COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan citizens voted for president on Saturday after a year of political collapse and deadly terrorist attacks. This could cause the polarizing Rajapaksa family to come back to power.
The two leading candidates are Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defense chief known for his fighting leadership, and Sajith Premadasa, son of a former president who was killed a decade ago during the country's long civil war.
Mr. Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then President of Sri Lanka, were credited with ending this civil war, but at a brutal cost: thousands of casualties and the spread of a muscular Sinhala Buddhist nationalism that continues today.
Shortly afterwards, the 70-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his intention to run for President. In Sri Lanka, a lush island south of India with Sinhalese language, many voters vowed to restore stability to the Buddhist majority and large Christian, Hindu and Muslim minorities.
But Mr. Rajapaksa is accused of violating human rights during the war he waged against Tamil Tiger rebels. There were also many cases of enforced disappearance and violence against journalists on the Rajapaksa's watch.
Some activists and journalists fear that a return of the Rajapaksas would only increase the country's differences, rather than bringing together a scarred nation.
On Saturday, a group of unidentified armed men opened fire on busses transporting Muslims to polling stations in northwestern Sri Lanka. And on Thursday, a journalist was stabbed to death by several men who accused him of violating Mr. Rajapaksa's election campaign after publishing a critical book on the family, expressing their concern over the Rajapaksas in the hope that the family could revive the economy was booming towards the end of its power strip.
But as the economy grew, so did the country's debt, especially to China, whose influence in Sri Lanka became powerful among the Rajapaksas.
The problem of China's increasing influence was an important facet of Mahinda Rajapaksa's surprise election defeat in  in 2015. Since then, the country was forced to abandon a port complex to China, and its debt crisis was a serious drag along with the economy a slump in tourism since the bombings.
The presidential elections on Saturday, at which 16 million voters out of 35 candidates, could lead to a gain of thousands of votes. The results should be announced in a few days and could lead to a runoff.
Mr. Rajapaksa's main adversary, the 52-year-old Premadasa of the United National Front, is being supported by the poorest districts of Sri Lanka from scratch. The son of a former president, who was killed by the Tamil Tigers in 1993, Premadasa speaks to minority Tamils and Muslims in the war-torn North and East.
"Premadasa understands the struggles of the poor man," said H.E. Edirimanne, 27, a voter in the southern city of Hakmana. "We want a leader who is down-to-earth and leads by example, not one who lives in luxury."
But Mr. Rajapaksa could have plenty of momentum to go beyond his party's traditional voice bank: Sinhalese Buddhists celebrating him for ending the war. Former paramilitary forces supporting Mr Rajapaksa have fomented anti-Muslim fears in eastern Sri Lanka, where many Hindu Tamils are angered by Islamic militancy in the country.
For his followers, Mr. Rajapaksa's tough approach is to fight terrorism, which makes him an attractive candidate. "We want a fearless decision maker," said Pradeep Kumara, 56, a fisherman from the southern village of Mirissa.
The Easter bombs and troubled economy were twin nails in the coffin of the outgoing government led by President Maithripala Sirisena. Legislators called on him and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign, and then held a vote of no confidence in parliament that questioned the hopes of both men, this time for an office.
The government began to implode last October when Mr. Sirisena abruptly dismissed Mr. Wickremesinghe, calling him incapable and corrupt. And although the Rajapaksas had led the political opposition to him, he appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa Prime Minister. The president and the prime minister each have considerable power in Sri Lanka, and many consider the move a coup d'état.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa emerged as the top candidate from the political ruins and security fears across the country after the Easter bombs. But he brings controversy.
As a defense chief during the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which stretched from 1983 to 2009, Rajapaksa was accused of crimes against humanity. The allegations included bombing civilian hospitals during the last stages of the war. And thousands of Sri Lankans in war-affected regions are still missing after being handed over to the military.
Earlier this year, Mr. Rajapaksa was sued in the United States in two civil courts for a home and held citizenship. One accused him of being involved in the torture and murder of a senior Sri Lankan journalist.
Last week, the journalist's daughter, Ahimsa Wickrematunge, who had filed one of the cases in California, wrote a public letter to voters urging them not to vote for Mr. Rajapaksa. "The danger of relying on such a man is that no one can protect you from him," she wrote.
Mr. Rajapaksa claimed to have renounced his US citizenship this summer to stand for Sri Lanka's presidency, although his opponents denied this claim and the matter reached the Supreme Court this week.
Constantino Xavier, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India in New Delhi, said Mahinda Rajapaksa has been trying to rebuild his brother's brand in recent years, including improving relations with India and working with diplomats from China, to counteract the Western investigation pressure war abuse.
Mr. Xavier said that a victory for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, despite the fear that he might be bundling executive power, would indicate that "a majority of voters are ready to accept civil liberties in return for the return to political order and the revival of the economy to prune ".
One of the more intriguing questions in the elections is what role Mahinda Rajapaksa would play in Sri Lanka's government when his brother wins.
In an interview, Mahinda Rajapaksa's son, Namal Rajapaksa, shyly commented on his father's political ambitions. No doubt that the party would offer him the position of prime minister, but that he might want to rest.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has become a public face of his brother's campaign. At party conferences and press events, he often asks questions that are intended for Gotabaya. Election posters show portraits of both men who rely on Mahinda's pervasive popularity.
In a recent column for The Sunday Times, journalist Gamini Weerakoon wrote a story about families sharing power in Sri Lanka. Siblings who tried to kill each other. A nephew who followed his uncles. And the Rajapaksas themselves ruled during the war, when Mahinda and Gotabaya "went beyond constitutional regulations."
Mr. Weerakoon drew a nursery rhyme to illustrate the likelihood that the brothers will give themselves up again: "Wherever the little lamb goes, Mary goes with her."
Dharisha Bastians reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Kai Schultz from New Delhi. Maria Abi-Habib reported from New Delhi.