As all eyes in the island nation are set on the January 26 presidential election at which the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa is being confronted among others, by the pre-maturely retired Army General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka Election Commission has set in motion the process for the parliamentary election scheduled to be held by April.

A new gazette notification by the Election Commission denominated a number of Parliamentary seats for the Northern Province. After the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, the two provinces of north and east were temporarily merged. However, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in October 2006 ruled the merger as illegal.

When contacted by The Hindu the Deputy Election Commissioner, Mr. W.W.M. Deshapriya said that off hand, he was not in a position to specify the exact date on which the notification specifying the number of seats for the Northern Province has been issued.

TamilNet reported that the number of parliamentary seats for the North and East provinces in the new parliament would be the same as at present - 31.

“There is no change, according to the gazette notification issued by the Commissioner General of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake… The number of parliamentary seats allocated for the districts in the North and the East are: Jaffna - 9, and Vanni - 6 in the Northern Province, and Batticaloa - 5, Trincomalee - 4 and Digamadulla (Ampaarai) – 7 in the Eastern Province.”

A Cabinet meeting presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the third week of October had announced that residential and general elections would be held before April 2010.

A general election before April, preceded by the presidential election, was anticipated after the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), led by Mr. Rajapaksa, secured an absolute majority in the Southern Provincial Council elections on Sunday.

Though in an interview to The Hindu (published on July 6, 7 and 8), Mr. Rajapaksa had categorically declared that he would seek re-election before the parliamentary polls, there were speculations galore on whether or not he would stick to his promise. The suspense ended on November 18 with the signing of a proclamation by Mr. Rajapaksa about the presidential election.

Under the Constitution, the President can call for a presidential election once he or she has completed four years in the six-year tenure. Mr. Rajapaksa completed his four years in the third week of November.

Since the presidential election is going to be held before the parliamentary election, observers believe that the outcome of the presidential race would have a major influence in defining the contours of the new Parliament. Sri Lanka Parliament has 225 members, 196 are elected from 22 multi-member electoral districts. The remaining 29 are National List seats, allocated to the contending parties (and independent groups) in proportion to their share of the national vote.

Unlike the presidential election, where the alignments are centred on Mr. Rajapaksa or Gen. (retd) Fonseka, the general election is expected to be a totally different ball game. The 2004 parliamentary election was mainly a contest between the alliance led by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the grouping led by the then President Chandrika Kumaratunge and a close fight.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured 105 in the house and was short of a dozen seats for a simple majority. The current President was elected the Prime Minister. The alliance led by Mr. Wickremesinghe suffered several set backs and became a poaching ground for the UPFA.

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