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Sri Lanka votes in parliamentary polls

Sri Lanka has voted for the new parliament in polls which are likely to deliver a comfortable win for the coalition led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa casts his vote in his home village of Madamulana

President Mahinda Rajapaksa casts his vote in his home village of Madamulana

Voter turnout was not very high. Election monitors said that only between 50 and 55 percent of those eligible to vote turned up at polling stations on Thursday.

The Election Commission said the actual voting figures would be released with the final results on Friday.

Independent poll monitors reported some 160 minor incidents of violence during the early hours of the vote, but officials said that the poll had been largely peaceful.

Over 7,500 candidates from 36 parties and several independent groups contested.

Opinion polls suggested victory for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

"President Rajapaksa’s victory over the LTTE has given him a huge popularity boost," explains Rohan Edirsinghe, a political analyst in Colombo.

"This is one of the reasons why he won the presidential elections in January and the presidential election victory in turn has given his party a boost because most people in Sri Lanka recognize that the presidency is the most powerful office under the Sri Lankan constitution."

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the main opposition United National Party

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the main opposition United National Party

Two-third majority unlikely

With promises to eradicate poverty and expedite growth, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ruling alliance hoped to get a two-third majority in the 225-seat parliament.

But this was not such an easy goal to achieve, says Jehan Perera, the executive director of a civil rights body in Colombo called the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

"It is almost impossible for any single political party to get a two-third majority because our system is proportional," he explains. "But it is believed that he will get fairly close to that figure and that after the elections he will maybe bargain with some of the other parties and individuals to get their assistance to obtain a two-third majority."

Weak opposition

An opposition alliance that supported common candidate ex-army chief General Fonseka for presidency split.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who heads the main opposition United National Party (UNP), fought the elections on issues such as improved rule of law, a boosted economy and the tackling of inflation and corruption.

However, the UNP’s chances of winning were not high. Nor were those of the second largest opposition group, the Democratic National Alliance. The DNA is led by the Marxist JVP party and includes General Fonseka, who is currently in detention on charges of plotting a coup.

Anoma Fonseka, the wife of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, with Buddhist monks at a protest to seek his release

Anoma Fonseka, the wife of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, with Buddhist monks at a protest to seek his release

Fonseka’s candidacy

Fonseka was likely to get support for his candidacy thanks to a great deal of public sympathy, said Jehan Perera.

"I have personally met many people who would normally support the largest opposition party, who are telling me: 'No, we are not going to vote for the largest opposition party. We will instead vote for Gen. Fonseka because we are upset at the treatment that has been given to him.' Then there are others who have been voting for the government itself, who say: 'We will also vote for Gen. Fonseka because he has been treated so harshly.' So we think that Gen. Fonseka and his party will do a little better than the government anticipates."

But even if Fonseka fares well in the polls it is unclear whether he will be able to pursue his political career because of the ongoing court-martial proceedings against him. He has denied the allegations that he conspired against the government while in uniform.

Tamil parties

A coalition of Tamil parties also fought the polls on a ticket of Tamil autonomy but was expected to do well only in the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern areas.

The authorities deployed some 80,000 policemen and soldiers to maintain security during the election.

Author: Disha Uppal

Editor: Anne Thomas

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