Parties and problems at election showdown

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean, 50 km south of the southern tip of India. Its most populous ethnic groups are the Singhalese (forming 76% of the population and who are mostly Buddhist) and the mostly Hindu Tamil (which make up 18% of population).

Twenty-four separate parties are found on election ballots during this year's general elections, posting a record 6024 candidates. A total of 16,800,000 legally registered voters turned up at polls.  

Sri Lanka's Parliament is composed of a single house having 225 seats, 196 of which are assigned based on a proportional system and 29 are chosen directly by elected parties (likewise proportionally divided according to votes won by each party nationally).  

The country's president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, will hold office until 2005. The left-wing coalition formed by her party, the Freedom Alliance (FA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Marxists, lost their house majority in 2001 to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's right-wing free-market party, United National Alliance.  

At the center of the political debate are the peace negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by the prime minister. There are two general opposing positions: that of Wickremesinghe, who is pushing for greater Tamil autonomy and thus the creation of a federal constitution after 20 years of war; the other is that of Kumaratunga who favors no concessions of independence to Tamil separatists, but only agreements between various political factions.   

Even if the future government decides to immediately take up peace talks with Tamil separatists, there is still another problem on the horizon: the recent split of the LTTE in two factions.  The first is the northern wing led by Velupillai Prabhakaran and who until now has represented Tamil forces at peace talks; the second is the one controlling the eastern region of Sri Lanka, led by rebel leader Vinayyagamoorthi Muralitharan, popularly known as Colonel "Karuna" ("Kindness"). The colonel is also know for his obstinacy to government demands.   

In the end, in the face of a Parliament dead-lock (as many surveys on the eve of elections indicate) perhaps the real key to the striking a political balance is found in the Buddhist monk party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which will likely win 5-9 seats in Parliament.