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SL ruling party celebrates election landslide

Sri Lanka's ruling party on Saturday celebrated its landslide victory in the country's first peacetime parliamentary polls since crushing separatist Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

world Updated: Apr 10, 2010 11:03 IST

Sri Lanka's ruling party on Saturday celebrated its landslide victory in the country's first peacetime parliamentary polls since crushing separatist Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

Government supporters carried national flags as they paraded through the streets and lit firecrackers, despite an official week-long ban on public celebrations.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said he saw the overwhelming majority for his United People's Freedom Alliance as a vote for his economic policies and the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in a major military offensive last year.

"This outstanding victory is an endorsement of the 'Mahinda Chintana' (Mahinda vision)," Rajapakse said in a statement on Friday night.

"I asked you for a strong parliament that can meet any challenge," he said. "I sincerely thank you for giving me an unprecedented majority that will help make Sri Lanka an example to the rest of the world."

The UPFA secured 117 seats in the 225-member assembly with another 45 seats still to be declared. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) was reduced to 46 seats.

"This is a huge endorsement of the work of the president," Rajapakse's spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage said.

"The party has won parliament very comfortably," Liyanage told AFP, predicting the UPFA would secure at least 24 of the undeclared seats, leaving it just nine seats short of claiming a two-thirds majority when final results are declared on April 19.

"No party has ever got this much," he said.

Rajapakse had been hoping for a two thirds majority that would allow him to alter the constitution, which currently limits presidents to two successive terms.

Police chief Mahinda Balasuriya appealed for calm and said victory celebrations should be peaceful.

Government ministers urged their supporters to observe the law. "We should not be over jubilant," Education Minister Susil Premajanatha said. "Our supporters should celebrate peacefully."

Rajapakse called the vote ahead of schedule after his January re-election, which came in the wake of his defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in May.

The man who led the military, former army chief Sarath Fonseka contested the election from his cell at the naval headquarters in Colombo where he is detained. He won a seat representing part of Colombo, but his party did poorly, securing only five seats.

Opposition parties were largely united behind Fonseka in his campaign for the presidency in January, but lost cohesion after his arrest and went into the parliamentary election with little hope of victory.

Fonseka faces court martial proceedings for allegedly engaging in politics before retiring from the armed forces in November.

Fonseka and Rajapakse were the architects of the military campaign that defeated the Tamil Tigers at the end of a 37-year conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives, according to UN figures.

However, the two fell out over who should take credit and Fonseka was arrested just weeks after losing the presidential vote.

The opposition UNP, which had supported Fonseka at the presidential polls, was non-committal about the latest polls outcome.

"We are not challenging the legality of those who are elected," UNP spokesman Tissa Attanayake told reporters. "But we must stress that there were serious violations in the run-up to the elections."

For many Sri Lankans, it was the first legislative poll in which they could vote without fear of Tamil Tiger violence and suicide attacks.

Analysts said the record low turnout of less than 55 percent would take the shine off the ruling party's victory.

First Published: Apr 10, 2010 10:56 IST