President Maithripala Sirisena’s uneasy coalition faced a major internal crisis amid finger pointing for the humiliating shock defeat at local government elections, political sources said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe whose United national Party (UNP) performed poorly was also under pressure to accept responsibility for the party’s bruising drubbing just two and a half years after forming a unity government with Sirisena.
“The President is shell shocked and is not clear what he should do,” a source close to the president said. “He did not expect to win the election, but at the same time he did not think his faction will lose so badly.”
Sirisena had taken on his senior coalition partner head on during the two-month campaign, accusing the UNP government of being more corrupt than the Rajapaksa regime they toppled together in January 2015.
Within the UNP, Wickremesinghe was also under pressure to step down from the leadership of the party as well as the premiership and clear the way for an internal reform process to begin.
Out of 182 councils declared by 9.00 am on Sunday, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the proxy of Rajapaksa, had won 143 with the UNP a distant second with 17. Sirisena’s SLFP/UPFA had seven and the TNA 13. With one each for two smaller Muslim parties.
The leftist JVP which attacked both the government and the SLPP was yet to win a council.
Unofficial results showed that the 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.
The results, once confirmed by the independent Election Commission, are expected to considerably weaken Sirisena and make him a lame duck president should he decide to stay on for the rest of his five-year term that ends by January 2020.
An unusually high voter turnout was reported with officials saying the final figure could be higher than 70 percent and closer to the 77 percent seen at the August 2015 parliamentary 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.
Saturday’s vote is the first conducted by the newly-established independent Election Commission as well as the police under the Independent Police Commission.
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.