Rajapaksa’s win in local elections sets off alarm bells in government
by Melani Manel Perera

The former president's Sri Lanka People's Front won about 230 councils out of 341. The incumbent’s party only got just over 8% of the vote. Some call for early parliamentary elections. For others, the defeat should be a lesson to the government to keep its promises.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party won big in local elections on Saturday in the first poll since January 2015, when incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena was elected.

Sources told AsiaNews that the resounding defeat is a loud wake-up call for the ruling party, and should be a spur to keep its campaign promises, which it has not yet fulfilled, starting with corruption and national reconciliation. The latter remains a top priority in the wake of the country’s 30-year civil war that pitted the military against Tamil Tigers.

Out of a total of 341 local authorities, the Sri Lanka People's Front, commonly known by its Sinhalese name Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), won 44.65 per cent of the vote, taking 230 local councils.

The United National Party (UNP) of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came in second place with 32.63 per cent. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of President Sirisena came in third with 8.94 per cent.

Following the poor showing, a number of cabinet ministers called on the president to sack the prime minister and replace him with someone from the UNP.

Former President Rajapaksa responded to the unexpected victory by calling for the immediate dissolution of the national parliament and fresh elections. The latter would normally come to an end in 2020.

In 2014 Sirisena quit as Rajapaksa’s health minister and split from the then ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition.

In 2015 he won the presidency thanks to a delicate balancing act between left-of-centre and right-of-centre parties, united by a desire to remove Rajapaska from office. The latter had starting to act as a dictator after his victory over Tamil rebels, and had been accused of corruption and war crimes.

For Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika, "The vote shows that the coalition government has not implemented its promises” like social peace, decentralisation, fight against corruption and limiting the power of the military. It “must carry out the reforms. A democratic government must always take into account the opinion of the people ".

According to Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party, "the government has failed because it has not been able to free the nation from the debt trap and economic turmoil."

For many in Colombo the defeat represents "a good lesson for the government, which has not kept the promises [it made during] the electoral campaign.”

For others, “they are reaping what they sowed. The president and the prime minister must learn from this defeat and work hard over the next two years if they want another victory in 2020."