Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proxy was set for an unexpected landslide victory in Saturday’s local council elections described by private poll monitors as the most peaceful in decades.
Unofficial results showed that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was leading in almost all the districts outside the north and the east and was on its way to secure an unassailable 51 percent of the total votes polled.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) was being pushed to a humiliating second place. President Maithripala Sirisena’s faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was doing even worse as a distant third.
The results, once confirmed by the independent Election Commission, are expected to considerably weaken President Sirisena who has been at loggerheads with his senior coalition partner, Wickremesinghe’s UNP.
In the run up to Saturday’s much-delayed local government election, Sirisena had even suggested that the UNP-led government was more corrupt that Rajapaksa’s administration they toppled together in January 2015.
The SLPP proxy in Maharagama had beaten the UNP compounding the mid-term drubbing for Wickremesinghe.
An unusually high voter turnout was reported with officials saying the final figure could be higher than 70 percent and closer to the 81 percent seen at the January 2015 presidential election.
Private election monitors said the two-month campaign for the local government elections was the most peaceful in decades and an outstanding feature was the impartiality and even handedness of the police and the strict enforcement of election laws.
Polling in most of the southern districts were in the high 70s while in some polling divisions over 80 percent of those eligible to vote had cast their ballots during a peaceful nine-hour period Saturday.
“We are seeing very enthusiastic voting which we did not notice at previous local polls,” the head of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections Keerthi Tennakoon said.
Some 15.76 million people were eligible to vote and elect some 8,350 members to 340 councils across the country.
Saturday’s vote is the first conducted by the newly-established independent Election Commission as well as the police under the Independent Police Commission.
CaFFE said voters in the former war zone of Jaffna and the rest of the northern and eastern provinces went to the polling booths without the usual military and police surveillance on them.
“The gravity and the scale of incidents reported this time is nothing compared to what we have seen in recent decades,” Tennakoon said.
Police deployed 65,000 personnel to guard polling booths as well as counting centre.
Nearly 900 minor incidents were reported during the two-month campaign period and 65 candidates being arrested for violating election laws, according to the police.