, though supporters say the move contributed to stabilizing the country as it looked to move forward after its 25-year civil war ended in 2009. In local elections in September 2013, support for Rajapaksa's ruling coalition – the United People's Freedom Alliance – fell by more than 20 percentage points.

The plummet was a far cry from the wave of popular support Rajapaksa enjoyed when he was elected to his second term in 2010. Just months before that election, Rajapaksa's administration ended Sri Lanka's decades old civil war with an overwhelming military victory over Tamil separatists.

However, since then the Sri Lankan government has been dogged by allegations from human rights groups it committed mass killings of ethnic Tamils in efforts to root out the militant group, the Tamil Tigers.

RELATED: Sri Lanka Torture of Tamils Persists Despite War’s End

A 2011 United Nations report estimated as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians were massacred in the final weeks of the war – almost all were killed by government forces. Rajapaksa's government has denied the allegations.

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