COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s ruling party was headed for victory in local elections but with smaller than expected margins in a crucial mid-term test for President Mahinda Rajapakse, early results showed Sunday.
The president campaigned for polls held Saturday for southern and western provincial councils, both in the ethnic majority Sinhalese heartland, which account for more than a third of the total electorate.
Rajapakse’s Freedom Alliance party won comfortably in his home constituency of Hambantota, with 57.42 percent of the vote, preliminary figures from the election office showed Sunday.
But the majority was less than the 66.95 percent it garnered in 2009 in that district, one of three that make up the southern province, the figures showed, with most of the votes counted.
In neighbouring Matara district, the ruling party’s vote base was eroded by nearly 10 percent as opposition parties made inroads, the figures showed, while counting was continuing in the third district.
In the western province, the ruling party was leading in most of the districts, but also with smaller margins, with final results expected to be announced in coming days. Elections for the councils, the highest level of local government, are seen as a gauge of popularity for Rajapakse — who has maintained an iron grip on power since 2009 — and his party ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls due in 2016. The ruling party had tried to turn Saturday’s vote into a referendum on a UN Human Rights Council’s resolution last week to set up a war crimes probe into the island, a move that angered the Rajapakse government.
The party asked voters to send a strong message to the UN that ordinary Sri Lankans were against an international probe into allegations up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the island’s war.
The UNHRC adopted the US-led resolution Thursday censuring Colombo and calling for the investigation into the final seven years of the island’s Tamil separatist war between 1972 and 2009.
The ruling party was routed at a similar provincial council election in the island’s former war zone in September when the country’s main ethnic Tamil minority party, the Tamil National Alliance, swept the vote.
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