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Sri Lanka: UNP is single largest party, Rajapaksa to sit in oppn

The ruling United National Party (UNP) on Tuesday emerged as the single largest grouping in a bitterly fought general election in Sri Lanka and looks set to hand the second defeat to former President and prime ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa in less than eight months.

world Updated: Aug 19, 2015 02:11 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Supporters of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shout slogans following the general election, in the capital Colombo on August 18, 2015. Sri Lanka's former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse admitted his dream of a political comeback was over, conceding defeat in parliamentary elections while his victorious rival appealed for unity. (AFP PHOTO)
Supporters of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shout slogans following the general election, in the capital Colombo on August 18, 2015. Sri Lanka's former strongman Mahinda Rajapakse admitted his dream of a political comeback was over, conceding defeat in parliamentary elections while his victorious rival appealed for unity. (AFP PHOTO)

The ruling United National Party (UNP) on Tuesday emerged as the single largest grouping in a bitterly fought general election in Sri Lanka and looks set to hand the second defeat to former President and prime ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa in less than eight months.

The UNP, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, got 93 seats in the 225-member Parliament. The Rajapaksa-led coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), got 83 seats.

It has been a stunning reversal of electoral fortunes for Rajapaksa whose presidency was all-powerful and marked, according to commentators, by an increasing sense of impunity.

The votes polled by the UPFA dropped by more than a million compared to the January Presidential election in which Rajapaksa was defeated by current President Maithripala Sirisena.

The Tamil National Alliance which put up candidates in north and the east won 12 seats.

While 196 MPs are elected directly, the remaining 29 will be nominated from the National List

The 29 national list seats are allocated on the basis of the total number of votes polled: UNP got 45.7% or 5.09 million votes, entitling it to at least 13 seats. The UPFA could get at least 12 for its 4.73 million votes.

But even with the National list MPs, the UNP will fall short of a majority in Parliament. Political commentators here expect that members from Rajapaksa’s coalition might defect to the government over the next few days.

India, according to commentators, could be cautiously optimistic about the electoral developments in Sri Lanka. Unlike the Rajapaksa-regime, which ruled Sri Lanka for nearly a decade and was considered pro-China, the UNP’s foreign policy is expected to be more balanced.

The UPFA’s performance was a testimony to the former President’s continuing popularity among the Sinhalese majority despite losing the Presidential election.

“Rajapaksa has protected his core base of supporters and could become a strong opposition in Parliament if the party does not split,” Jayadeva Uyangoda, political science professor at the Colombo University told HT. He added that Rajapaksa losing 1 million votes in seven months was a “serious matter” for the leader.

“There is no need to be divided as winners and losers”" Wickremesinghe said in a statement.

“We have to face the challenges of a new age and lift up our country. I invite you all to join us in this task. Let us build a government based on consensus,” he said.

“My dream of becoming prime minister has faded away,” Rajapaksa told the Agence France-Presse news agency in the morning. “I am conceding. We have lost a good fight.”

Wickremesinghe, made the PM after presidential polls in January, has worked with Sirisensa, who incidentally is from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – part of the UPFA coalition -- of Rajapaksa.