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Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa family heads for huge election win

06 August 2020, MVT 21:40
Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (C) leaves a polling station after casting his ballot in the parliamentary election in Colombo on August 5, 2020. - Sri Lankan voters cast their ballots on August 5 for a new parliament as the ruling Rajapaksa brothers seek a fresh mandate to cement their grip on power. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)
06 August 2020, MVT 21:40

The party of Sri Lanka's ruling Rajapaksa brothers headed for a landslide win Thursday in a parliamentary election set to strengthen their grip on power.

With more than 60 percent of the 11.3 million ballots counted, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) had 57 percent of the votes.

Official results showed that the party had secured 72 out of the 98 seats decided and was headed for a two thirds majority in the 225-member parliament that would allow changes to the constitution.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Twitter that "results so far indicate an excellent victory for the SLPP."

His older brother said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already congratulated him for his victory that followed Gotabaya's win in the November presidential polls.

In a Twitter statement, the prime minister said he looked forward to working "closely" with Modi and added that the two countries are "friends and relations".

Since Gotabaya won the presidential election, Sri Lankans have largely embraced the family's populist platform.

They have ridden a nationalist wave that followed Easter bombings in 2019 which killed 279 people.

The brothers are viewed as heroes by the country's Sinhalese majority for orchestrating a ruthless military campaign to end a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009 when Mahinda was president.

The Rajapaksa family is now seeking to expand its mandate with Wednesday's legislative polls.

-Super majority-

Early results showd that a splintered opposition was decimated. Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was left without a single seat with 60 percent of the ballots were counted. He had 106 seats in the outgoing parliament.

A breakaway party from Wikremesinghe's headed by the son of assassinated president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Sajith, got 20 percent of the vote and was a distant second in the hustings.

Final results for the coronavirus-delayed election were expected late Thursday.

Private surveys as well as Rajapaksa's party had projected they will get about 135 seats, just short of a two-thirds super-majority needed to roll back constitutional changes made by the previous administration that limit the president's powers.

"We are confident of getting two thirds, but even if we don't get it at the polls, there are ways of getting it through parliament," the prime minister said Wednesday.

However, unofficial results suggested that the ruling party would cross 150 seats when the final results are declared.

Wednesday's election -- postponed twice due to the epidemic and held with strict social distancing measures -- saw a 70 percent turnout from the 16 million-strong electorate.

Huge economic challenges await the new parliament. On Wednesday, official figures showed economic growth fell 1.6 percent in the first quarter of this year while the Asian Development Bank forecast a 6.1 percent contraction of the economy this year.

Colombo, Sri Lanka | AFP

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