Sri Lanka parliamentary polls: Ranil Wickremesinghe’s coalition edges ahead

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections have produced a hung parliament, putting paid to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Colombo | Updated: August 18, 2015 3:31:08 pm
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, left, outside a polling station after casting his vote during Parliamentary elections in Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP photo) Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, left, outside a polling station after casting his vote during Parliamentary elections in Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP photo)

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections have produced a hung parliament, putting to rest former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid, with the coalition headed by rival Ranil Wickresinghe emerging as the single largest political grouping.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and its front for good governance (UNFGG) have edged past the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of which Rajapaksa was the candidate.

The UNFGG reckons it will have 108 seats by the end of counting, including a dozen or more seats that it can fill through nominations for getting a certain number of overall votes.

“The majority of the people of this country have approved the continuance of good governance and consensual politics endorsed by the people through the silent revolution of 8th of January. I offer my grateful thanks to all parties and individuals who worked untiringly during the election period to ensure victory for the people,” said Wickremesingle in a statement.

The UPFA coalition is likely to get some 90 seats, well short of the majority number of 113 in the 225-seat Parliament.

Rajapaksa conceded defeat early in the morning, even before the vote was counted, telling Agence France Presse (AFP), “My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away. I am conceding. We have lost a good fight.”

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At the UNP headquarters in Colombo, party workers burst crackers as the numbers started racking up for the UNFGG, and the coalition broke away from the tight contest with the UPFA to take about 51 per cent of the vote share.

The government is not expected to be formed until Wednesday or Thursday and President Sirisena will play a crucial in the composition of the government. The UNP expects that as head of the UPFA, he will be able to persuade 10 to 15 of the losing coalition to join the UNFGG.

“The UPFA has 10 or more persons who support the President. Our programme is also the President’s programme — we think they will join us to form a national government,” said Daya Pelpola, a senior party adviser and head of its legal cell.

President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have ruled the country for six months after the January 2015 ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election. The UNP evidently benefited from Sirisena’s image as a clean politician, who was committed to bringing change in the country.

Pelpola said while that may have contributed a little towards the UNP’s vote share, Ranil’s image as an “open, liberal politician, with an economic vision, who can reach out to other countries” was the single most important reason for the UNP’s emergence as the single largest party.

An adviser to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said it was more likely that the confusion in the UPFA over its internal battle as President Sirisena publicly announced that he did not want Rajapaksa as the next Prime Minister, led some of its traditional supporters to move to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The JVP, though, did not do as well as it had expected to, with about nine seats.

On the other hand, the Iykia Tamil Arasu Katchi (Tamil National Alliance – TNA), has done better than expected, overcoming internal divisions between moderate voices and those who have wanted to take a hard line, to sweep the Northern province. It will take 13 to 14 seats in Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa and Trincomalle. However, this will have little impact: since the UNFGG expects to make up its shortfall with UPFA legislators, the Tamil grouping is unlikely to play kingmaker.

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