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AFP
August 7, 2020

Rajapaksa party on course for big win

World

AFP
August 7, 2020

Sri Lanka’s ruling party took a clear lead on Thursday in early results from parliamentary elections in which the dominant Rajapaksa family hope to strengthen their grip on power.

Counting in the island’s south showed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) with 72 percent of the vote. Since the prime minister’s younger brother Gotabaya won a presidential election in November, Sri Lankans have largely embraced the family’s populist platform.

The policy programme emerged from a wave of nationalist sentiment that followed Easter bombings in 2019 by Muslim radicals which killed 279 people. The brothers are viewed as heroes by the country’s Sinhalese majority for orchestrating a ruthless military campaign to end a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009 under the leadership of Mahinda.

The Rajapaksa family is now seeking to expand its mandate with Wednesday’s legislative polls. Early results on Thursday from postal ballot counts showed the main opposition SJB gleaned just 13 percent of the vote, while the leftist JJB party had eight percent and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) just four.

Final results for the coronavirus-delayed election were expected late on Thursday. Private surveys have projected Rajapaksa’s party will take between 130 and 135 seats in the 225-member parliament, short of a two-thirds super-majority it needs to roll back constitutional changes made by the previous administration that limit the president’s powers.

"We are confident of getting two thirds, but even if we don’t get it at the polls, there are ways of getting it through parliament," the prime minister said on Wednesday. The party could lure rival legislators to back the changes despite an anti-defection law, political commentator Victor Ivan said.

Wednesday’s election -- postponed twice due to the epidemic and held with strict social distancing measures -- saw a 70 percent turnout from the 16 million-strong electorate. Huge economic challenges await the new parliament. On Wednesday, official figures showed economic growth fell 1.6 percent in the first quarter of this year.