Amid war, Rajapaksa’s coalition sweeps provincial polls (Lead)

August 24th, 2008 - 3:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Aug 24 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition Sunday retained power in both the provincial councils that went to the polls a day earlier, with analysts crediting the victory to the war against the Tamil Tigers.The ruling United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the electoral battle in the Sabaragamuwa province, 100 km southeast of Colombo, as well as the North-Central province, 180 km away, officials said.

Sri Lanka has a total of nine provinces.

According to the Election Secretariat, nearly 70 percent of a little over two million eligible voters exercised their franchise Saturday to elect 77 members from among 1,698 candidates drawn from 45 political parties and 34 independent groups for the two councils.

The UPFA, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, won a total of 45 seats in the councils and secured 780,246 votes. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe won 29 seats and 551,605 votes.

The radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the former ally of UPFA and which was expected to pose a formidable challenge to the two main parties, put up poor show, winning only three seats.

Although the UPFA won all 27 electorates in all four districts (Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Ratnapura and Kegalle) in these two provinces with a clear majority, the UNP made gains in terms of votes and seats compared to previous provincial elections.

The independent Center Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Sunday noted that “apart from a few serious incidents”, balloting in both the provinces was relatively incident free.

Riding on the public support for the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in which the military has made significant gains, President Rajapaksa turned the election into a virtual referendum on war.

In campaign speeches, he vowed to keep fighting “until the last rebel is killed or every inch of land is captured” from the LTTE, which controls a large area in Sri Lanka’s north.

A day before Saturday’s polling, the government announced that troops had captured two villages - Thunukkai and Uyilankulam — from the Tamil Tigers and were inching towards the rebel heartland of Kilinochchi.

Commenting on the election results, Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said it was a vote for ending the dragging ethnic conflict and to eliminate terrorism.

“People have accepted the three main policies of the government — security, welfare and development,” he said, adding the government now has a responsibility to carry out the people’s mandate.

“I reckon it is a clear endorsement of the government’s ongoing military thrust against the LTTE more than anything else,” retired career diplomat Nanda K. Godage told IANS.

He, however said that those who voted for the UNP also had a strong message — “that is the battle may be won in the near future but that the ethnic conflict needs a comprehensive political devolution package that will prevent the Tamil people from supporting the LTTE”.

D. Sidharthan, who heads the ex-militant Tamil party, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), said the election outcome was on expected lines.

“As far as the people are concerned, they want to see an end to the war. The election result is a clear support by the people in the south for the war effort despite their economic hiccups,” Sidharthan said.

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