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Ruling coalition leads Sri Lankan elections

[AP, Friday, 9 April 2010 07:34 No Comment]

Sri Lankan left wing leader Somawansa Amarasinghe speaks to the media after casting his vote, outside a polling booth in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, April 8, 2010. Sri Lankans faced a clear choice in parliamentary elections Thursday between further strengthening the president's hand in deciding the nation's postwar fate or trying to check his power. (AP Photo Chamila Karunarathne ) Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition led early results Friday of parliamentary elections in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa is seeking to strengthen his grip on power by gaining a two-thirds majority.

Results released by the elections department showed Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance bagged 11 seats from a total of 225 while the main opposition United National Front won four seats. The initial release was less than 10 percent of the results, and the full vote won’t be released before evening.

The coalition led by Rajapaksa’s main challenger in the January presidential poll is yet to win a seat. Former army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka is under detention and facing a court-martial alleging that he planned his political career while still in uniform.

A two-thirds parliamentary majority would allow Rajapaksa’s party to change the constitution. The opposition fears Rajapaksa will try to amend it to remain in power past the end of his second term in 2017.

Opponents also accuse him of stifling dissent, encouraging cronyism and corruption and trying to establish a family dynasty. Two of Rajapaksa’s brothers and a son are running for Parliament.

Election monitors have reported a low turnout, but the elections office has said it can’t confirm the voting percentage until the final result is released.

Rajapaksa remains a hero among the Sinhalese majority for leading last year’s victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, and many voters hope he can bring postwar development and reconciliation to the country after a quarter-century of civil conflict.

Opposition official Tissa Attanayake on Thursday accused the ruling party of illegally using government resources for propaganda and harassment of opposition supporters during the campaign.

The Center for Monitoring Election Violence, an independent poll monitoring group, reported scattered irregularities. It said the home of a ruling party supporter in southern Sri Lanka was shot at but no one was wounded.

Buses carrying ethnic Tamils displaced during the civil war were blocked from traveling to polling stations in the north, and police prevented Tamils from voting in the eastern district of Trincomalee, the group said.

The coalition headed by Rajapaksa held 128 seats in the outgoing 225-member Parliament. A key issue confronting the new government will be how to reconcile with the minority Tamil community following the end of the civil war.

"We must remember that terrorism is over, and only a strong Parliament can carry development forward and unite the communities," Rajapaksa told state television after casting his vote in his home village of Medamulana in the south on Thursday.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of the largest opposition party, the UNF, is facing a leadership challenge and party disunity after a series of election losses.

For Tamils, who make up 18 percent of the population and claim persecution by the majority Sinhalese, the election is an opportunity to choose a new voice for their community, which was dominated by the separatist rebels for three decades.

[Full Coverage]

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