Sri Lanka’s former president backed party set for landslide victory in local polls

Vastavam web: A political party backed by Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa looks set for a landslide victory in local polls, early results showed on Sunday, potentially undermining the country’s unity government and its reform agenda.The local polls were the first elections since the unity government of Sirisena’s centre-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s centre-right United National Party (UNP) took office in August 2015.

Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a party formed by breakaway members of Sirisena’ party, has secured 97 local bodies out of results for 139 councils so far released as at 0650 GMT. The UNP took control of 18 councils and SLFP six.Results for another 201 local bodies are yet to be released. The long-delayed election comes after the councils were dissolved over two years ago after their tenure ended.Rajapaksa, a legislator in the opposition benches, commands the backing of 54 legislators who have defected from Sirisena’s party. The president’s party has 41 legislators and the prime minister’s party commands 106 MPs in the 225-member parliament.

“The parliament is likely to see defections and Rajapaksa will call the shots,” Kusal Perera, a local political columnist told Reuters.Rajapaksa campaigned against the government’s failure to curb the cost of living and to take action against corruption, as well as higher taxes, the privatisation of state assets, and less welfare for the poor and retired soldiers.

The unexpected defeat comes after a bitter fight between the parties led by the president and prime minister, which blamed each other for the failures in the run-up to the local polls.The president and his supporters have opposed or neutralised many of the UNP reforms. Under the constitution, Sirisena cannot dissolve the parliament until early 2020, while the parliament needs a two-third majority to impeach the president.Sirisena has said he wants to take charge of the economy, which is currently handled by the UNP, and has blamed the prime minister’s party for failing to tackle corruption.