Rajapaksa-backed party wins big in Sri Lanka local government polls

The SLPP, formed by his supporters, bags nearly 200 of the 340 local councils

Updated - February 12, 2018 12:39 am IST

Published - February 11, 2018 09:53 pm IST - Colombo

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), backed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, appeared set for a landslide win in the local government polls held on Saturday.

Even as the counting continued on Sunday evening, the SLPP, formed in 2016 by Mr. Rajapaksa’s supporters, had won nearly 200 out of the 340 councils. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) was a distant second with around 37 councils, and President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) secured even fewer councils.

“People’s verdict”

“This is the verdict of the people’s jury,” Mr. Rajapaksa told The Hindu . The SLPP’s entry into the fray this election led to a three-cornered fight — among the UNP, the SLFP faction led by Mr. Sirisena and the SLPP.

Following clear indications of the extent of the SLPP’s win, its leaders asked the government to resign, as the “people have rejected it”. However, amid heightening speculation about the coalition government’s next moves, neither the President nor the Prime Minister had commented officially.

In Mr. Rajapaksa’s view, the government’s decision to sell “national assets” — such as the Hambantota port and the Mattala airport, both projects initiated by him with huge Chinese loans — the bond scam at the country’s Central Bank and the rising costs of living are the main reasons for the poll outcome.

“Instead of going for policy or governance, they kept attacking me personally. The Prime Minister recently said that I should be stripped of my civic rights. All that has only helped me,” he said, adding that he will now work on strengthening the new party.

Though the SLPP secured the highest number of councils, its vote share, compared to that of the UNP-SLFP combine, may indicate that the voting patterns of 2015 are largely intact, according to lawyer and activist B. Gowthaman. “However, the major shift this time is that Mr. Rajapaksa has done so well without the SLFP [banner], which means he has built and developed a base for himself, his ideology and his brand of politics,” he said.

Mixed electoral model

For the first time, Sri Lanka followed a mixed electoral model in this poll, with 60% of members getting elected by the first-past-the-post system and the rest through a closed list proportional representation.

Pending complete results, the SLPP was leading comfortably in most councils, except in the Tamil-majority North and East where Mr. Rajapaksa has little support. In the North, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, at the helm of the Tamil National Alliance, the country’s official Opposition in Parliament, was leading in the most number of wards.

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