External Affairs

Sri Lankans Foil Rajapaksa’s Comeback Bid

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Credit: TV7

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Credit: TV7

Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who attempted a political comeback in the country’s parliamentary elections on Monday, conceded defeat early Tuesday, observing that his “dream of becoming Prime Minister has faded away”.

“I am conceding. We have lost a good fight,” he told news agency AFP, after his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured eight districts, while the ruling United National Party (UNP) won 11 out of the 22 electoral districts in the island.

The final tally of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections—a combination of proportional representation and preferential voting systems—is expected to emerge Tuesday evening, but neither of the main parties has secured a simple majority in the 225-member parliament.

The UNP would have to seek the support of potential allies such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has virtually swept the island’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, in order to form the government.  Ranil Wickremesinghe, tipped to be Prime Minister, will now have to work with President Maithripala Sirisena—head of the SLFP—just as he did when Sirisena abandoned Rajapaksa and allied with the opposition to oust the former president in a hard fought electoral contest.

Tuesday’s results appear to reinforce the earlier mandate of the people of Sri Lanka, who on January 8 demonstrated their resolve for change. They rejected war-victor Rajapaksa, popular among a large section of Sinhalese voters for crushing the rebel Tamil Tigers and bringing Sri Lanka’s civil war to an end. It was not just the Tamil and Muslim minorities that voted him out, but also sections of rural Sinhalese who had grown tired of the authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption that he and his family were accused of.

The thinking of the rural Sinhalese constituency will be clear when details of the preferential votes, expected to be declared Wednesday, are out. Even as voting patterns in different parts of the island continue to emerge, the verdict of the northern Tamils sent out a strong message. While the TNA won six seats, voters rejected ultra-Tamil nationalist groups, some of which harbour separatist ideas in addition to being supporters of the now defunct LTTE.

According to local news agencies, Sri Lanka’s Leftist nationalist party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had secured only two seats until noon, less than was widely expected.  The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), with a traditionally strong support base among upcountry Tamils of Indian origin, has also lost ground to the UNP, reports indicated.