COLOMBO: On Tuesday, with election results still incomplete, Sri Lanka’s prime minister declared victory over the country’s former strongman who was seeking a political comeback eight months after losing the presidency.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said a majority of the people had endorsed what he called his administration’s good governance and consensual politics in Monday’s parliamentary elections.
“I offer my grateful thanks to all parties and individuals who worked untiringly during the election period to ensure victory for the people,” Wickremesinghe said in a statement.
In results released so far, former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance had won 61 of 225 seats, while Wickremesinghe’s United National Party had received 59.
Any party or coalition must win at least 113 seats to form a government.
Observers said results for the seats still to be announced are expected to favor Wickremesinghe. If Wickremesinghe does not secure an outright majority, some Maithripala Sirisena loyalists within Rajapaksa’s party are likely to join a coalition government.
Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s president for nine years until his Jan. 8 election defeat to a former ally, Sirisena. He is seeking a political comeback as prime minister, a position second only to the president.
However, he faced a daunting hurdle because Sirisena has vowed not to appoint him as prime minister even if he secures a majority.
Prime minister acts for the president when he is absent and replaces him if he is impeached, incapacitated or dies. The president has wide executive powers and usually holds the defense, foreign relations and sometimes finance portfolios.
The prime minister heads lawmaking and has some governance powers.
Sirisena defected from Rajapaksa’s government and formed an alliance with Wickremesinghe to defeat Rajapaksa in the presidential election.
After earlier reports that he had conceded defeat, Rajapaksa said in a tweet that he would wait until the official results are out before making a statement.
Since his presidential loss, there has been a sharp reversal of fortunes for Rajapaksa, his family and friends, who were once all-powerful controllers of the island nation.
Some now face investigations or lawsuits on allegations of corruption, misuse of power and even murder.
Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said Monday’s elections were incident-free, other than some minor complaints.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said 35 people were arrested countrywide for election law violations.
Rajapaksa was hailed a warrior king for defeating Tamil Tiger separatists to end a nearly 26-year civil war.
But he is accused of using his popularity to take control of Parliament, the courts, the armed forces and all government institutions.
He was also accused of widespread human rights abuses and of suppressing freedoms.
Rajapaksa had been seeking to prolong his rule after abolishing a two-term limit for presidents when he lost in his attempt to win a third term.