Parliamentary elections today
Sri Lankan voters will go to the polls today for the second time this year to elect a new parliament.
In January a snap presidential election was held in which incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost to a former ally, Maithripala Sirisena. Since then a motley Cabinet of the former opposition United National Party (UNP) and some of the former governing Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has been running the country.
Initially it looked as though Rajapaksa was defeated and would not return, but within a couple of months he was making a comeback and is contesting under the president’s SLFP dominated United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Rajapaksa wants to be the next prime minister although Sirisena has made it clear that he will not allow that to happen. The internal battles within the SLFP/UPFA mean that if they gain a majority there are likely to be internal battles for some time to come between Sirisena and Rajapaksa supporters.
Recent opinion polls suggest that the United National Party, fighting the election under a coalition called United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) is ahead with its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe ahead of Rajapaksa as the favoured candidate for prime minister by most voters. The UNFGG alliance is made up of the UNP, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), the Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and anti-Rajapaksa members of the SLFP; a rather unlikely alliance which could prove troublesome in the future.
However, the UNP/UNFGG has a mountain to climb. Wickremesinghe’s UNP and its allies won just 60 seats in the 225 seat parliament in 2010 and this time they need 113 seats for a majority in parliament.
The UPFA is putting up a full slate of candidates but it seems unclear if Sirisena (he is its current leader since January) is supporting them or the UNFGG. Most members of the SLFP and by virtue the UPFA remain loyal to former President Rajapaksa which is making for a messy election. In 2010 the UPFA won 144 of the 225 seats.
There are 6,151 candidates from 35 parties and 201 independent groups standing for the 225 seats across 22 electoral districts. The 22 districts will elect 196 parliamentarians and a further 29 are allocated to parties in order of the proportion of the vote they took; in effect from a leader’s wish list.
The 15,044,490 registered voters will vote across 12,314 polling stations between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. There is no voting for Sri Lankans living overseas.
The new parliament will meet on 1st September.