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Sri Lanka ruling party rolls in polls but loses capital

[Reuters, Sunday, 9 October 2011 17:01 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party swept local government polls, results on Sunday showed, but lost the minority-dominated capital while four people died in violence that exposed a growing rift in his huge political coalition.

Rajapaksa’s United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 21 of 23 local councils up for vote in a poll which ran smoothly except for a deadly gunfight between the president’s labour adviser, a longtime backer, and a legislator who is a recent ally.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP), which has fallen into near-political impotence via a mix of internal squabbling and Rajapaksa-engineered crossovers, did keep its traditional stronghold in the commercial capital Colombo.

Help from minority Muslim and Tamil voters, who comprise about 70 percent of the Indian Ocean island’s main city, secured the UNP win in an electorate for which the president and his influential brothers campaigned heavily.

The government was keen to win the Colombo Municipal Council so it could push through plans to beautify and develop the city, a central part of its policy to boost the $50 billion economy after the end of a three-decade civil war in 2009.

The local councils manage municipal affairs and have some influence, but that pales in comparison to the central government’s authority.

Although Rajapaksa enjoys a near two-thirds parliamentary majority and huge popularity for delivering victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists, his coalition is beginning to show cracks.

Dissatisfaction in particular has arisen among the old guard of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which Rajapaksa is a second-generation member and which forms the core of his coalition.

That tension erupted into a gun battle on Saturday between the president’s trade union advisor, Baratha Lakshman Premachandra, and legislator Duminda Silva, who joined Rajapaksa after leaving the UNP a few years ago.

Premachandra died from gunshot wounds. Silva was in critical but stable condition after two bullets were removed from his head, hospital sources said.

Two others involved in the fighting also died.

Rajapaksa, who hails from Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, has delivered massive electoral wins but has struggled to win in some areas dominated by the minority Muslim and Tamil people.

[Full Coverage]

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