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Sri Lanka elections buoy ruling party; Tamils sidelined

Voters in Thursday's Sri Lanka elections favored President Mahinda Rajapakse's ruling party, which prioritizes economic growth over reconciliation with the rebel Tamils after decades of civil war.

By Staff writer / April 9, 2010

Supporters of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party United People's Freedom Alliance wait for the final results, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday. Sri Lanka's ruling coalition led early results Friday of parliamentary elections in which Rajapaksa, seen left in poster, is seeking to strengthen his grip on power by gaining a two-thirds majority.

Manish Swarup/AP

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New Delhi

Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition holds a strong lead in Thursday’s parliamentary elections, buoying a government that aims to prioritize economic development over political reconciliation following decades of civil war.

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With election returns still being counted on Friday, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was expected to capture around 140 seats in the 225-seat legislature. That would fall short of a two-thirds supermajority. But the total could grow through coalition or party crossovers.

The ruling coalition, led by newly reelected President Mahinda Rajapakse, had campaigned for greater power in order to put aside political division in the pursuit of growth following the Sri Lanka war. The government may indeed get such powers. But the possibility of a historically low turnout raises questions about whether the island nation really has unified around the vision.

“It may well be the case that some people saw it as a foregone conclusion, and others felt it was meaningless, pointless, and lost some faith in the electoral process after what happened in to the last election,” says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

System of checks and balances has been 'eroded'

The presidential election in January concluded with Mr. Rajapakse’s electoral win and arrest of his opponent, retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, splintering the opposition. Mr. Fonseka remains in custody, awaiting a controversial court martial, but is expected to win a seat in the new Parliament.

Far from the 74 percent turnout for that contest, only 50 to 55 percent of voters participated Thursday, according to an early estimate by the Center for Monitoring Election Violence in Colombo. Usually 65 to 75 percent come out, the group noted.

Even if the ballot box fails to give the ruling coalition a supermajority, the UPFA could achieve it by buying off members of Parliament to their side, says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council in Colombo. That worries he and other analysts who suspect the UPFA wants the ability to change the constitution to remove the presidential term limits on Rajapakse.

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