Sri Lanka’s ruling party has won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, the country’s Election Commission declared Friday, consolidating the Rajapaksa family’s control on power.
Final results on Friday showed that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) – or Sri Lanka People’s Front – won 145 seats in the 225-member Parliament, just five seats short of a majority needed to carry out constitutional changes, without the support of smaller allied parties.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now expected to swear his elder brother back into the position, after naming him head of the caretaker government in December.
“People have once again imposed their full confidence in us. We will fulfill their aspirations and will always value the confidence they have placed in us,” said Mahinda Rajapaksa after the results were declared.
Following Friday’s result, Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called to congratulate him.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected President in November, dissolved Parliament in March and called for early snap elections. He said during campaigning that a victory would strengthen his resolve to develop the economy, which has taken a heavy beating during the Corvid-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka has had relative success in containing its coronavirus outbreak, due to early lockdowns and widespread testing. The country has recorded 2,839 infections and 11 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Wednesday’s election, originally scheduled for April, was postponed twice because of the virus.
Other campaign priorities include constitutional reform, with possible focus on the 19th amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of parliament.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the two-time former President, was voted out of office in 2015, amid allegations of corruption, nepotism and war crimes.
Considered a military hero among supporters, the 74-year-old was first elected President in 2005 and returned to office in 2010, a year after government forces routed Tamil rebel groups to end the country’s brutal 25-year civil war.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, also seen as a military hero among many, served as his defense secretary and oversaw the operation that ended the civil war in the country.
Friday’s election is the country’s first parliamentary poll since the deadly terror attacks in April 2019, when a series of bombs ripped through churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing at least 290 people and injuring hundreds.
The results dealt a crushing blow to the opposition United National Party (UNP), led by former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, which failed to secure a single seat.
The party won a bonus seat in Parliament since they secured more than 2.5% of the votes cast under a proportional representation system of voting. The UNP had polled 59% of the votes cast.
In marked contrast, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), or the United People’s Force – a breakaway group of the UNP led by Sajith Premadasa – won 54 seats garnering 23.9 % of the votes, becoming the country’s main opposition.
The SJB parted from the UNP after they failed to urge Wickremesinghe to cede the leadership to Premadasa.
Coronavirus fears may have impacted Wednesday turnout, which was lower than in previous elections with 71% of the registered 16.2 million voters turning up. During November’s presidential elections voter turnout was 82%.
The predominant Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which represents the north and east Tamil speaking regions, won only ten seats, according to the Election Commission. Losing a share of seven seats, the party’s political clout has diminished considerably, which could impact their ongoing push to devolve more power to their areas. Two smaller Tamil political parties won two seats each.
The new parliament will meet for the first time on August 20.
This story has been updated to reflect the percentage of votes polled by the UNP.
Helen Regan wrote from Hong Kong and Iqbal Athas wrote and reported from Colombo, Sri Lanka.