Sri Lanka's ruling alliance humiliated as Mahinda Rajapakse-led SLPP wins 225 councils in local govt polls

Sri Lanka's ruling alliance was humiliated in local elections seen as a test of its leadership as the party of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse pulled off a stunning landslide victory

AFP February 12, 2018 09:56:19 IST
Sri Lanka's ruling alliance humiliated as Mahinda Rajapakse-led SLPP wins 225 councils in local govt polls

Colombo: Sri Lanka's ruling alliance was humiliated on Sunday in local elections seen as a test of its leadership as the party of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse pulled off a stunning landslide victory, final results showed.

The mid-term polls further strained the uneasy coalition between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as they face a resurgent challenger in Rajapakse's new party.

Sri Lankas ruling alliance humiliated as Mahinda Rajapakseled SLPP wins 225 councils in local govt polls

File image of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Reuters

Official results showed Rajapakse's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna — SLPP or People's Front — won 225 councils, or two thirds of the 340 up for grabs, in Saturday's election described by private poll monitors as the most peaceful in decades.

Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) was a distant second with 41 councils while Sirisena's Freedom Alliance languished with just 11.

Rajapakse's party comfortably won in all regions bar the battled-scarred north and east where, as president, he brutally crushed a separatist movement to end the island's ethnic war in 2009.

"I earnestly request all those who contested under the SLPP to celebrate this hard-won victory peacefully and with restraint and in a manner that will not inconvenience the defeated side," Rajapakse said in a statement.

The vote affects only the lowest rung of politics but the result is being seen as a stinging rebuke to the ruling coalition, which has struggled to pass promised post-war reforms.

The alliance between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe — who teamed up to defeat Rajapakse in a presidential election in 2015 — has frayed as both men have levelled allegations of corruption and backstabbing against the other.

Wickremesinghe's UNP had been the favourite to lead Saturday's poll while the parties led by Sirisena and Rajapakse were expected to fight for second.

Rajapakse's surprise dominance was proof the people no longer had faith in the tattered ruling alliance, said SLPP spokesman Gamini Lakshman Peiris.

"This was a referendum on the government. It has no legal or democratic right to remain in power," Peiris told reporters.

Neither the president or prime minister were commenting on the result. Official sources said both men — who campaigned separately for their respective parties — were meeting senior aides to discuss the next moves.

The UNP had indicated it may go it alone in the next general election in 2020 as the rift between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena and their supporters deepens.

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