x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sri Lankan opposition intends to make election gains

While the ruling party is expected to win the key provincial election in the south, the opposition hopes to reduce its margin of victory and prove that the president is not invincible.

The image of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaska, on the streets of Colombo prior to this weekend's provincial elections.
The image of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaska, on the streets of Colombo prior to this weekend's provincial elections.

LUNUGAMVEHERA, SRI LANKA // While the ruling party is expected to win tomorrow's key provincial election in the south, the opposition is hoping to reduce its margin of victory and prove that the president, Mahinda Rajapaska, is not invincible, ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls due in the next six months. The ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is riding on a crest of popular support after it won a 26-year war with Tamil guerrillas in May. Provincial councils are the next level of political power after parliament.

The last major election was in July, for a similar council in the south-eastern region where the UPFA won 72 per cent of the vote. "We expect a thumping victory, what with the war victory and the government's development drive," said Hemakumara Nanayakkara, a government minister from the south. The opposition UNP has vowed to bring down the UPFA's margin of victory, and is banking on growing voter discontent in Mr Rajapaska's own backyard.

The owner of a small tourist hotel in Lunugamvehera in southern Hambantota district near Mr Rajapaska's ancestral home, who did not want to be named, said that although the Rajapaksa family has ruled the region for more than five decades, little had been done in the district - the second-poorest region in Sri Lanka. There is also rampant unemployment in the south and MA Premasiri, a social worker in Lunugamvehera, said most people are not interested in the election as promises are rarely kept. "[People's] biggest worry is where their next meal comes from," he said. In the other districts in the southern region - Galle and Matara - the contest between the UPFA and UNP is more evenly balanced, although the UPFA is expected to win.

"We have a better chance of success in these two districts," said Sagala Ratnayake, a UNP parliamentarian from Matara. "The people are worried about the expanding political power of the Rajapaska family and the high cost of living." foreign.desk@thenational.ae