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Sri Lanka's former president seeks snap polls after big win in local elections

Sri Lanka's former president seeks snap polls after big win in local elections

by Lamat R Hasan

NEW DELHI (ANN Desk) - Sri Lanka's former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on President Maithripala Sirisena to dissolve Parliament immediately and hold a general election to end the current political instability.

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition suffered a huge defeat in local elections held on February 10.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) – the party backed by Rajapaksa - registered a landslide victory. After the final results, the SLPP had won 44.65 percent of the vote.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) secured 32.63 percent, while Sirisena's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) finished third with 8.94 percent of the vote.

This was the first local elections since the centre-left UPFA and centre-right UNP parties formed a unity government in August 2015.

Addressing a special media briefing at the SLPP headquarters, Rajapaksa said the government had no moral right to be in power as it was clear that people were no longer with it and they had rejected its economic policies as well, the Island reported.

Rajapaksa said the SLPP’s victory in the just concluded local government elections was historic as it was achieved within a short period of time since the formation of the new party in 2015.

Commenting on the government’s election campaign, Rajapaksa said it was a hate campaign against the previous government.

Rajapaksa also said the general election should be held in 2019.

The country’s last presidential and parliamentary elections were held in January and August 2015 and, therefore, a national election is not due until 2020. However, according to the Constitution, President Sirisena can dissolve Parliament following a resolution in the House, endorsed by a two-thirds majority.

For the first time, Sri Lanka followed a mixed electoral model in this poll, with 60 per cent of members getting elected by the first-past-the-post system and the rest through a closed list proportional representation.

The Island Nation

A civil war in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern tip of India, raged intermittently between 1983 and 2009 – fuelled in part by tensions between the ethnic majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

More than 1,00,000 Sri Lankans were driven out of the country as part of the anti-Tamil pogrom in the early 1980s. Most of these refugees continue to live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu with their state of homelessness lost on most.

The violence that started in 1983 ended in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. The fight against the government was led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant organisation founded by V Prabhakaran, that sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

The island nation – Ceylon as it was called then – was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and then finally by the British for nearly 150 years until 1948, when the country gained its independence.

More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed in Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, including 40,000 to 70,000 in the final phase. At the height of the conflict, some 800,000 people were displaced.

In a joint resolution in 2015 at the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka promised, among other things, a judicial mechanism to prosecute those accused of human rights abuses. However, little progress has been made.

In the recent past, Sirisena has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. His ordering the reinstatement of a ban on women buying alcohol or in places where it is served did not go down too well. His order came days after the finance minister revoked the 38-year ban in this mostly conservative Buddhist nation.

His decision to protect a former army chief accused of crimes committed in the final phase of the country’s civil war in 2009 has also raised quite a few eyebrows.

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